Why are wolverines protected by hunting regulations

The troublemaker

This is how Europe treats the wolf

Despite their official EU-wide protection status, wolves have to fear for their lives in many countries. Because there are exceptions and because animal keepers and hunters in particular see a troublemaker and competitor in the wolf.

Wolf - Photo: Christoph Bosch

The winter of 2019 was not too severe in Estonia either. In any case, not so much that the Pärnu, Estonia's second largest river, was completely frozen over. At the end of February, that would almost have been fatal for a four-legged friend had it not been for three construction workers to have fished it out of the icy waters. They carried him up the river bank and then drove him to the veterinary clinic.

At the vet, the supposed dog turned out to be a young wolf. This one was lucky. He received medical attention and was released some time later with a collar attached to him. This is not a matter of course in Estonia, as a good hundred wolves are shot here every year. Not poached, but completely legal during the hunting season from November to February.

Fear for life

This is the reality today in Europe. Despite their official EU-wide protection status, wolves have to fear for their lives in many countries. Because there are exceptions and because animal owners and hunters in particular see the wolf as a troublemaker and competitor.

How strict is the protection?

The wolf enjoys a high protection status through international and national regulations. The central nature conservation law of the EU is the Fauna-Flora-Habitat Directive, or FFH for short. The focus is on the species and habitats listed in various appendices. For the wolf, this means not only a general ban on killing, but also a ban on disturbance.

Special protected areas. As a type of “common interest” even special protected areas have to be designated for the wolf. Such areas are then called FFH or Natura 2000 areas. The reserves must be managed in such a way that the ecological needs of the target species - in this case the wolf - are met, their populations are preserved or even grow. The benchmark is the “good state of preservation”.

Outside the EU, the wolf is protected, among other things, by the Washington Convention on Wildlife Conservation, which regulates the trade in wild animals. In addition, the Bern Convention, which also includes European non-EU states such as Switzerland, prohibits disturbing, capturing or killing wolves.

Penalties threaten. In Germany, the requirements are implemented through the Federal Nature Conservation Act. Wolves are strictly protected throughout Germany. In the event of violations, the public prosecutor's office takes action. Depending on the offense, sentences of up to five years imprisonment or high fines are possible - but they are rarely imposed.

This means that wolves have the highest possible protection status in Germany. The federal states are responsible for implementing the laws, and the federal government can support them in this. With the exception of Saxony, wolves are not subject to hunting law, where it is closed all year round.

Exceptions in the small print. When the Habitats Directive was passed in 1992, some states enforced special regulations. Some of the EU members who joined later were also successful. Exceptions to the general ban on wolf shooting apply to the three Baltic states, Poland, Slovakia and Bulgaria as well as to certain regions in Finland, Spain and Greece. Here, the "extraction from nature may be the subject of administrative measures".

Some wolf opponents would like to achieve such an exception for Germany as well. Your argument: Our wolves belong to a larger north-eastern European population that is not endangered at all. The protection status could therefore be relaxed and finally more shot. Among other things, this would be possible to “prevent serious damage to animal husbandry”.

Almost 20,000 wolves live in Europe, most of them in the east and south. In the meantime, however, they are spreading significantly, with the exception of the British Isles and Iceland, there are wolf sightings in practically all countries. And it is probably only a matter of time before wolves not only migrate, even in the Benelux countries, but also start families.

The wolf as a projection surface

Unfortunately, it is not true that people only react negatively where the wolf has only recently returned. Even a longer side-by-side relationship between wolf and human does not protect against prejudice and friend-foe thinking. The wolf repeatedly serves as a projection surface for completely different worries and conflicts, such as the contrast between town and country or tradition and modernity. A projection that ends fatally for the wolf in case of doubt.

For Guillaume Chapron from the University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala, Sweden, dealing with the wolf is a reflection of the basic social understanding: “In the Nordic countries we expect everything to work perfectly and the state to take care of everything. The wolf messes up the system, so to speak. Further south, people accept that life doesn't always go smoothly. "

Rabid Scandinavians

Chapron is right insofar as in Scandinavia, despite relatively small populations, people are extremely brutal with wolves. In Norway, Sweden and Finland there are annual hunting quotas, with different models, but all with the effect of keeping the population small.

In Sweden, for example, a lower limit of 300 wolves has actually been defined, below which the population should not fall. In practice, however, the hunting quotas became an upper limit. In addition, there is a “protection hunt” - also for bears and wolverines - if herd protection measures are not fruitful. Many German hunters and politicians also liked this protection hunt. Most recently, the Prime Minister of Saxony, Michael Kretschmer, called for a "preventive control" based on the supposed model of protected hunting. The actual protection hunt has nothing to do with prevention or population reduction.

If in doubt, self-help

Even in the south, dealing with wolves is not really relaxed. For example, there are officially 2500 wolves in Spain. Despite this size, there is almost no tendency to spread. This is due to the fact that shepherds and prolific owners do not wait for the state in case of doubt, but resort to self-help.

If you are looking for role models, you should look to Italy. Almost 2000 wolves live here, most of them in the Apennines, others in the Alps. Here, too, there is a constant struggle, especially among livestock farmers and nature conservationists. Intensive monitoring was established early on, but politicians have so far resisted attempts to resolve the conflicts with weapons.

The little brother

The closest native relative of the wolf is the red fox. More and more often, however, a third canine can be seen with us, the golden jackal. In sizes between fox and wolf, golden jackals occur from Asia Minor to India. In Europe, the distribution area so far extends to the Balkans, but more and more individual animals are also sighted further north and west.

The current European population is estimated at over 100,000 golden jackals, which is a multiple of the wolf population. Golden jackals are already frequenting northern Italy and eastern Austria, and there are always individual sightings in Germany. As genetic tests show, a golden jackal even attacked sheep in Schleswig-Holstein in 2017, but did not kill any. It is uncertain whether the jackals will settle permanently.

The central government recently passed a new 22-point management plan, which focuses on measures to protect the herd. "It is not necessary to kill wolves," stressed Environment Minister Sergio Costa when presenting the plan, "it is possible to coexist with wolves."

Wolves cross the alps

The Italian alpine population has expanded to France and Switzerland in recent years, with individual alpine wolves as far as Germany. In the mountain regions, herd protection faces particular challenges; in France around 10,000 sheep are currently torn by wolves every year. France's farmers are known for their drastic protest methods, including kidnapping officials so that they can authorize the shooting of wolves. In fact, since 2018 it has been allowed to kill ten percent of wolves annually. It is doubtful that this will have a major impact on the sheep cracks.

Referendum in Switzerland?

In Switzerland, until now, individual wolves can be shot if they have killed a certain number of livestock. Although only a handful of wolves live there, it should now be even easier for them to get to the collar. An amendment to the Hunting Act is currently being discussed in parliament. The Council of States, as one of two chambers, has already decided to tighten the rules considerably. Wolf packs should be able to be regulated by killing them, even if they have not caused any damage. The cantons are to decide on this in future without the consent of the federal government, although species protection in Switzerland falls under the sovereignty of the federal government.

"This makes dealing with species such as wolf or lynx even more of a plaything for the interests of individual user groups," fears Werner Müller from NABU partner BirdLife Switzerland. The environmental associations are now planning a referendum on the hunting law.

Helge May

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