Norway is planning to cull more than two-thirds of its remaining wolves in a step that environmental groups say will be disastrous for the dwindling members of the species in the wild.
There are estimated to be about 68 wolves remaining in the wilderness areas of Norway, concentrated in the south-east of the country, but under controversial plans approved on Friday as many as 47 of these will be shot.
Hunting is a popular sport in the country. Last year more than 11,000 hunters applied for licences to shoot 16 wolves, a ratio of more than 700 applicants to each licence.
The government has justified this year’s planned cull – the biggest in more than a century – on the basis of harm done to sheep flocks by the predators. Environmental groups dispute this, saying the real damage is minimal and the response out of all proportion.
Norway's wolf cull pits sheep farmers against conservationists
The government did not reply to a request from the Guardian for comment.
The government has taken action to prevent illegal wolf hunting. Wolves are also an attraction for some tourists to the country. But the new legal hunting limit is beyond anything that the wild population can withstand, according to Norway’s leading green groups.
Under the arrangements, 24 wolves will be shot within the region of the country designated for wolf habitat, while another 13 will be shot in neighbouring regions and a further 10 in other areas of the country.
According to environmental groups, the number of wolves the government plans to kill this year is greater than in any year since 1911.
Nina Jensen, chief executive of WWF in Norway, said: “This is mass slaughter. We have not seen anything like this in a hundred years, back when the policy was that all large carnivores were to be eradicated.
“Shooting 70% of the wolf population is not worthy of a nation claiming to be championing environmental causes. People all over the country, and outside its borders, are now reacting.”
She said the losses to farmers from wolves had been minimal, and pointed to settlements by the Norwegian parliament in 2004 and 2011 that stipulated populations of carnivores must be allowed to co-exist with livestock.
“This decision must be stopped,” said Silje Ask Lundberg, chair of Friends of the Earth Norway. “With this decision, three out of six family groups of wolves might be shot. We are calling on the minister of environment to stop the butchering. Today, Norway should be ashamed.”
WWF takes the Norwegian state to court to save the wolves
WWF-Norway has sued the Norwegian state for making unlawful wolf culling decisions. The trial is set for 24th to 28th of April.
The organization also filed for a temporary injunction, in order to stop this winter´s wolf hunt. Oslo District Court dismissed the injunction. WWF-Norway has appealed the dismissal of the temporary injunction. We are still waiting for the verdict of the appeal.
– Heartbreaking and totally unacceptable
So far 24 wolves have been shot, both inside and outside of the wolf zone.
– Heartbreaking and totally unacceptable, said Ingrid Lomelde, Policy Director at WWF-Norway.
A total of 42 wolves can be shot this winter, which is 75 percent of the wolves residing in Norway. The last official numbers of wolves in Norway are from the winter of 2016/2017. It was registered 54-56 wolves that only reside in Norway, and additional 51-56 wolves that live on both sides of the border to Sweden.
The wolf is a critically endangered species in Norway, classified as being near the brink of extinction.
– The wolf naturally belongs in Norway. It has, as other large carnivore, an important role to play in our nature. As such it is unbearable that Norway has decided to use the wolf population goal as a maximum limit for how many wolves we should have – seeing that this is keeping the population at a critically endangered level.
WWF is suing the Norwegian state
The organization has sued the Norwegian state, stating that the current wolf management goes against the constitution, the Biodiversity Act and the Bern Convention.
– Suing the state is demanding in many ways but we feel that we do not have a choice, considering the current Norwegian wolf management. We need a sustainable management that ensures the wolf population in the long-run while at the same time initiating mitigating measures to reduce conflicts between wolves and grazing animals, said Lomelde.