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Wolf management ‘compatible’ for now

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has confirmed that the use of hunting as a population management tool for strictly protected species is compatible with European Union law. This means that a country’s governing body for hunting can appeal to the EU for hunting licences to be given for protected species.

Although good news for the industry, it comes with a backdrop of the European Commission’s impending update on protection for large carnivore species such as wolves, which is expected to be tightened.

Currently a country can deviate from that strict protection for certain reasons, for example to prevent serious damage to domestic animals, reasons of overriding public interest, or to allow limited taking of individuals under strict supervision. This is called a derogation. This allows a country to apply derogations as part of a management plan, when applying strict conditions.

In its ruling the EJC highlighted that countries need to take account economic, social and cultural requirements and regional and local characteristics. This could mean agricultural or hunting interests. The ECJ also confirmed the use of hunting for the objective of combatting illegal killing and increasing social acceptance.

Recently Finland has applied for a hunting licence for its growing wolf population, which is causing problems. The wolf is a strictly protected species for southern Finland according to the EU Habitats Directive. Although the EJC favoured Finland’s position it did note that in this particular instance it should have been better argued by the Finnish authorities, something that FACE is urging other countries to better manage if they are to lobby the EU for the right to cull wolves.

“The Finnish Hunters’ Association welcomes the preliminary ruling from the EU court that in principle gives green light for management hunting of wolves,” stated Heli Siitari of the Finnish Hunters’ Association, in response to the judgement.

“We have just updated our wolf management plan in Finland, and management hunting is a tool for this plan. We see this opportunity, although the hunt will be very strictly regulated, as a positive thing for people living in the countryside and for the acceptance of wolf in general”.

Other countries can use this judgement when creating or updating wolf management policy. The EU Court made clear that EU member states can apply the Habitats Directive flexibly and pragmatically.

The European Federation for Hunting and Conservation (FACE) is in favour of promoting such a flexible approach to large carnivore conservation and management as numbers of wolves and other large animals continues to rise in Europe.

A spokesperson from FACE commented: “If countries want to use their wolf management plan to address issues like the illegal killing of wolf, the threat to hunting dogs and to increase social acceptance of wolf, it is imperative that they use the right arguments and science to substantiate the use of derogations.

“For the European Commission, there are two important steps. First, it is crucial that the current infringement procedure against Sweden’s approach to wolf conservation and management is closed. Furthermore, the European Commission’s existing guidance document on species protection (large carnivores), which is currently being updated, must now firmly stress that improving social acceptance and decreasing illegal killing can be a justification for limited and strictly controlled hunts. In a previous draft, the Commission provided a stricter interpretation of the Habitats Directive, which was highly criticised by some stakeholders, members of the European Parliament and EU member states.”

FACE’s view was echoed recently by a joint declaration of ministers of Denmark, Estonia, France, Italy and Latvia on wolf management during the Agriculture and Fisheries Council, which took place in Luxembourg.

The ministers made their position on the guidance document clear: “Express deep concern about the draft revised Guidance document on the strict protection of species (…) which shows a stricter interpretation of the Habitat Directive, especially its Article 16, than in the previous Guidance document. These changes threaten the possibilities for Member States to adequately manage wolf populations. Additional flexibility is clearly needed for Member States so that they adapt their practices to local realities and fully address social, cultural and economic issues.”

FACE is working with its members and network to ensure that the final version of the guidance document is in line with the Habitats Directive and relevant jurisprudence. It is not yet clear when the updating process will start again and when it can be expected to be finalised.

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