Norway Plans to Kill Two-Thirds of Its 68 Wolves

Conservationists are fighting the government-sanctioned hunt, which is supposed to deter wolves from preying on sheep.
A Norwegian wolf. (Photo: Tom Bech)
Sep 20, 2016· 2 MIN READ
David Kirby has been a professional journalist for 25 years. His third book, Death at Seaworld, was published in 2012.

This is a dreadful time to be a wolf in Norway.

Norwegian officials on Friday approved the killing of 47 wolves, more than two-thirds of the population of about 68 wolves living in the country, a move that has sparked outrage among conservation groups.

Most of the animals live in a designated “wolf zone” in southeastern Norway, the only place where they are allowed to reproduce.

Within the zone, 24 wolves will be shot, while another 13 will be killed in adjacent areas and 10 more culled in other areas of the country.

The government says the wolves are preying on domestic sheep. If carried out, the wolf cull will be the largest one in more than a century.

“We think this is a disastrous decision,” said Arnodd Håpnes, conservation manager for Friends of the Earth Norway. “It’s horrible because wolves in Norway are listed as critically endangered by the [International Union for Conservation of Nature].”

“This is a very, very negative kind of nature management,” he added. “They will be shot back almost to extinction.”

Håpnes said that one wolf pack was killed last winter, leaving just six in Norway. The government wants to cull three of those packs.

Sverre Lundemo, biodiversity adviser at World Wildlife Fund Norway, said the decision reeks of hypocrisy.

“It would send a wrong kind of signal to countries that are not as favorably positioned economically as Norway,” Lundemo wrote in an email. “How can we tell others to save nature when we do not walk the walk ourselves? Using double standards will not get us far if we want to save nature around the globe.”

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Conservation groups say the number of sheep killed by wolves in Norway is a tiny percentage of the estimated 2.4 million that are raised each year.

“Two of the packs have never killed any sheep at all,” Håpnes said, citing official government figures.

“Last summer, in 2015, wolves killed 117 sheep inside the wolf zone out of more than 110,000 sheep that disappear every year in the whole country,” he said.

Nationwide, he said, about 25,000 sheep are killed by carnivores each year, including wolves, lynx, wolverines, and bears. Wolves are responsible for 1,000 to 2,500 of those deaths.

The cull was approved by conservative members of the Norwegian Parliament and supported by conservative media, sheepherding groups, and hunters, Håpnes said.

“Hunters’ organizations are quite eager to reduce the wolf packs because they are competitors for moose hunting,” he said.

Hunting is immensely popular in Norway. Last year more than 11,000 hunters applied for licenses to shoot 16 wolves.

Jon-Åge Øyslebø, a spokesperson for the Norwegian Embassy in Washington, D.C., said the cull was in compliance with the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats.

“That is the guiding star here, to make sure there is a sufficient number of individuals of each species, based on scientific evidence,” Øyslebø said. “Preserving four to six litters is the basic threshold for securing the obligation.”

Øyslebø said the country’s wolf population doubled last year, from about 33 animals. Another 25 wolves migrate between Norway and Sweden.

“It is a big issue that the wolves have proliferated and spread to areas of the country where they have not previously been, at least for the last few generations,” Øyslebø said. “It’s a delicate balance with the farmers that have sheep.”

“I acknowledge that this is a difficult and controversial matter,” Vidar Helgesen, Norway’s minister of climate and environment, said in a statement. “The final decision will be made on the basis of careful considerations. As the responsible minister for the appeals process I cannot comment further on the matter at this stage.”

Friends of the Earth and World Wildlife Fund said they would file appeals.

“We will try to reduce the number [of wolves killed] as much as possible,” Håpnes said. “But I don’t think we’ll manage to reduce it by more than a few animals.”

“The wolf is an enrichment for many Norwegians who appreciate being able to experience nature in its full complexity,” Lundemo said.

“Seeing a wolf is perhaps unlikely,” he added. “But being able to see traces of its presence, hearing a wolf howl when staying in a tent in the woods, or just knowing that it is there, gives high recreational value and provides insight in and commitment to conservation of nature for many Norwegians.”