21st Feb 2024

Wolves should be defended, EU ministers urge

  • There are about 13,000 to 14,000 wolves in the EU, according to the EU Commission (Photo: Caninest)
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A dozen EU ministers in charge of biodiversity have urged the EU Commission to uphold the protection of wolves in Europe.

The ministers in a letter sent to EU environment commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius on Wednesday (1 February) advocated for keeping the legal protection of the grey wolf in Europe.

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Slovakia was joined by Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Spain, Ireland, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Austria, Portugal, Romania and Slovenia.

The ministers worry that a resolution adopted by the European Parliament could give political momentum to demands to revise the protected status of wolves.

"I firmly believe that the European Commission will keep the same responsible approach to the protection of rare species as it has done up to now," Slovak minister Ján Budaj said in a statement.

Grey wolf numbers have increased by 1,800 percent since the 1960s and there are now 17,000 roaming almost all countries of continental Europe, according to the Wildlife Comeback Report 2022, commissioned by Rewilding Europe, a Dutch-based NGO.

According to commission data, there are about 13,000 to 14,000 wolves in the EU.

The numbers increased because of the "adaptive strategies of large carnivores to re-colonisation of a large scope of human-dominated landscapes", helped by "European legislation aiming at conservation of biodiversity", the commission said.

Old rules, young wolves

The European Parliament last November in a non-binding resolution has called for a downgrade of the protection status of wolves in the EU to help protect the livestock sector.

The parliament's move was celebrated by farmers and could put political pressure on the commission to act.

Currently, wolves enjoy strict legal protection under the EU habitats directive, which aims to conserve Europe's most vulnerable species. Deliberate capture or killing of wolves in the wild is now prohibited.

"Growing populations of large predators are threatening the traditional way of farming in several European countries. They also have a wider effect on rural communities and on tourism," MEP Herbert Dorfmann from the European People's Party (EPP) said at the time of the vote.

"Current measures to protect livestock and herds, such as fences and dogs, are insufficient for European farmers. We call for a change of the protection status of wolves in accordance with the Habitats Directive," another EPP MEP, Alexander Bernhuber argued at the time of the vote.

Several EU countries, including Austria, and a half-a-dozen other governments were in favour of a policy review last year.

"The protected status of wolves is regulated by an EU directive that is 30 years old. At that time there were no wolves in Austria. The wolves are now threatening our local alpine, agricultural and tourism industries," Austria's agriculture minister Norbert Totschnig last September said.

Back then, Sinkevičius defended the wolves, saying that the current legislation "provides member states with adequate instruments, funds and tools to ensure that the conservation of protected large carnivores and the continuation of sustainable farming practices can go hand in hand."

Last September, a wolf killed the pony of EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, according to German media reports, but a Hannover court has so far prohibited the hunting of the specific wolf.

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