Saturday

22nd Jan 2022

Opinion

Who's afraid of the big bad wolf? The EU is.

  • For the umpteenth time, moves are afoot to try to convince the European Commission to remove strict protections for wolves (Photo: Caninest)
Listen to article

Wolves get a bad rap.

Throughout history, this native species has been reviled and seriously misunderstood, which ultimately led to their extermination from many parts of Europe between the 18th and mid-20th centuries.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

In popular culture, wolves were routinely incarnated as evil villains in fables and fairy tales. The cliché of the big bad wolf continues into the present day. In some places, like Finland, where wolves have survived, deeply entrenched cultural anxieties about the species fuel unfounded fears that they will attack innocent children on their way to school.

The truth is that wolves are more scared of us than we should be of them. Moreover, they should be scared. Very scared.

For the umpteenth time, moves are afoot to try to convince the European Commission to remove strict protections for wolves.

The European Parliament's AGRI Committee has drafted an abysmal resolution calling for action, despite the fact that they had already been told – in no uncertain terms – by the parliament's ENVI committee that this issue did not fall under their competence. This draft resolution will be debated on Monday afternoon (10 January).

It is happily the case that some, but not all, wolf populations in Europe have achieved a favourable conservation status. Legislative action, such as the EU Habitats Directive, and international coordination efforts, including the Bern Convention, have led to the return of wolf populations in parts of Europe, and a few individual wolves have recolonised their historic habitats on their own.

We cannot, however, assume from this that the outlook for wolves is great. It is crucial that protections remain in place to ensure that their favourable status is not compromised. Their survival is still threatened by habitat degradation and fragmentation, extensive poaching, as well as low social acceptance among some interest groups, particularly the animal farming industry.

In a highly-populated continent like Europe, large carnivore conservation requires coordinated integration with human activities in human-dominated landscapes.

In some member states, lack of natural prey, habitat loss and unprotected livestock contribute to large carnivores' attacks on domestic animals, whilst in others, conflict lies in wild prey competition with humans as well as the public's fear of coexisting with large predators.

Good for the ecosystem

At its most preposterous, the draft AGRI resolution suggests that the wolf gaining a favourable conservation status in some regions of Europe would disturb the natural balance of the ecosystem. Wolves are actually good for ecosystems, because they regulate the population densities of wild ungulate species and, in reality, remove fewer of these animals from the wild than human hunters do.

In recent years, significant societal debate about how to mitigate and prevent human-wolf conflicts has produced regulatory measures to effectively mitigate wildlife conflicts and help humans to successfully coexist with large carnivores in the long term.

Scientific studies have also demonstrated the inefficacy of lethal control, suggesting that AGRI is simply stuck in the past when it comes to constructive action here.

Given that wolves are listed in the annexes of the EU Habitats Directive as either a strictly-protected or protected species, depending on the population in question, hunting permits to kill them can only be granted under exceptional circumstances.

The directive authorises member states may use derogations to allow management control provided there is "no satisfactory alternative and the derogation is not harmful to the maintenance of the populations of the species concerned."

These exceptions are meant to stop "serious damage" to livestock and crops, protect the public's health and safety or for research and education. However, they cannot be used to authorise indiscriminate slaughter of wolf populations. The EU Commission also recently published a guidance document to clarify how this derogation can be applied.

Regrettably, our vision of the natural world is all too often clouded by anthropocentrism. Rather than taking recourse to rifles because there are more wolves around, we must learn to coexist with these large carnivores – at some level, we owe it to them.

To prevent their extinction or fragmentation of their populations (resulting in inbreeding), we must be willing to share habitat and tolerate the relatively low risk that native carnivores pose.

There is also strong scientific evidence that lethal control is the least effective way to reduce livestock depredation, largely because it disrupts the wolf pack structure and leads the remaining animals to exploit easy prey, such as farm animals.

This is, of course, a hard pill for farmers to swallow. It looks simpler to lethally eliminate a predator than to implement non-lethal mitigation measures, such as the installation of electric fences, use of guard dogs and the deployment of intervention experts, to reduce conflicts and protect herds in problematic areas.

The EU's LIFE programme has funded numerous projects to help effectively mitigate human-large carnivore conflicts.

State aid provisions compensate farmers with 100 percent financial remuneration for losses suffered and costs incurred by predator attacks, but also offer 100 percent reimbursement for the mitigation measures implemented.

For this and other reasons, taking an 'ecocentric' view of the world, rather than human-centred one, and striving for coexistence is our best way forward.

Author bio

Dr Joanna Swabe is senior director of public affairs for the Humane Society International/Europe.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Romania pushes live-animal exports despite EU criticism

Romania was criticised during a crisis in the Suez canal earlier this year when the country was the source of 130,000 of the 200,000 live animals stranded without food and water during the shipping bottleneck.

Podcast

Book Club: The Scent of Wild Animals

Liberal lawmaker Sophie in 't Veld says the European Union's survival depends on overcoming creeping sclerosis, ending acquiescence to autocrats, and embracing the kind of political spectacle that captures the public imagination.

Public support grows for EU 'commissioner for animals'

In recent months, 140,000 citizens and 152 MEPs have joined the #EUforAnimals campaign, demanding more prominence be given to animal welfare by making it explicit in the name of the relevant directorate-general and job title of the appropriate EU commissioner.

Tomorrow MEPs can end EU animal export horror show

On Thursday, MEPs must press for a ban on all live exports outside the EU, and call for overall journey times within the EU to be limited to four hours for poultry and rabbits, and eight hours for other animals.

News in Brief

  1. 'No embargo' on meetings with Putin, EU says
  2. Austria to fine unvaccinated people €3,600
  3. MEP: Airlines should start paying for CO2 sooner
  4. Twitter forced to disclose what it does to tackle hate speech
  5. EU watchdog calls for ban on political microtargeting
  6. MEPs adopt position on Digital Service Act
  7. Blinken delivers stark warning to Russia in Berlin
  8. Hungary's Orbán to discuss nuclear project with Putin

Gas and nuclear: a lose-lose scenario for Eastern Europe

The strong advocacy of Central and Eastern European capitals for including fossil gas and nuclear power in the EU's green taxonomy only leads to another unsustainable energy lock-in for the region, leaving their grid exposed to third-country coercion.

Latest News

  1. Lawyers threaten action over new EU gas and nuclear rules
  2. MEPs urge inclusion of abortion rights in EU charter
  3. EU orders Poland to pay €70m in fines
  4. Dutch mayors protest strict lockdown measures
  5. Macron promises strong EU borders
  6. MEPs to crackdown on digital 'Wild West'
  7. Macron calls for new security order and talks with Russia
  8. Macron's vision will hit EU Council veto buffers

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us