European farmers breathe the return of the ‘big bad wolf’ –

A thriving European wolf population has reignited tensions with the EU’s farming community, leading EU lawmakers to call for a review of the EU’s high protection status for wolves much to the chagrin of conservationists.

The wolf currently enjoys strict legal protection status under the EU Habitats Directive, which helps conserve Europe’s most vulnerable and valuable species across the bloc.

This means that all forms of deliberate capture or killing of wolves in the wild are prohibited.

However, according to Norbert Lins, chair of the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee, the rise in conflict between farmers and wolves means that it has “now reached a stage where it is going to be necessary to revise the Habitats Directive”.

According to a draft motion for a resolution on the protection of livestock and wolves, tabled by Lins, Member States should be given the “necessary flexibility to allow concrete measures” to effectively resolve coexistence conflicts.

The motion for a resolution was widely welcomed when it was sent to the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee (AGRI) on 10 January.

The committee is now due to vote on the amended resolution on February 28, followed by a plenary vote in Strasbourg the week of March 7.

“Agriculture is particularly affected by this and we are witnessing with great concern an increasing number of attacks on domestic animals,” said Renew’s Ulrike Müller, while MEP Herbert Dorfmann stressed that he “does not should not be taboo to discuss the need to manage these populations”.

Dutch MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen, a strong supporter of the resolution, highlighted the impact wolves are having in his home country, where clashes between wolves and livestock have become increasingly common in recent years.

“We can’t afford to sit back and do nothing,” he said, warning that livestock farming “just won’t be viable” in large parts of Europe.

Meanwhile, EU farmers’ association COPA-COGECA also warned in a statement that, despite farmers’ and authorities’ efforts, the strict protection status of large carnivores renders measures ineffective while actions taken so far to establish a harmonious coexistence between humans and wild predators has been insufficient.

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This is not the first time that MEPs have called for such measures.

Addressing a 2018 parliamentary question on this subject, the Commission remained firm in its conviction that coexistence with large carnivores is the way forward.

Likewise, in a update in its guidance on species protection, published in October 2021, the Commission stressed that the wolf is an “integral part” of European biodiversity and plays an important ecological role.

This approach is backed by Dutch conservationist and wolf expert Glenn Lelieveld, who pointed out that lowering the status of wolves could create more problems than it solves.

“You don’t solve [the issue] by shooting individual wolves,” he told EURACTIV, stressing that this does not necessarily limit the damage caused by the animals.

For example, killing the parent often leaves young people without proper guidance. This means they are not taught how to hunt properly, which actually increases the risk of them targeting sheep as the “low hanging fruit”, he explained.

The economic rationale also doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, according to Lelieveld, who pointed out that wolves account for just 0.2% of damages paid for lost crops or livestock.

Lelieveld also warned that farmers risk playing with fire if the protection status of wolves is lowered.

“Farmers would still need a permit to shoot wolves, and the penalty is very high if you shoot the wrong animal,” he said, pointing out that it carries a six-year prison sentence.

Instead, Lelieveld advocates what he says is a proven strategy for protecting sheep using a combination of electric livestock and guard dog fencing, along with concerted efforts to educate the public and the farming community, which, according to him, is sorely lacking.

“Instead of blaming the wolf for showing its natural behavior, you should think about how we can act ourselves and take responsibility,” he said.

Meanwhile, Joanna Swabe, senior director of public affairs at Humane Society International Europe, stressed that unruly wolves should not be “sacrificed on the altar of the economy” and that any decision on changing their status as conservation must be scientific and not political.

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Lack of political will

Asked by EURACTIV, an EU official confirmed that it was possible to fund measures to help protect livestock from wolves under the new national Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) strategic plans (see background below). below).

However, it is up to each Member State to include it in their national strategic plans.

Lelieveld pointed out that some, including France, have chosen to do so, while the Dutch government has chosen not to.

Acknowledging the missing provision on wolves, MEP Ruissen told EURACTIV that the EU and member states must offer 100% compensation for all costs, but that alone will not solve the problem.

“Wolves know ways around obstacles and it is impossible to place high fences all over the rural landscape,” he warned.

Meanwhile, the Dutch Permanent Representation explained that the support is not offered in the plan as it is a provincial competence, but confirmed that the Netherlands is currently working on an update to its plan. wolf, expected in the summer of 2022.

[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna]

National Strategic Plans (NSPs) are one of the main novelties of the reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which will run from 2023 to 2027.

Through these plans, EU countries detail how they will achieve the nine European objectives of the reformed CAP while meeting the needs of farmers and rural communities.

In other words: if the European Commission will define the general orientation of the future CAP, the “how” will belong this time to the national administrations.

Member states had until the end of 2021 to submit their national plans to the Commission for approval, a process that is currently underway.

For more on the CAP reform, check out EURACTIV’s coverage.