Will Finland listen to science for updating their wolf management plan?

Finland is leading the charts in areas such as technological innovation, standard of living and access to education. However, according to the latest Environmental Performance Index for the protection of biodiversity and natural habitats, Finland remains in the 39th position, far behind countries such as Germany, Spain, France or Britain

The national and European Parliamentary elections are at the doorstep. Therefore, authorities from the Finnish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry are working on updating their controversial 2015 wolf management plan. With group sessions between civil servants and relevant stakeholders they try to find common ground to build a future of coexistence with wolves. 

The European Commission recently announced full financial support in all Member States to invest in protective measures and damages caused by large carnivores. Furthermore, scientific research stresses the counter-productive effects of lethal management of large carnivores.It seems the conditions are set for finding new ways for humans to learn how to live alongside of wolves. 

Conservation status: permanently unfavourable 

Unlike other European countries, livestock predation outside the free-range reindeer herding area of Lapland is a minor problem in Finland. Instead, it is a lack of tolerance what continues to keep its wolf population listed as an endangered species. During their previous wolf management plan launched in 2015, Finnish authorities decided to set annual culling quotas. This was done under the assumption that it would increase tolerance and reduce illegal killings. However, by the end of the three-year trial period, the legal wolf hunting permits granted all across the country resulted in the indiscriminate killings of breeding adults. This resulted in the breaking up of the few stable wolf packs, thus creating more problems than they solved. 

Finnish wolf population numbers have been critically low and stagnant for more than two decades. Authorities therefore are trying this time to take on board all the hard-learned lessons from the previous management experiences. It would allow Finland to move towards a sustainable and favourable conservation status for wolves. Yet, it has now become evident that as long as authorities continue to consider a “license to kill” the first and foremost management tool for solving conflicts with wolves, social acceptance will not be gained and preventive alternatives will not become fully implemented.

Following politics not science

Research analyzing wolf hunting permits granted by Finnish hunting authorities during the period of 2016-2017 showed that people used social reasons such as “fear” as the main motive for requesting wolf hunting permits (PDF). Rural residents may have become aware that the economic damages are often not big enough to justify the killing. Therefore, the use (socially-acceptable) subjective experiences and feelings in southern Finland for requesting the shooting permits. The reasoning being that when people see a wolf moving near rural residential areas or visiting people’s yards during the night they consider the wolf’s behaviour as “bold”, “fearless” or “habituated to humans”. 

It seems that the prevailing notion of wolves being animals only of the Wilderness has to change in order for coexistence to become possible. Wolves play a crucial role for the health of our ecosystems. People should focus on livestock herding traditionsand modern technology to work together. That way, humans and wolves can learn again to coexist. Numerous EU-funded conservation projects and studies nowadays show that killing is not the solution. For example, by implementing preventive practices such as electric fencingGPS radio collaringlivestock guardian dogsand shepherds. As a result, the focus shifts from killing wolves to avoiding conflicts with them in the first place (PDF). Unfortunately, people have used GPS radio collaring of wolves in Finland to track and illegally kill wolves.

The question is, will a leading country in technological innovation such as Finland continue to use outdated wildlife management notions? Or will it finally listen to science and create the conditions for coexistence between humans and wolves? 

This article has been jointly published with The Wolf Action Group in Finland.

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Join more 100+ forest experts demanding a radical change in German forestry management.

Sign the Open Letter to the German Federal Minister of Forestry and Agriculture

Open Letter to the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture

Federal Ministry of
Food and Agriculture
Minister Julia Klöckner
11055 Berlin

Dear Minister Klöckner,

The current situation of the forest in Germany is worrying. It is a forest crisis not only driven by climate change. The current crisis management of the forestry industry is backward-looking and harmful to the forest. The declaration announced at the meeting of ministers in Moritzburg can be described as a `Moritzburg declaration of bankruptcy´. We call on the state forestry industry to, instead of expensive rushed actions, finally carry out an expert analysis of its own work and to involve all stakeholders in this process. What is called for is a consistent departure from plantation forestry and a radical shift towards a management that treats the forest as an ecosystem and no longer as a wood factory.

On 1stAugust 2019, five forestry ministers of CDU and CSU-led states adopted a so-called “master plan” for the forest in Germany, which was affected by heat, bark beetles, fire and drought. As of 2020, the federal government is to make 800 million euros available as a reaction to climate change. This money is to be used to repair the damage caused, reforest the damaged areas and carry out `climate-adapted´ forest conversion – including the use of non-native tree species that have not yet been cultivated in the forest. Research should therefore focus on on tree species suitability and forest plant breeding in the future – keyword: `Climate-adapted forest of the future 2100´.

Remarkably, the damage caused primarily by the extreme drought of 2018 is attributed solely to climate change. Climate change is meeting a forest that is systemically ill due to the planting of non-native tree species, species poverty, monocultures, uniform structure, average low age, mechanical soil compaction, drainage etc. A healthy, resistant forest would look differently! The master plan emphasizes: sustainable, multifunctional and `active´ forest management remains indispensable – and thereby means that its unnatural state cannot be changed. Reference is made to the `carbon storage and substitution effects´ of wood products. The use of wood, e.g. in the construction industry, should be increased and thus the demand for wood should be further fueled – while knowing that the forest in Germany already cannot meet this demand. In fact, forest owners are suffering from poor timber prices due to an oversupply of trunk wood on the world market.

All these demands make clear: the current forestry strategy, which has been practiced for decades, should not change in principle. The concept is simple: cut down trees – plant trees. At best, the `design´ of the future artificial forests consisting of perfectly calculated tree species mixtures, that are believed to survive climate change without damages, can be changed. In all seriousness, the intention is to continue selling the public a so-called `future strategy´ to save the forest. This strategy seamlessly follows the model of a wood factory, that is met with general rejection and must be regarded as a failure in view of the coniferous plantations that are currently collapsing on a large scale. An essential part of the forests that have currently died is exactly the part that was reestablished in 1947 as coniferous monocultures on a much larger area than today. There is only one difference to the situation at the time: considerable amounts of money are to be made available from taxes for forest owners this time.

Climate change is progressing, and this, without a doubt, has massive impacts on all terrestrial ecosystems, including forests. To pretend that the last two years of drought alone caused the disaster is too cheap. On closer inspection, the disaster is also the result of decades of a forestry focused on conifers – in a country that was once naturally dominated by mixed deciduous forests. People do not like to admit that for more than 200 years they have relied on the wrong species of commercial tree (spruce) and have also created artificial, ecologically highly unstable and thus high-risk forest ecosystems. A whole branch of business has become dependent on coniferous wood. And now the German coniferous timber industry is on the verge of bankruptcy.

It would only have been honest and also a sign of political greatness if you and the forestry ministers in Moritzburg had declared: Yes, our forestry industry has made mistakes in the past, and yes, we are ready for a relentless analysis that takes into account not only purely silvicultural, but also forest-ecological aspects. Instead, you have confined yourselves to pre-stamped excuses that are already familiar to everyone and that lack any self-critical reflection.

Clear is: We finally need resting periods for the forest in Germany, which has been exploited for centuries. We need a new, ecologically oriented concept for future forest – not a hectic `forest conversion´, but simply forest development closer towards nature. This gives the forest as an ecosystem the necessary leeway to self-regulate and react to the emerging environmental changes. We need a systemic forest management that is no less profitable than the present one, but must be substantially more stable and resistant to foreseeable environmental changes. The aid for forest owners that all citizens are now required to pay through their taxes is only politically justified in the interest of common good, if the forests of the future that are being promoted by it, do not end up in the next disaster, some of which is produced by the forest management itself.

That is why the signatories request from the the Federal Government, and in particular you, Mrs Klöckner, a master plan worthy of the name:

On disaster areas (mainly in public forests!) reestablishment through natural forest development (ecological succession), among other things with pioneer tree species, is to be brought about. In private forests, ecological succession for reestablishment must be purposefully promoted. Larger bare areas should be planted with a maximum of 400 to 600 large plants of native species per hectare in order to permit ecological succession parallelly.
To promote ecological succession, the areas should no longer be completely and mechanically cleared; as much wood as possible should be left in the stand (to promote optimum soil and germ bed formation, soil moisture storage and natural protection against browsing). In private forests, the abandonment of use in disaster areas should be specifically promoted for ecological reasons and in order to relieve the burden on the timber market.

Regarding the promotion of reestablishment plantings in private forests: priority for native tree species (of regional origin); choose wide planting distances in order to leave enough space for the development of pioneer species. For the forests of the future: Minimize thinning (low-input principle), build up stocks through targeted development towards old thick trees, protect the inner forest climate / promote self-cooling function (should have highest priority due to rapidly progressing climate change!), prohibit heavy machinery, refrain from further road construction and expansion, permit and promote natural self-regulatory development processes in the cultivated forest and on (larger) separate areas in the sense of an compound system; drastically reduce the density of ungulate game (reform of hunting laws).

Like in the field of organic agriculture, which has been established since the 1980s, the crisis of our forests should be the reason today to transform at least two existing forestry-related universities. They should be turned into universities for interdisciplinary forest ecosystem management. This is a contribution not only to the further development of forestry science and silviculture in Germany, but also of global importance! The goal must be to produce wood through largely natural forest production and to start with it here in Germany, the birthplace of forestry.

Motto: SYSTEMIC FOREST ECOSYSTEM MANAGEMENT INSTEAD OF WOOD FACTORY

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