Despite being one of the countries with the lowest human densities of Europe, Norway only allows and protects wolves in 5% of its territory. These are so-called wolf zones. The rest of the country is a no-go zone for wolves, and wolves who cross this administrative line are shot. Today, this critically endangered species is present in the country with only 5-6 reproductive wolf families, plus 3-7 families in the border areas with Sweden. However, in the last four years, Norwegian authorities have authorised the culling of 6 wolf families in the wolf zone, which amounts to around 40 wolves.
Culling wolf families for population “control”
Back in January 2020, the Norwegian animal rights organisation NOAH sued the Norwegian Ministry of the Environment for culling the wolf family of Letjenna in the wolf zone. In winter 2021, the state allowed the culling of another two wolf families in the wolf zone on similar grounds. In both cases, the Ministry argued that it is an “overriding public interest” to minimise the wolf population if it exceeds the politically determined population level of 4-6 wolf families. The Ministry also emphasized that culling is necessary to ensure “trust in the administration”.
Last Friday 9th of July, the Oslo District Court issued its judgment. In the court, NOAH argued that the Norwegian law does not allow shooting endangered wolves for the sole purpose of regulating the population size and that there is a high threshold for shooting wolves also on the grounds provided in the law. Further, NOAH stated that any negative effects that the presence of wolves had on human interests should have been tackled by non-lethal measures, such as using vests for hunting dogs.
The district court’s ruling shows that the authorities have not given the wolves the legal protection they are entitled to under the law. It is time for politicians to take the protection of endangered wild animals seriously. Norway must take much better care of the endangered species that live in this country.
The state breached the law when culling wolf families
The Oslo District Court concluded that, in the present case, the Ministry did not met the “high legal threshold” for exempting from the strict protection of wolves in the wolf zone. According to the court, the state failed to show any special adverse effects that the wolves had caused to local business development, human settlements, general social activities, or leisure and outdoor activities. Neither the population perceived the wolves as especially conflicutal. Therefore, the Ministry’s decision was legally invalid as it used the wish to minimise the size of the wolf population as the decisive justification.
Finally, the court found that this kind of application of the exception ground “overriding public interests” was incorrect, as this would leave the wolves in the wolf zone without strict protection as soon as the number of wolf families exceeds the politically determined level. The court could not see that this was the intention of the legislator and that “trust in the administration” speaks for upholding the “high legal threshold” for exemptions in the wolf zone.
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