Is an elk a threat to Ukrainian forests?

Recently the The District Administrative Court of Kiev cancelled the order of the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Ukraine regarding entering of the European elk into the Red Book of Ukraine for protection and allowed hunting on this species.

Amongst arguments for the support of this decision, is that the increased population of elk (also called moose or Alces alces), is now a threat for Ukrainian forests. Whilst neighbours of Ukraine introduce restoration programmes for the elk, Ukraine intends to kill this large herbivore.

Maybe a natural solution, like stopping hunting carnivores, would help to solve this and also other challenges of misbalanced ecosystems?

Please also read: Wolf restore balance in Europe

Red book and elk inventory

The Red Book of Ukraine is a list of endangered species that need to be strongly protected. One of the main reasons of the court decision to cancel the inclusion of the elk to the Red Book of Ukraine, thus allowing hunting on elks, was that the Ministry and other involved ecological and scientific organisations couldn’t substantiate that the elk is becoming a vulnerable species. The exact data on population number and its dynamics was not provided.

An accurate inventory of the elk was recently conducted, but only partly and in one sub-region (oblast) of Ukraine. There, 90 individuals of European elk were recorded. Unfortunately data from other sub-regions is not consistent or updated. According to behaviour peculiarities the inventory of elk is most reliable during autumn-winter.

Recently applied methodologies of elk inventory (as well as other wildlife species) are not reliable. During my field trips I even saw a wildcat, but not a single elk.

says Petro Testov, ecologist, field expert

In such a way, the elk was present in the Red Book of Ukraine for only one year. The Red Book is not providing practical protection for these species.

Reasons for elk population decrease

The elk uses pine forests for protection and also as a food sources, but unfortunately these forests are disappearing in Ukraine. At the same time the level of poaching is quickly increasing. This, together with other reasons, may lead to elk disappearing from Ukraine in 2-3 years. The same problem also occurs in neighbouring Belorussia.

According to some experts, this may even happen without direct human intervention (hunting/habitat loss), due to climate change and the dynamics of the species.

But on the other hand, elks often allow people to approach very closely. and therefore they are easy prey for poachers. This happens also in the protected areas.

Game management

Some believe that game management protects elks. They say that “good” hunters protect elk against bad poachers. As one of the Ukrainian media informs, current hunting on elks aims at finding adult elks with nicely developed antlers. Therefore through natural selection, the elk is evolving smaller antlers to avoid poachers. Additionally, hunting on female elks is allowed, which decreases the reproduction and population growth of elks. Many female elks are shot in January, whilst they are pregnant, because they resemble male elks (who don’t have antlers in January).

The hunting season is said to be too long in Ukraine, and many hunters do not have their 1 hunter license.

Natural solution

It is clear that humans should reduce their intervention and elk hunting, if balanced nature is the aim. Without humans the elk population will regulate itself, restoring balance. Additionally if other wildlife such as large carnivores are not disturbed, the whole ecosystem may be able to recover. A very good example about the wolf restoring balance in the nature of Yellowstone is available here.

Also it is a well-known fact that carnivores not only prevent overpopulation of other species, but they also help populations to become healthier.

Of course most of the hunters know about these roles of the carnivores very well. But they prefer to hide their passion towards chasing and killing elks and other animals under the damage they are causing to the forests.

– Iryna Shchoka from European Wilderness Society.

Against large carnivores as well

Recently the Ukrainian Association of Fish and Game Users has been working against the introduction of new laws forbidding regulation of carnivore populations in Ukraine.

Wolf are being hunted each year. The number of these annually killed carnivores is around 1 000. Uncontrolled increase of the carnivores may lead to the decrease of other species for hunting. Among those are also rare species, which become the food source of such carnivores… Besides situation with Golden Jackal, which is considered as a big threat for livestock in Southern Ukraine.

Sergiy Androsyuk, President of Association of Fish and Game Users

Humans should not behave as owners of nature and its wildlife, but should instead learn how to enjoy it and live in harmony. The European Wilderness Society works all across Europe, advocating for the protection of nature and its wildlife.

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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.


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