Within the last 20 years, wolves returned to Germany from Poland after total extinction. Now, there are hundreds of wolves in Germany again. Most of them live in Eastern and Northern Germany, where some areas already reached the estimated maximum density of wolf packs. Hence, conflicts between livestock breeding and wolf conservation cannot be avoided completely. This year, German law makers reacted by amending the Federal Nature Conservation Act to specify legislation regarding the wolf. This law determines how all protected species are treated in Germany. So far, it included the wolf as a protected species according to the Habitat Directive, but did not mention it specifically. Growing conflicts around the wolf, especially the killing of ‘problematic’ individuals, prompted law makers to specify its treatment individually.
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New law allows to hunt whole wolf packs
Proponents of the amendment say that it only specifies the handling of problematic individuals. It does not change the protection status of the wolf. Many activists, however, criticize one specific part of the new amendment. That it is not mandatory anymore to prove which individual of a pack caused damage. Instead the whole pack can be hunted. The law already stated that even protected species can be displaced or harmed “to prevent serious damages in agriculture, forestry, fishing, water management or economy”. The new amendement to the paragraph now states that in case of livestock predation by wolves, individuals of the pack can be killed until the predation stops.
NGOs like BUND, NABU and DUH actively lobbied against the new amendment, but they could not prevent it from passing. They also criticize that the amented law does still not include standards for livestock protection. But they also see a partial success of their campaigns. The original draft included preventive kills and covered all protective species. That for example would have opened the door for the killing of beavers to prevent damages to water management.
After the ruling of the European Court of Justice regarding the killing of wolves in Finland last October, it seems questionable whether the new amendment aligns with the Habitat Directive. The court ruled that each exemption – so each killed wolf – has to be justified on a case-by-case basis.
Environmental Action Germany (DUH) deems the new amendment of the Federal Nature Conservation Act illegal according to European law, because it subverts directives regarding the killing of protected species.
New hunting law in Switzerlnad
In neighbouring Switzerland, the return of the wolf is a similar success story. Since 1995, wolves have settled in Switzerland coming from Italy, where it was never extinct, and France. Nowadays, there are over 50 wolves in Switzerland. And the country often serves as a model for other areas in the Alps on how to reconcile wolf conservation and pastoralism through livestock protection.
However, in September 2019, the federal government passed a reform of the national hunting law. It specifically targets the wolf just like in Germany. In addition, it is also detrimental for a series of protected species. The amendment eases the prerequisites for the killing of a list of protected species. Initially this list contains only wolf and ibex. But the amendment also includes a fast-track mechanism to easily include other species in the list. Critics are concerned that beaver, lynx and otter will follow soon. Animals on that list can now be killed before causing any damage as a preventive measure.
No benefits from less protection
Statistics from Wallis, a Swiss state, show that increased hunting of wolves is neither necessary nor effective. The number of wolves there rose from five in 2017 to 18 in 2019. Nevertheless, there was less livestock predation in 2019 than in 2018. The reason is probably increased livestock protection, which is more effective than the killing of wolves. In addition, Large Carnivores naturally reduce the game population. This is important in Switzerland to improve regeneration of the so called protective forests. These forests on mountain slopes prevent erosion, land slides, floods and avalanches.
Another point of criticism is that several endangered species like hare, snow grouse and woodcock can still be hunted. Even many hunters oppose the amendment, because rather than standardizing hunting across the country, it gives more power to the states.
The new hunting law is a sham. It does not bring any improvement for the hunt and compromises species protection.
Referendum against the new law
In response, a wide coaltion of NGOs, members of parliament, foresters, hunters and political parties started a petition against the amendment. The petition quickly gathered enough signatures to trigger a refenderum. Due to the corona crisis, the referendum, that was scheduled for 17th May, is indefinitely postponed, at least until October.
Both stories show that wolves and other wildlife that humans deem ‘problematic’ are not safe once they manage to re-establish themselves in an area. They need continuous protection and advocacy or the tide can turn quickly. Luckily, in both cases the last word is not spoken yet. In Switzerland the public now has the power to keep endangered species safe. And in Germany, it is up to courts to decide whether the new law contradicts the Habitat Directive.