Spain: protection of wolf expanded

Before the 4th of February 2021, hunters were able to legally kill wolves in the north of Spain. However, only above the river Duero. South of the river the Iberian wolf was strictly protected. Now, a months-long process came to an end with good news for the Iberian wolf. The government will include it in the “List of Special Protection Wild Species” for the whole country. The Ministry of Ecological Transition will now start the procedure to approve a new management strategy 2021-2030.

An important step

Up to February 2021, it was legal to hunt the wolf in the provinces Castilla y León, Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria north of the river Duero. However, the majority of wolves in the area, up to 95%, occur in this region. Conservationists achieved a first success in 2018/2019, when the local authorities suspended the wolf hunting season in Castilla y León. Continuing, it was crucial to extent the protection of the species in this region to ensure the viability of the population. It was also the only large carnivore in Spain that was not strictly protected. In total, the population in Spain is estimated to be 297 wolf packs, counting between 1 600 and 2 700 individuals.

The “Spanish National Commission for Natural Heritage and Biodiversity”, a governmental body attached to the Ministry of Ecological Transition, has just passed the inclusion of the wolf in the “List of Special Protection Wild Species”. The voting process ended up on a tie in the first round with some abstentions. Since there was no casting vote to undo the tie, they had to vote again. This time, it was the autonomous province of Catalonia who broke that tie. It voted this time in favour of the elevation of the protection status of the wolf.

With this step forward, the wolf will no longer be trophy hunted and there will not be a hunting quota set each season. This does not mean it will completely forbidden to kill wolves. However, it will be now up to the administration only to consider possible culling of individuals by their staff, whenever legal circumstances allow it.

A new wolf management strategy

A new national management strategy for 2021-2030 already exists. It now is in the process of approval. It aims to increase the population to up to 350 wolf packs. Additionally, it will include the objective of an increase in distribution area by between 10% and 20% compared to current levels. To diminish distribution barriers among wolf packs, ecological corridors and stepping stones in agricultural areas will be enhanced. Eventually, the strategy will also target illegal hunting, which is still very prevalent in Spain.

Livestock protection as remedy for conflicts

The inclusion of the wolf in the list of protected species might exacerbate the conflict with agricultural organisations and farmers. They claim that this decision will increase the livestock depredation in the area. Even though scientific research showed that culling wolves does not reduce livestock depredation, it seems like an attractive short-term solution. Due to this, the adaption to the new situation will require the collaboration of different entities, including farmers, the government, nature conservation and science.

It will be crucial to not only focus on the conservation of the wolf in the region but also to promote effective livestock protection measures. Traditionally, protection depended on shepherds. They lived permanently with their cattle, in the mountain huts during summer and the valleys during winter. This kind of protection mostly disappeared. Nowadays, the modern farmers want livestock keeping to be as simple as possible. But proven methods to protect livestock will help with better coexistence between wolf and livestock. May it be using shepherds or new technologies.

The wolf is a jewel of our fauna, an apical predator that, in addition to effectively regulating the populations of wild ungulates and meso-predators, is capable of self-regulating its own populations, even in the most degraded habitats. Its lethal control to prevent attacks on livestock is therefore unnecessary, ineffective and counterproductive in disintegrating well-structured herds that feed mainly on medium and large wild ungulates.

Asociación para la Conservación y Estudio del Lobo Ibérico (ASCEL)

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