Wildlife

The return of the wolf in France

The return of the wolf in France marks a significant ecological event, as wolves gradually reappear after being eradicated by the 19th century. This resurgence has sparked conflicts between conservation efforts and agricultural interests, highlighting the challenges of balancing wildlife protection with societal needs.

History of the wolf in France 

Around the 10th century, wolves likely thrived across France, freely roaming vast forests and rural landscapes, playing a pivotal ecological role. However, as human settlements expanded and agriculture intensified, conflicts with wolves escalated. This trend continued over subsequent centuries as wolves became increasingly unwelcome and targeted by locals, the pressure growing alongside human population growth. 

By the 19th century, extensive eradication campaigns, supported by bounties, swiftly drove wolves to extinction in France by 1940. Wolves history in France is characterized by cycles of abundance, followed by large-scale eradication and recent recovery efforts. This recovery is an ongoing process as the wolf population gradually expands from eastern Europe and moves westward.

The mid-1990s saw the beginning of a remarkable comeback for wolves in France

Wolves comeback

In the mid-1990s, a remarkable return of wolves to France began. The wolves came from Italy, where they originally settled in the bordering Mercantour National Park. Under the protection of the Bern Convention and the European Habitats Directive, wolves gradually spread throughout the country. This has led to renewed conflicts with farmers and ongoing debates over the protection of wildlife and agricultural interests.

Strict protection of wolves

Wolves in France now enjoy strict protection under the Bern Convention and the European Habitats Directive, shielding them from capture and killing except under special exceptions. These exceptions are granted to limit damage caused by wolves only if their conservation status is satisfactory and no alternative preventive measures exist. However, protection levels vary across European countries due to different interpretations of what constitutes a satisfactory conservation status.

The return of wolves has led to gradually increasing livestock losses in southeastern France

Impact of wolves

The return of wolves led to increasing losses of unguarded, free-ranging livestock in southeastern France. Farmers support the recultivation of abandoned areas and the removal of spontaneously growing bushes in order to restore areas recently used for grazing. In addition to the restoration of pastures, maintenance of the landscape, protection of species dependent on an open and regularly grazed environment, as well as fire prevention are frequent arguments. Free-grazing herds of livestock become, however, easy prey for wolves, who did nothing else but remove easily hunt-able species from the man-made and insufficiently protected ecosystem. This, of course, leads to an increase in conflicts.

This situation naturally leads to conflicts between farmers who advocate the removal of wolves and ecologists who support their protection. They repeatedly ask farmers to introduce measures for the protection of livestock, which are widely used not only in different parts of Europe, but also by their ancestors in ancient times.

At a glance, it seems that the protection of wolves not only complicates the maintenance of the landscape and the support of shepherding, but the return of wolves is also a source of ongoing conflicts.

Summary

The wolf population, initially limited to the southeast part of the country, gradually expanded. Monitoring shows the return of the wolf throughout the French Alps. In the long term, the permanent presence of wolves in all suitable habitats is expected in most of France. The conservation status of wolves in France is therefore considered “favourable”, allowing exemptions to be applied.

The wolf population, initially limited to the southeastern corner of France, gradually expanded. Monitoring shows that we can expect the return of the wolf in the entire French Alps and in the long term, the permanent presence of wolves in all suitable habitats is France. The conservation status of wolves in France is therefore considered “favorable”, which allows exceptions to be applied. This EU tool can significantly help solve the current situation with the wolf in France.

Conclusion

Wolves once thrived in France, but human expansion led to their eradication by the 19th century. In recent decades, their gradual return has sparked conflicts between conservation and agriculture. This history illustrates the complex relationship between humans and wildlife, highlighting the challenges of balancing ecological preservation and societal needs.

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