EU: Three common reasons used for killing Large Carnivores in Europe

The European Parliament’s Policy Department for Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs, at the request of the PETI Committee, commissioned a study on Large Carnivores in Europe. The study focuses on the legal framework and current management for the brown bear, Eurasian lynx, wolf and wolverine. It describes the best coexistence methods from research and EU projects. Additionally the study analysed the potential conflicts between current management and the Habitats Directive derogations. Earlier, the European Commission already made a clear statement on the (il)legal hunting of wolves in Europe.

Is killing the solution?

Coexistence with Large Carnivores in Europe is a heavily discussed topic among the European Parliament. International Directives (strictly) protect these Large Carnivores in most EU Member states. However, there are different legislative systems in a few countries that provide flexibility to cull or hunt the animals. The countries allow killing for 3 main reasons:

1) Culling and hunting as a management tool. Culling and hunting are the tools most frequently applied by European Member States to manage conflicts with all species of large carnivores. In addition, the European Commission is increasingly requested to allow more national flexibility in the management of populations of large carnivores and to accept more derogation requests from Member States. However, scientific literature has demonstrated that lethal management has no or little effect or even counter-expected effects on the desired outcome (e.g. mitigate depredations) unless the carnivore population is reduced to such levels that are incompatible with the mandate of the Habitats Directive.

Some countries allow killing of Large Carnivores to increase human acceptance and tolerance towards them. It should also increase acceptance for depredation to livestock. Yet, the results seem to be ineffective. For example, the Norwegian government allowed killing of the majority of wolves, despite protests. An analysis of the Norwegian situation shows the causes for conflict lay not with the wolves. According to the report:

2) Hunting to increase public tolerance towards large carnivores. Scientific literature has shown that hunting does not decrease the negative effects of low tolerance of carnivores (e.g. poaching). In fact the opposite happens.

A third reason why countries allow killing is to ‘control’ the carnivore population. France, with its new Wolf Plan, allows killing of 10-12% of the wolf population each year. This way the country hopes to keep the population to a maximum of 500 individuals, which used to be 360 previously.

3) Hunting to control large carnivores population. The idea of “controlling”  the population of a key-apex predator that is legally protected (Bern, Habitats Directive, and several state members normative) is out of place because of the population’s ecological relevance and because such action is incoherent with scientific knowledge. Apex predators have unique traits that allow population auto-regulation, due to their behaviour and ecology. These important traits can be severely affected by perturbations like hunting and culling.

The researchers also propose four steps to minimise and solve coexistence challenges in Europe. Read more about it in our next posting. Although more countries demand culling of large carnivores, it will be unlikely that EU countries allow killing of them at short notice.

Curious to read the full report? Find it below:

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2 thoughts on “EU: Three common reasons used for killing Large Carnivores in Europe

  1. Dear EcoHustler, indeed Wilderness does not need human intervention. As you are able to read in this article, we list the three main reasons why European Member States allow killing of Large Carnivores. A recently published study, commissioned by the European Parliament’s Policy Department, clearly indicates the reasoning behind these reasons, as well as the ecological threats this causes. All 3 reasons mean human intervention. Curious to read what the EU Parliament study proposes as solution? Read the follow-up article here:

  2. This is really weird. Why is the European Wilderness Society giving reasons for killing wild animals? The whole point of wilderness is that it exists without human interference.

    If humans want to stop The Sixth Mass extinction and stabilise the biosphere we need to rewild vast areas and let wild animals roam free. These small steps being taken today is not nearly enough and this article suggests a depressing lack of ambition.

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Sign the Open Letter to the German Ministry

Join more than 70 forest experts demanding a radical change in the German forest management system.

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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