With the wolf population steadily growing in Europe, wolves are expanding again to new territories. As wolves can easily travel large distances, the expansion happens at a fast speed. In some areas faster than people are willing to adapt. The majority of people accepts the return of the wolf, and also acknowledges the important role it has in nature. However, a smaller group of people does not favour the wolves’ presence. They rather see the wolf either leave, or killed. Some people event want to make sure that a wolf never comes to their region at all. They are demanding so-called wolf-free zones. An extreme and unrealistic idea, some might say, as well as ineffective.
Please also read: Livestock management is more effective than killing wolves.
Follow the trail
The wolf is a traveller. Already at a young age, wolves start to look for a place to start their own family. Some wolves travel hundreds, even thousands of kilometers. Wolves have a great sense of smell. Their nose, just like a dog’s nose, is far more sensitive than our own nose. Wolves are able to smell where other animals have walked, and even in which direction. It is thus not really a surprise that wolves tend to follow the same routes that other wolves already travelled. So as soon as a wolf has passed through an area, it is more likely that another wolf will also visit the area sooner or later.
When creating these wolf-free zones, it means that people will kill any wolf that enters the zone. Yet, it will not take long before another wolf uses the trail, leading up to the same zone. Then the process would start over, and another wolf finds its final resting place.
Wolf-free zones basically means that our society would need to have continuous monitoring of the borders. It would mean that along the entire zone, at every moment, people with guns are watching whether a wolf is approaching. The expenses for this to happen, plus the required resources, would be beyond proportion. Fencing the zone completely to prevent wolves from entering will also not work. It will prevent many other animals from crossing borders, impacting the entire ecosystem in a dramatic negative way. In Germany, the scientific service of the Government also analysed the feasibility of wolf-free zones.
Clear statement of conservation laws
The scientific service of the German Government analysed specifically whether the declaration of wolf-free zones aligned with the legal rights in Europe, Germany and the German provinces. In addition, they compared the zones with the protection rights of wolf populations on national and international level. Also, the restrictions to which municipalities are bound to decide to become a wolf-free zone, is investigated.
The outcomes of their analysis clearly show that preventive wolf-free zones are neither compatible with the national nor international conservation laws. Even though these laws include exceptions that enable the expulsion and even hunting of a problem wolf. These exceptions are for individual cases that follow previous documented unwanted behaviour of a wolf and for cases where other protection measures, such as fences, guarding dogs or shephards, were not sucessful. Additionally, the FFH-Directive demands the securing of a favourable conservation status of the wolf.
This is also a reason why people are trying to change local laws, as well as the FFH-Directive. But the situation is relatively easy, the Directive will not change so fast. For this to happen, all Member States have to uniformly agree to change the protection status of the wolf.
No legal basis for wolf-free zones
Keeping an area wolf-free would demand constant and targeted measures of scarring off or killing immigrating individuals. Futhermore, depending on their size, such wolf-free zones would be contradicting with ensuring a favourable conservation status. Consequently, keeping zones wolf-free is conflicting with the FFH-directive as well as the German nature conservation laws.
The wolf management plans of the provinces offer guidlines how to deal with the wolf and are legally based on the previously mentioned international and national laws. But they do not offer a legal basis for actions against the wolf. This means, the proclamation of wolf-free zones, no matter if on a provincial or municipality level, cannot be justified based on the current legal situation in Germany. This means that unauthorised actions against wolves are still illegal, no matter if an area has previously been proclaimed a wolf-free zone.
Solution in livestock protection
Besides the legal aspects, it is also important to realise what the public will think about this move. The alpine regions promote itself as important places for biodiversity and a natural experience. However, when the areas try to kill any wolf that approaches, this will not align with the message they try to sell to the visitors. As by far the majority of people welcomes the wolf, the impacts on local tourism and economic development could become a distaster. Fortunately, there is a solution at hand. As we know from many different examples, the most efficient protection against wolf attacks is the implementation of livestock protection measures. Measures such as electrical fences, guarding dogs and shepherds help livestock owners to protect their animals.