Wolf in Italy: Under threat!

Wolf in Italy: Under threat!

By our long-term partner Dario Botti, independent professional from Parma, Italy.

Wolf in Italy is strictly protected since 1971. Since then, wolf population increased and spread to whole Apennine, to Alps and further. As stated by Cadete D & Pinto S. (2015)[1],

“During the last four decades, Italy has been standing as a European symbol of wolf conservation success. Strict protection and deployment of non-lethal coexistence methods proved to be of key importance along this process and allowed population recovery and species recolonization along its historical range”.

Ecological connectivity between Alps and Apennines
Ecological connectivity between Alps and Apennines The smaller the remnant forest patch, the faster the species disappeared.

This situation (and this image of Italy as wolf-friendly Country) could soon change, if the Environment Ministry will approve the new “Wolf conservation and management plan”. Such a plan will permit to cull around 60 wolves each year. The plan will permit also to cull hybrids and to hunt free ranging dogs.

Wolves in Italy have to face many difficulties and IUCN red list classify peninsular population as Vulnerable (D1) and Western-Central Alps population as Endangered (D)[2]. According to WWF-Italy[3], every year in Italy poachers kill 300 (three hundred!) wolves and other exemplars die in car accidents. According to Pro Natura[4], after the dismemberment of the State Forestry Corp (the main environmental surveillance force), the dismantling of provincial regulatory bodies and the serious economic crisis faced by protected areas, the situation could be getting even worse.

In this context, measures for better protecting wolf and enhancing predators-man coexistence in Italy would seem necessary. However, it is very difficult to understand in which way culling of wolves could serve for these purposes. It is very worrying that, according to the plan, no other solutions exist to mitigate the conflicts detected. Again, given the opposition of the majority of Italian people towards hunting, it would be expected a greater effort to find other means to diminish wolf-man conflicts.

Cadete D & Pinto S. (2015, op. cit.), reviewed the management plan on behalf of LAV (Antivivisection League) and found many reasons to reject wolf’s culling. Following considerations are largely based on their work.

The real number of wolves in Italy is uncertain. Instead, it is certain the very low genetic diversity of such a predator population and the difficulties to ensure to it a long-term viability. Given these conditions, establishing culling numbers seems extremely difficult. Moreover, a vulnerable (according to IUCN Red List) species should not be considered as in favorable conservation status[5].

Culling is also counterproductive because it disrupts social structures and behaviors of wolves and it could increase conflicts with people. In the Italian context, with a so high number of poached wolves, it worsen the present precarious situation.

One of the plan’s aims is also reducing risk of hybridization with dogs (by culling). One problem is that danger of hybridization is higher in areas where survival of wolf is more difficult, so that culling could negatively affects population range. Another problem is detecting hybrid wolves with reasonable costs and reliability. It would be better to estimate real damages due to dogs and try to solve the problem of so many free ranging dogs.

About social aspects of culling, it is important to note that lowering the protection level of a species could be perceived as a reduction in the gravity of poaching. In other European Countries, culling did not bring greater acceptance of wolf, nor a better coexistence with him. In fact, the effects seem to be opposite. The plan seems also underestimate the acceptance of wolf by Italian people (see the study of Glikman et al. 2011, cited in Cadete D & Pinto S. 2015).

In short, it would seems that culling is not justifiable in scientific or technical arguments. As stressed by Cadete D & Pinto S. (2015, op. cit.),

“There are no scientific and technical arguments to justify hunting and population controls as valid tools to solve conflicts or to decrease social tension. Since it is not possible to find scientific or technical justifications to justify the measure, wolf culling must be rejected for reasons of ethical nature (Haber 1996, Vucetich & Nelson 2014)”.

Nevertheless, although culling is cruel and not acceptable (other than useless), it is only a mean. More important is the frame of which the culling is part. As pointed out by Pro Natura, the prevailing idea developed in the plan is to consider the wolf just a problematic element. Instead, the plan should consider wolf as a positive presence.

A more general question raise now. What kind of life do we want for predators in Italy and in Europe today? Do we want that predators could occupy their proper role in a (and for a) healthier ecosystem, or they should just survive as scared ghosts constantly escaping from dangerous and hostile men in degraded landscapes? Or, again, do we prefer see them into large and secure fences, and looking at them as species in a living museum?

The review of wolf’s plan by Cadete D & Pinto S. (2015) is available (in English) at:

https://www.lav.it/news/piano-abbattimento-lupi

Pro Natura comment is available (in Italian) at: http://www.pro-natura.it/lettore-news/la-posizione-della-federazione-nazionale-pro-natura-rispetto-alla-bozza-del-piano-di-conservazione-e-gestione-del-lupo-del-minis.html

WWF-Italy starts a petition at:

https://www.wwf.it/lupo/soslupo/

[1] Cadete D & Pinto S. (2015). Towards a Wolf Conservation and Management Plan for Italy. Technical Review of the Italian Draft Plan on Wolf Conservation and Management compiled by Luigi Boitani and Valeria Salvatori (October 2015, Unione Zoologica Italiana) and Recommendations for future Actions. Commissioned by the Italian not for profit organisation LAV. 28 pp. + appendix. The report is available online on LAV’s website: https://www.lav.it/news/piano-abbattimento-lupi

[2] (retrieved 7 march 2016). IUCN assessment information about peninsular population is as follows: “The Italian wolf population is estimated to be 500-800 individuals distributed along the Apennines. The shape of the range is narrow and elongated, restricted to the Apennines. The population has limited exchanges with the population of the Western Alps and recent genetic evidence indicates a flux of genes only in the direction toward the Alps. In spite of the recent increase in numbers and range, the Italian wolf population is still highly vulnerable to local extermination from human pressures (poison, shooting, car accidents) and the stochastic nature of these events suggest to maintain a cautionary assessment. The population does not qualify for the category Endangered, but it may easily reverse its current favorable status.”

[3] http://www.wwf.it/lupo/ (retrieved 7 march 2016).

[4] http://www.pro-natura.it/lettore-news/la-posizione-della-federazione-nazionale-pro-natura-rispetto-alla-bozza-del-piano-di-conservazione-e-gestione-del-lupo-del-minis.html (retrieved 8 march 2016)

[5] Linnell J, Salvatori V & Boitani L. (2008). Guidelines for population level management plans for large carnivores in Europe. Contract nr. 070501/2005/424162/MAR/B2. Final version. European Commission, Brussels, Belgium. (retrieved 7 march 2016)

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3 thoughts on “Wolf in Italy: Under threat!

  1. yes i belive this. So we need to change policies of Italian parks conservations and of mainly conservationist associations that don’t care so much about wilderness, trees and forests. Just to species per square meters normally, almost. Beause is wilderness the way to protect wolves! Not cages or zoos 😉 When one animal species is enough developped in popluations, of coures we can change and in nay case we need to adapt the type of managment. The problem is how!!! 😉

  2. Wolf needs acceptance and wild areas. If for nothing else for resting, breeding and grow up family… Don’t think so??? European Wilderness Society with supporters is fighting for this…

  3. How acceptance of wolf in Italy would help to support large forested areas?
    I ask this because doesnt’ matter, normally procteted areas in Italy are involved in programs of logging, deforestation or to block the secondary succession to manatain secondary prairies till few times to realize sky areas and, forestal roads and so… Sponsorized and called under many ways and projects, buit the results are always similar. And normally the biggest italian naturalists associations are not prepared, not so determinate and not so senitive about italian forest conservation, rewilding and wilderness…

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Join more 100+ forest experts demanding a radical change in German forestry management.

Sign the Open Letter to the German Federal Minister of Forestry and Agriculture

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.

Motto: SYSTEMIC FOREST ECOSYSTEM MANAGEMENT INSTEAD OF WOOD FACTORY

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