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Anger as Government ups number of wolves to be culled

Wildlife groups criticise order allowing the killing of more wolves by June

Environment Minister Ségolène Royal and Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll yesterday jointly issued the decree, which authorizes prefects to kill two more wolves by June, in addition to the 36 already killed in the past nine months. Ms Royal said it would be followed by another identical decree, which would bring the number killed to 40.

Two NGOs, the Association for the Protection of Wild Animals (ASPAS) and One Voice, appealed to the Council of State to request the cancellation of the order.

“Out of a wolf population estimated at less than 300, this number of 40 kills, wanted by the minister, jeopardizes the conservation of the species in France,” said a statement by the Cap Loup collective, a group of 38 associations.

They say this is especially the case because of “10 wolves found dead since July 2016, mainly due to collisions, not counted by the State” and “invisible poaching”. They accused the government of “fighting against wolves” and “flouting” the protected status of the species.

“These political shots, just before the elections, will not reduce predator attacks on livestock. They have never done it,” said the NGOs.

In order to regulate the wolf population, the State relies mainly on decrees authorizing “levies” - legal culling - of a certain number, as a derogation from their protected status. But this ceiling continues to increase: in three years, it has risen from 24 wolves per year to 36, and now is set to reach 40.

Cap Loup points to an assessment by 14 scientists on the fate of the wolf in France, published at the end of March under the co-ordination of the National Museum of Natural History and the National Office for Hunting and Wildlife, and commissioned by the Ministry of the Environment.

According to their research, wolf mortality from all causes averaged 22% per year between 1995 and 2013. But for the period 2014-2016, which saw a sharp increase in the killing of wolves, it reached the rate of 34%, the threshold at which the number of wolves will cease to grow before declining. “We are in the critical zone,” said Yvon Le Maho, an ecologist from University of Strasbourg-CNRS, one of the lead researchers. “If the 2017 data [expected by July] confirms the stability of the population, this would mean that more wolves could not be killed without threatening the viability of the species.”

The government justifies the cull by the need to “protect livestock against the progression of the wolf”. The wolf population, which naturally returned to the Mercantour Park, in Alpes-Maritime, in 1992 after disappearing in the 1930s due to hunting and poisoning, was estimated at 35 five packs and 292 individuals in 2016.

However, statistics suggest that legal culling fails to limit attacks on livestock. The number of sheep killed by wolves has gradually increased over the years. There were 9,788 in 2016, mainly in Alpes-Maritimes, compared with 8,964 in 2015, 4,920 in 2011, 3,800 in 2005 and 1,500 in 2000.

The National Sheep Federation (FNO), meanwhile, welcomed the decree and said it will “enable the breeders to protect their flocks in the months to come”.

“We just wondered about the 10 days that elapsed between the signature of the text and its publication…we could have avoided several attacks in Aveyron in particular,” said its president Michèle Boudoin.

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