‘More bears’ for French Pyrenees despite Macron pledge

The release of bears into the French Pyrenees has been controversial, but campaigners say more are needed

More bears will be released into the French Pyrenees, a pro-bear association has vowed, despite President Emmanuel Macron’s pledge this week to stop their release.

Alain Reynès, director of the Pays de l’Ours association, insisted: “There will be more releases in the Pyrenees, because this is a European obligation. We have a legal obligation in France to restore a viable [bear] population.”

He explained: “A viable threshold has not [yet] been reached. There are between 40 and 50 bears today - with the numbers expected to be updated within a month and a half - and we need more to have a viable population, which maintains itself.”

Mr Reynès conceded that Mr Macron had “done his bit” when it comes to bears, as he did authorise the release of two females in the autumn of 2018.

He said: “Not all Presidents have done that. [But Mr Macron] announced that he would not do any more over the course of his term. Well, maybe we will figure that out later. But the question is not whether there will be any more [releases] or not. There will be.”

The comments come after President Macron visited the Pyrenees town of Pau (Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Nouvelle-Aquitaine) this week. In front of the Presidents of the Chambers of Agriculture for Ariège, the Hautes-Pyrénées and the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Mr Macron pledged to stop all bear releases planned for 2018-2028.

In response, Bernard Layre, president of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques Chamber of Agriculture, told local news source France3: “These are clear statements, political statements, concrete statements that will satisfy farmers, and which therefore reassure us somewhat.”

But pro-bear and environmental groups said they were angry to not have been included at the meeting with the President.

Gérard Caussimont, president of the pro-bear group FIEP-Groupe Ours Pyrénées, said: “We are stunned that the President did not receive pro-nature groups that could have brought him other viewpoints. Today, we do not yet know if it will be necessary to release other bears, to ensure the survival of the Pyrenees population.”

But the Pays de l’Ours association said there was no doubt that it would be necessary, and did not rule out pursuing legal action on the issue.

Mr Reynès said: “We were able to release two bears in 2018 because we had made a legal case and won, especially before the administrative court in Toulouse. On March 6, 2018, France was condemned for not respecting its European obligations.

“Three weeks later, the then-minister for ecology announced the release of two bears in the western Pyrenees.”

Despite the European rules, the release of bears into the French Pyrenees has been controversial. Farmers in the region have complained of a serious threat to their livestock and farming, while there have also been stories of hikers and campers being threatened, and advice issued on what to do if you come across a bear in the mountains.

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