Next Steps for Wolf Conservation and Management in Europe – Intergroup Online event

Brussels, 20 March 2024 – The European Parliament’s “Biodiversity, Hunting, Countryside” Intergroup, together with the European Federation for Hunting and Conservation (FACE) and the European Landowners’ Organization (ELO), hosted an online event: “Next Steps for Wolf Conservation and Management in Europe.” Much of the discussions revolved around the European Commission’s proposal to change the international status of wolves under the Bern Convention.

A panel of high-level speakers consisting of Members of the European Parliament, the European Commission, experts in wildlife conservation and relevant stakeholders shared their views on the challenges and opportunities for wolf conservation and management in Europe.

Alberto Arroyo Schnell, Head of Programme and Policy at the European Regional Office of IUCN, who moderated the event, effectively enriched the debate by fielding a range of diverse questions form a large audience. His engaging and informative approach highlighted the value of interactive dialogue in addressing complex conservation topics. He stressed that: “Thanks to successful conservation efforts, wolf populations have notably grown over the past two decades. Given the important role they play in our ecosystems, we need to consider how to co-exist with wolves. This requires a balanced approach were all stakeholders can convene to discuss the future of wolf management and conservation in Europe. Fostering understanding and cooperation is needed, to strive for a balanced relationship between wolves and humans and promote coexistence. So events such as this one are more necessary than ever”.

At the opening, MEP Elsi Katainen (Renew Europe, Finland) stated: “I warmly welcome the Commission’s proposal on the change for the Bern convention […] As a policy-makers, we always recall the scientific knowledge and recent developments and improvements. This is also the question now with the wolf populations [..] and the situation is very different compared to the situation 30 years ago. Providing strictly regulated and sustainable management […] would be an additional tool to ensure the inclusion and empowerment of rural people while guaranteeing the conservation of the wolf. Wolves are part of nature and belong there, but not in the yards or animal sheds”.

MEP Juan Ignacio Zoido (EPP, Spain) stated: “Objective figures are more powerful than narratives. I would like to highlight a discouraging figure to confirm that the wolf is indeed a growing problem: Every year wolves kill between 30−40,000 head of livestock […] To those who criticise livestock breeders – and us, their representatives – for pushing for a downlisting of the protection status of the wolf, we have said time and time again that the control of wolf populations is essential to make life easier for the people affected”.

MEP Herbert Dorfmann (EPP, Italy) stated that: “The EU Habitats Directive from 1992 served its purpose in a time when strict protection was needed. Today, the situation is different and we need to adapt the law to the new normal. Adjusting the legislation doesn’t mean wolves will cease their natural behaviour of hunting. They will continue attacking the easiest prey available. But it does provide more room for manoeuvre in areas where wolves are expanding rapidly and most importantly, it restores legal certainty. The implementation of management plans has to be ensured by policy, not by judicial arbitrariness”.

MEP Thomas Waitz (Greens, Austria) stated that: “The wolf is here to stay. They are vital for our biodiversity and forests. The conservative push to change the protective status of the wolf is a debate without substance. Even with a lower protection status wolves will remain a part of our ecosystem. The implementation of livestock damage prevention measures is the only feasible solution for farmers. Instead of giving in to populism we should work on solutions to help farmers adapt to a peaceful coexistence”.

Dr. Humberto Delgado Rosa, Director for Biodiversity, DG Environment, European Commission, stated that: “The Commission proposal to update the protection status of the wolf in the Bern Convention is currently under consideration by the Member States. Irrespective of its outcome, Member States’ authorities should make the best use of all the relevant tools and funding opportunities, already available under the existing legislation, to reduce conflicts and improve coexistence. The Commission will continue promoting good practices and encouraging the involvement of all the concerned stakeholders in finding and implementing suitable coexistence solutions, in line with our legislation and common policy goals”.

Dr. John Linnell, Senior Scientist at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, explained that: “We are clearly at a crossroads when it comes to the future of wolf management in Europe. The last decades have seen a spectacular recovery of their populations. On one hand, this is a dramatic conservation success, but there is no doubt that it also represents significant challenges for many rural communities. We are no longer at a stage where we are saving wolves from extinction. We now have to learn how to define, and live with, this success. We need to find a sustainable relationship with these sometimes difficult neighbours. This is uncharted territory. There are no easy solutions, but it is important that we approach this process using everything we have learnt about using robust science, and transparent and inclusive processes”.

Luis Suarez, Conservation Coordinator at WWF Spain and Member of the Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe, stated that: “Wolves, like other large carnivores, are predators and are at the top of the trophic pyramid of the ecosystem, playing a vital role in maintaining ecosystem balance and healthy biodiversity. We have to concentrate in taking advantage of this benefits and in supporting actively those who coexist with them. The current funding schemes offers a lot of possibilities for coexistence that should be fully explored and implemented by Member States. But it’s also time to work more closely with the local community and extensive livestock farmers to highlight their real problems and to look for solutions in the new CAP. Time for giving an extra support for those that are really living in balance with the nature, contribute to its conservation and provide benefits to the society”.

Speaking about the challenges and opportunities for wolf conservation and management in Europe, Niall Curley, Policy Advisor at COPA COGECA stated: “Farmers welcome conservation measures for biodiversity as long as they give clear positive effects for both nature and farming. The study released at the same time of the proposal noted that there are now over 20,000 wolves across the EU in 2023, compared with 11,193 in 2012. With such an unchecked population in the EU we are seeing over 65,500 livestock killed annually. Protection measures, do work, and compensation measures, do work. But when attacks increase month by month, and year by year; you are seeing that the right money isn’t going to the right people. It is crucial for Member States to have the possibility to put in place population management plans which would allow them the ability to support populations that are not in a good condition or conservation status, and to likewise deal with the increasing number of wolves”.

The event was attended by around 300 online participants. Video recordings are available at this link.

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