Finland to allow wolf hunting for 'population management'

The Finnish Wildlife Agency has announced[1] that it will issue derogations for killing wolves for "population management purposes", beginning on 09 JAN 2015.

The goal is to raise "social acceptance" of wolves and "reduce illegal killings by poachers" which have been a major impact on the Finnish wolf population. The program will run for a test phase of two years with a quota of max. 29 wolves killed in the first year based on those permits. In addition to those 29 wolves, outside the reindeer husbandry areas, still 10 wolves per year can be killed based on caused damages or close encounters. Inside the reindeer husbandry areas, no limit exists and derogations are issued as requested.

Shortly before, the Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute (RKTL) had published[2] a new estimation according to which the wolf population has risen significantly. According to RKTL, estimated 29-41 wolf packs now live in Finland, of which a few are shared with Russia. Concrete numbers of individuals were not given by RKTL, but hunters allege about 300-400 indivuals. In February 2014, the population was estimated by RKTL at 140-155 animals and a study published in May 2013, concluded that "the genetic status of the Finnish wolf population is worrying and needs to be monitored. The population should be substantially larger than today and/or the amount of gene flow higher, so that the population viability could be considered secured even in the short term."[3] According to European Union guidelines, the minimum sustainable size of a wolf population is 750-1000 individuals.

Nature conservationists as well as wolf-experts severely doubt that the population, which is under extreme pressure through legal and illegal hunting, could have more than doubled within barely 10 months. One potential issue is that at the time of the counting, snow had not yet fallen making it close to impossible to determine exact numbers of packs and individuals. Genetic analysis of e.g. stool samples is not done for population counting in Finland. The estimations rely solely on the reports of Large Canivore Monitoring Volunteers.

Carina Lintula, spokesperson of the Finnish Wolf Association (Suomen Susi ry) comments "One problem is that practically everybody involved in wolf management in Finland is a hunter. While RKTL itself is a neutral scientific institute, they have to rely on the information from the Large Carnivore Monitoring Volunteer program. Those volunteers are all hunters and members of the regional hunting associations. Also, practically everybody involved in the wolf management plan as well as the derogation and permission process in the Wildlife Agency is a hunter and the Wildlife Agency, according to it's mission statement, sees itself as a partner of the hunters. That is like letting an alcoholic manage the wine cellar."

According to RKTL, "there are some 400-600 large carnivore monitoring volunteers (LCVs; "petoyhdyshenkilöt") that annually make/verify wolf-related sightings nationwide. Since the establishment of the monitoring system (1970s') they have been hunters, mostly males, most of them trained to recognize large carnivore sightings, nominated by local hunting associations (295 associations nationwide)."

At the moment no standardized training and certification program for the Large Carnivore Monitoring Volunteers exists. In September 2014, a Large Carnivore Monitoring Volunteer identified the carcass of an old male black Belgian Shepherd dog as a young female wolf, after the animal was killed in a traffic accident.[4]

New scepticism about the motives and competence of the Wildlife Agency arose already in August when one of the Wildlife Agency's regional directors wrote in a press statement about a controversial police warrant to kill a wolf that he was qualified to rate the behavior of wolves because of his experience as a breeder of hunting dogs.[5] Additionally, Susilauma just shortly ago reported about an internal training document of the Wildlife Agency which declared social reasons such as fear as a sufficient base for issuing a derogation to kill a wolf.[6]

Opposite to Finland, in other European countries, such as Germany, wolves are strictly protected under the Nature Conservation Act and the population is supervised by the nature conservation authorities. Derogations are practically never issued and the government invests significant amounts of ressources and money to educate the population to reduce fears of and raise acceptance for wolves. As a result, according to a 2014 study, more than 70% of the German population have an outspoken positive attitude towards wolves.[7]


References

[1] Finnish Wildlife Agency news release: http://riista.fi/sudenpyynnin-poikkeuslupien-haku-vuodelle-2015/

[2] Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institue news release: http://www.rktl.fi/tiedotteet/suomen_susilaumojen_maara.html

[3] Eeva Jansson: Past and present genetic diversity and structure of the Finnish wolf population, University of Oulu, 2013

[4] Länsi-Savo: Poliisi vahvistaa: Hiirolan "susi" oli belgianpaimenkoira

[5] Susilauma: Varsinais-Suomen riistapäällikkö selittää Vehmaan päätöksen

[6] Susilauma: Fear, feeling of insecurity and preparedness sufficient reasons to kill wolves in Finland

[7] WWF news release: http://www.wwf.de/2014/februar/wwf-umfrage-mehrheit-ist-pro-wolf/


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