Sunday, January 24, 2016

Authorised one-month cull of grey wolves targets nearly 20% of the population

An authorised cull of Finland’s grey wolf population begins Saturday, January 23 and will last until February 21. Wolf hunting is a controversial subject in Finland. Conservationists say Finland’s population of less than 250 wolves is too small, and a cull puts their genetic base at risk. Wolf packs kill numerous livestock and up to 50 dogs each year during elk hunting season. They also strike fear into residential areas.

metsästäjä mittaa suden jälkeä
A young wolf left his mark. Image: Yle / Markku Sandell
The Finnish Wildlife Agency estimates that up to 245 wolves live in Finland today, with 35 known packs roaming the country. Finland's game management agency has granted 46 permits to hunt wolves in 2016, the second year of a condoned culling programme the agency says is designed to discourage illegal poaching.
Most of Finland’s wolves live in the eastern parts of the country, and consequently the majority of the permits granted have been extended to the eastern regions of Kainuu and North Karelia. Wolf concentrations also exist in Southwestern Finland and one permit was even extended for the capital city Uusimaa region.

A trial programme

In 2015 24 permits were granted, but complaints limited the number used to 17. Most administrative courts now allow for wolf hunting, despite several unresolved court cases.
Defenders of the wolves say the new policy aims to make sure there isn't a repeat of last year’s roadblocks. On the other hand, this is the second year of the culling trial, and a decision to decide whether or not to continue the programme will be made at its conclusion.
Authorities say the idea is to curb and prevent illegal poaching. Residents of Finland have been known to take the law into their own hands when officials are slow to grant a permit to kill a wolf. Year after year, elk hunters in Kainuu are reimbursed for hunting dogs that have been killed by wolves in the forest. Reindeer herders in the north report the most damages, claiming that hundreds of their livestock succumb to the hungry canines. Finnish lamb farmers have started using large sheepdogs to keep their livestock safe.

Getting braver

Wolves have been seen moving around the outskirts of the southwest cities of Oripää and Pöytyä, for example, during the day, with no fear of the humans they encounter. Over one hundred wolf sighting have been reported there since the area finally achieved permanent snow cover.
Permission to scare the wolves away has been granted to local hunters, but the animals have been returning just a few hours after blanks are fired to scare them off. Parents have taken to driving their children back and forth to school.
Last year’s permits were responsible for 17 wolf deaths in Finland, but special permission was granted to shoot many others and several were otherwise killed. In total, the population was cut down by 46 individuals.

Counterproductive, say conservationists

Nature conservationists argue that the wolf hunting has been a failure because some of the wolves killed were older, more important members of the pack, and not the juveniles the programme intended. The culling also doesn’t encourage wolves to shun areas with humans, they say, as packs that have lost their leaders tend to feed on domestic animals even more.
The nature conservation group Tapiola has filed a complaint for every issued wolf hunting permit with the authorities. Chair of the Southwest and Satakunta branches Ake Halttunen is a hunter himself, but believes that the wolf population in Finland is so small in size that it cannot withstand regular culling without consequences. Hunters who let their dogs loose in the forest take their chances, he says, and wolves pose one of the smallest risks to their loyal companions.

Not to mention against the law

Halttunen says game management of wolves is in defiance of several laws, and that he is prepared to file a report with the EU Court of Justice if Finland won’t agree to assess the programme’s legality. 
“The Hunting Act declares that hunting in Finland is based on the principle of sustainability. I believe this law should be complied with,” he says.