Norway's Wolf Policy and the Bern Convention on European Wildlife: Avoiding the “Manifestly Absurd”
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionJournal of international wildlife law and policy. 2017, 20 (2), 155-167. 10.1080/13880292.2017.1346357
In Norway, as in many other countries, a government-sponsored campaign against large carnivores was waged well into the twentieth century and eventually led to the disappearance of gray wolves (Canis lupus) from the country.1 By the 1960s, the species was considered functionally extinct both in Norway and neighboring Sweden. In 1971, wolves received legal protection under Norwegian law.2 Occasionally in subsequent years,wolves dispersing fromthe Russian-Finnish population made it into the Scandinavian Peninsula. In 1983, in the south-central Swedish–Norwegian border area, two of these immigrants produced a first litter of wild Scandinavian wolf pups again. The Scandinavian wolf population has been growing since and numbers over 400 individuals today, although only a small part of the population lives on the Norwegian side of the border. The threats faced by Scandinavian wolves include inbreeding, low levels of tolerance by some sectors of the rural public, and high levels of poaching.3 Since the official status of wolves in Norway switched from vermin to a protected species, wolf conservation and management has been an increasingly contested topic in the country, with the controversy generally peaking every time the Norwegian government authorizes a winter wolf hunt.4 Whereas some Norwegian citizens would like to seemanymore wolves in the country than the currently estimated 65– 68 animals (plus another 25wolves or sowhose range straddles the Sweden–Norway border), others would rather see them all disappear once more.5 The latest chapter in the Norwegian wolf saga began in summer 2016 when Parliament agreed on a new wolf policy. In the follow-up implementation of this national policy, the relevant RegionalManagement Authorities earmarked a total of 47 wolves—two-thirds of the national population— for culling in order to reduce sheep depredation, only to see the Climate and Environment Minister reverse this decision and reduce the number of wolves to be killed to 15.6 One international treaty has been an influential feature in debates on Norway’s wolf policy during the past three decades: the Council of Europe’s 1979 Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats.7 The discourse has, unfortunately, been affected by some tenacious misunderstandings concerning the compatibility of Norway’s constantly evolving wolf policy with the Convention. Our aim in this article is to reduce the confusion in this regard, in order to promote a constructive and well-informed debate regarding the future of wolf conservation and management in Norway. An added advantage of this focus is that it entails the legal analysis of certain features of the Bern Convention, the relevance of which extends far beyondNorwegian wolves, as they apply to European wildlife conservation at large.