European Union Court of Justice questions wolf hunting permits granted in Finland

Photo © Ronnie Macdonald

Last week the Court of Justice of the European Union (EUJC) delivered its opinion on the permits granted by the Finnish Wildlife Agency to kill wolves – a seriously endangered species in Finland – to prevent poaching and harm to hunting dogs.

The EUCJ considers that Finland has failed to scientifically demonstrate that hunting reduces poaching to such an extent that it has a favourable impact on the conservation of wolves.  Indeed, after two years of testing a controversial management plan for the wolf population, the Finnish Wildlife Agency has decided to discontinue it because of its poor results in reducing poaching.  

According to the EU 92/43/EEC Habitats Directive, the wolf is a strict protected species and all forms of deliberate capture or killing wolves in the wild are prohibited. Derogations under the Habitats Directive mean that permits to hunt wolves can be granted by Member States under certain exceptional and very specific conditions, such as to prevent serious damage to livestock when no other satisfactory alternatives are possible. Such permits should not have a significant negative  impact on the conservation status of the wolf population.

The EUJC’s opinion brought up these exceptional hunting permits, and hunters have been taking advantage of this mention to promote hunting.  However, they have missed the point: the fact that permits to hunt the wolf can be granted on an exceptional basis is nothing new. The possibility has been included in the Habitats Directive since its adoption in 1992.

What is remarkable in the EUCJ’s opinion, in fact, is that the provisions of the Habitats Directive must be interpreted in light of the precautionary principle in Article 191(2) TFEU. In other words, if – after examining the best scientific data available – significant doubt remains as to whether or not a derogation will have a negative  impact on conservation status, then permits should not be granted.

The opinion also states that the maximum quota pre-established in Finland, which allows the killing of nearly 15% of the wolf population, is arguably detrimental to the the wolf population. Importantly, it highlights that when granting hunting permits, other deaths caused  by humans, such as poaching or accidental killing, should be taken into consideration to evaluate the impact on the conservation of the species.

“This EUJC opinion clearly indicates that Member States should undertake a precautionary approach when managing conflicts with protected species,” says Reineke Hameleers,  Director of Eurogroup for Animals. “Increasing hunting permits is often the easiest and most popular solution promoted by politicians, but it can quickly nullify years of efforts to protect species that were once on the brink of extinction because of overhunting. We hope that the Finnish Court will follow the considerations of the EUCJ and soon ask for the adoption of more effective, non-lethal ways to mitigate conflicts with the wolf.”  

“A new wolf management plan is currently being drafted by the Finnish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and it should aim at ensuring that wolves finally reach a favorable conservation status in Finland and Scandinavia,” says Francisco Sánchez Molina from Luonto-Liiton susiryhmä/The Wolf Action Group.

Contact:
Ilaria Di Silvestre, Programme Leader – Wildlife
Tel: +32 (0)2 740 08 24 | i.disilvestre@eurogroupforanimals.org

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