On August 23 this year I presented the report of the Wolf Inquiry to the Swedish Government. I was appointed Special Enquirer and Chairman of the Wolf Committee one and a half years ago. Assisting me as experts in the committee have been leading representatives from organizations like Swedish Predatory Animal Association, Swedish Hunters´ Association, Swedish National Sami Association, Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, National Farmers´ Association, WWF and a few others.
My ambition has been to put forward suggestions that can unite people as far as possible in a common vision of how a sustainable policy for predators, especially wolves, can be developed. My hope is that this can also help to calm some of the excesses and undertones that are present in the current polarized debate about wolves in Sweden. My ambition was also to present suggestions that would make the European Commission discontinue its current infringement procedure against Sweden for supposedly not fulfilling the requirements of the EU Habitats Directive concerning wolves.
During the last few decades, the number of large predatory animals in Sweden has increased. One consequence of this growth is that predators, in particular wolves and lynx, are spreading across the country. Current predator policy has thus been fortunate from the predators´ perspective. However, the policy and its management has been less successful in dealing with the conflicts that have arisen in connection with predatory growth. Rural industries, such as reindeer herding, summer farms, sheep farming and hunting believe they have limited opportunities to influence their own situation. They consider the legislation to be too biased in favour of the predators. The Report finds that a long-term sustainable predator policy to a greater extent than at present needs to balance the needs of rural industries, including hunters, with measures for the conservation of biodiversity. The management must create structures for coexistence between humans and wolves, while taking into account the best interests of both.
Most of the Report´s recommendations are therefore about how predator policy and its management should be developed in order to create improved conditions and opportunities for this coexistence. Partially renewed strategic objectives with a more efficient culling, a somewhat new compensation system, a new management plan for wolves as well as a slightly reappraised and rearranged legislation are the cornerstones of the Report.
The Riksdag (Parliament) should outline the overall goals of the predator policy and its management. The focus should continue to be to maintain or achieve long-term viable populations of large predators. A natural dispersal across the country has been allowed but wolf establishments will generally be limited to territories outside the reindeer owners´ year-round lands.
This means that the large predators should be found in such great numbers as required to achieve and maintain a favourable conservation status in accordance with the requirements of the Habitats Directive. The number of wolves in Sweden should not be allowed to permanently exceed that which has been determined as a favourable conservation status.
The Riksdag should accordingly decide that the Swedish wolf population will vary within a determined range of a favourable conservation status. The calculation of what is regarded as a minimum viable population (MVP) is based on scientific data regarding population size requested by the Habitats Directive. The favourable conservation status shall, according to the Directive, be “significantly higher” than the minimum viable population. What is “significantly higher” is not natural science and the decision is entirely national.
Gene flow and genetic variation is an important source of information for assessing the favourable conservation status. The genetics of wolves should therefore be periodically monitored using a random selection method. Changes in the genetic status may lead to measures to strengthen the genetics, primarily through the relocation of wolf pairs or, if the genetics have been strengthened, to a reduced range for favourable conservation status.
The number of wolves today is approximately 400, this year´s reproduction uncounted, and the MVP is 100 as calculated by the “Scandinavian Wolf science Project”. The current level of wolf population is thus approximately four times higher than the MVP.
The Report and its suggestions has received good remarks from most or all of the interested parties. The Government has based a number of its proposals to the Riksdag on the Report. The Riksdag is expected to take decisions on a new predatory policy later this autumn.