Jun 30

Wyo goes it alone on wolf delisting

Wyo goes it alone on wolf delisting

Star-Tribune staff writer Thursday, June 30, 2005


* Last we knew: Wyoming officials appealed U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson’s dismissal of a lawsuit seeking to force the federal government to accept the state’s wolf management plan.

* The latest: State officials are preparing to petition the Interior Department for removal of wolves’ federal protection.

* What’s next: The state Game and Fish Commission will vote on the issue July 13 in Rawlins.

Wyoming officials are preparing to petition the federal government to remove wolves from Endangered Species Act protection, the state Game and Fish Department said late Wednesday afternoon.

The move continues the state’s battle with federal officials over how wolves should be managed outside Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. In essence, it seeks to force the hand of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has rejected Wyoming’s plan for managing the animals once they’re removed from the threatened and endangered species list.

The state’s plan would classify wolves as trophy game in areas of northwest Wyoming the state considers suitable wolf habitat. Outside those areas they would be considered predators that could be shot on sight.

“Removing (wolves) from the endangered species list will allow the state of Wyoming to assume management of wolves within its borders and keep populations at a level that makes sense for Wyoming while also maintaining a recovered population,” Game and Fish Department Director Terry Cleveland said in a press release. “This petition is the next step toward getting wolves delisted and under state management.”

The Game and Fish Commission will consider signing the petition to delist at its July 13 meeting in Rawlins. The department said Gov. Dave Freudenthal will also sign the document, which has been drafted by the agency and the state attorney general’s office. It will then be submitted to Interior Secretary Gale Norton.

Freudenthal couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

In March, U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson dismissed a lawsuit by Wyoming against the federal government that sought to force acceptance of the state’s wolf management plan. Johnson found that the federal government had not violated the Endangered Species Act, because rejection of the state’s plan did not constitute final action by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Had Wyoming petitioned the federal government to remove protection for wolves, he could have considered more of the merits of the state’s case, the judge said.

The state has appealed that ruling to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Attorney General Pat Crank previously said it was likely the state would pursue both the appeal and a petition to delist.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s plan has been to submit its own petition to delist wolves once it has acceptable management plans from Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. Those two neighboring states have received such approval, and in fact already have been given management authority over the animals within their borders.

Once Wyoming’s petition is filed, Fish and Wildlife has 90 days to determine whether it believes the action may be warranted. If a positive 90-day finding is issued, the federal agency then conducts a more detailed review. A final decision is issued 12 months after the petition is filed.

Wolves were reintroduced into Wyoming and Idaho in 1995. Last fall, Fish and Wildlife estimated the population had grown to at least 66 breeding pairs and 835 individuals — far more than the objective of 30 breeding pairs and 300 individuals. It’s estimated that 260 wolves are in Wyoming.

“Wolves are now a part of the ecosystem in northwestern Wyoming,” Cleveland said in the press release. “As their numbers continue to grow, and as they continue to expand outside of suitable habitats, they almost always become involved with livestock depredations and other conflicts that result in the lethal take of wolves.

“Expanding wolf populations are also affecting Wyoming’s wildlife. Last winter, wolf packs continually moved elk off of feedgrounds and onto private lands and even highways, where public safety and an increased risk of brucellosis transmission to cattle became a real problem.”

Cleveland said the state’s dual-classification system would help maintain and control wolf numbers.

“The state of Wyoming is committed to managing a recovered population of wolves in northwestern Wyoming,” he said. “Wyoming’s plan includes elements that will ensure wolf populations remain at recovered levels. We have no intention of allowing this population to become jeopardized to the extent that it must again be listed under the Endangered Species Act.”

Federal officials have said Wyoming’s plan jeopardizes wolves’ recovery.

“The clearest path (for Wyoming) is to look at getting the state plan that the (Fish and Wildlife Service) can approve,” said Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for the federal agency, in March. “We want to continue to work with Wyoming Game and Fish and the state of Wyoming to get through this issue.”


Posted in Uncategorized
Jun 30

Canada–Yukon: Possible wolf attack investigated

Possible wolf attack investigated

By Julia Skikavich

A woman has been left unharmed by a possible wolf attack Tuesday in the Rock Creek subdivision south of Dawson City.

The woman was jogging when, at approximately 3 p.m., she encountered what she described to conservation officers as a whitish grey wolf, Dennis Senger, the spokesperson for the territorial Department of the Environment, said today.

The animal exhibited aggressive behaviour and bit the womans CD player, he said.

She kicked the animal and hit it with a stick, before trying to get away from it, said Senger. However, the animal followed her until she was picked up by a passing by truck, he added.

She was shaken by the incident, but unharmed, said Senger.

Her name was not released.

Russel Oborne, a conservation officer in Dawson, said today it is still unconfirmed if the animal in question is a wolf or a large dog.

It may be a hybrid wolf-dog or a large husky, said Senger.

The jogger, herself, thought the animal was a dog until she got closer and it began to act aggressively, said Oborne.

The attack occurred in a relatively dry area, he added, and officials were unable to find tracks to help confirm what the animal actually is. Until a conservation officer actually sees the animal, theyll be unable to confirm if it is a wolf, he said.

However, the conservation authority is still taking the precautions needed when dealing with an aggressive animal, he added.

The authority did a flight over the area last night but was unable to find the animal. A bear trap has also been set up to try to catch it.

If a wolf is in bad shape or hungry, they will often still go into the trap, said Oborne.

The conversation authority is also suggesting parents keep a special eye on their children and pet owners be watchful of their dogs and cats. People should also consider walking in pairs for the time being, said Oborne.

There have been no further sightings of the animal. There is a possibility that between the encounter with the jogger and the flight over the areas forests, it may have been scared away.

Should the animal not resurface in the next couple of days, it should be safe for the community to continue on with life as usual, he added.

Wolves attacking humans are extremely rare, said Doug Larsen, the departments chief of wildlife management.

Larsen said hes had many positive encounters with wolves over his life. Its normal for wolves to come and look at humans thinking they are prey, he said, but after they spot you, they usually go back into the bush.

Thats normal behaviour for a wolf, he said. They are always checking out for prey. When its not prey, they leave you alone.

Larsen said if the sighting was a wolf, it will likely turn out to be a very young or very old animal.

Young animals sometimes get kicked out of their packs, he said and can be confused and looking for new territory. These animals are like puppies, he said, and if they encounter a human, they may nip or follow after a person. This behaviour is playful, he added, but it could be interpreted as an aggressive and serious attack.

Older animals also often get kicked out of their family groups, said Larsen. Its these incidents where it is more common for a wolf to come into a community and be rummaging for food.

Senger said this sighting is being treated as though its an older wolf in poor condition looking for food.

The aggressive behaviour was likely because the animal was startled, said Oborne. The animal had its back to the jogger and did not appear to hear her coming as she turned a corner, he added. It wasnt until she got significantly closer that it exhibited hostility.

From 1900 to 2002, only 80 wolf attacks have been reported in North America, said Ken Knutson, the departments manager of field operations. Forty-one of the cases occurred in Canada.

Thirty-nine of the attacks were aggressive, 29 non-aggressive and 12 of the cases were wolves suspected to be rabid. None of the incidents resulted in life-threatening injuries and there were no lethal encounters, said Knutson.

Though wolf attacks are very, very uncommon, said Knutson, its important for people to remember wolves are wild animals that can inflict damage, and individuals need to remain cautious in any encounters that do occur.


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Jun 28

NM: Feds shoot endangered wolf

Feds shoot endangered wolf

Source: KRQE News 13 / AP

ALBUQUERQUE — A federal sharpshooter has killed an endangered Mexican gray wolf in southwestern New Mexico.

The animal had been blamed for four confirmed cattle deaths.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service says the alpha male of the Ring Pack was shot Sunday in the Gila National Forest.

It was the third wolf the government has shot since an effort to restore the Mexican gray wolf started in 1998.

The reintroduction program spans southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona.

Ranchers have complained about the wolf program and say the animals should be removed. Wolf protection groups say not only are ranchers reimbursed for cattle killed by wolves, but that ranchers are themselves are partly to blame for attracting wolves by not removing cattle carcasses.


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Jun 28

WY: Federal agents killed wolves after sheep lost

Federal agents killed wolves after sheep lost

Associated Press

LANDER — A female wolf and four pups were shot by federal wildlife officials after the wolves killed 13 pregnant ewes owned by an official with the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.

The wolves were shot last week in the Wind River Mountains foothills, according to Mike Jimenez, Wyoming wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The ewes were killed over two days earlier this month — seven on one night and six the following night, said sheep owner Jim Magagna, who is the executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services initially planned to trap and collar the wolves when the agency received the first report.

But when word of the second night’s losses was received, the decision was made to kill whatever wolves were in the area. Jimenez said.

A male wolf and two other pups, also seen in the area in April, were not found, he said.

Magagna did not know the estimated value of the lost livestock.

“These were ewes that were pregnant and just ready to lamb, so it’s going to be fairly high,” he said.

Magagna said he is “a little bit nervous” knowing the male and two pups were not caught.

“Hopefully we’re through with this one until wolves move into this area again,” he said.

The wolves were first seen in the area in April. In May, Gov. Dave Freudenthal asked Fish and Wildlife to remove the wolves before problems started.

The agency said it agreed to trap and collar the wolves but was unable to do so because of bad weather.

Wolves are expected to be removed from federal protection as early as next year, but a Wyoming state management plan has not been approved by the federal government. The state has filed a lawsuit against the federal government seeking the authority to kill wolves on sight if they stray outside the two national parks and surrounding wilderness areas.


Posted in Uncategorized
Jun 28

WY: Feds kill wolves in Farson area

Feds kill wolves in Farson area

Star-Tribune environmental reporter

Wildlife officials have killed a female wolf and four pups outside Farson, after the wolves killed 13 pregnant ewes over two nights.

Mike Jimenez, Wyoming wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the wolves killed seven ewes the first night — about June 7, according to sheep owner Jim Magagna. Officers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services were sent to trap and collar the wolves.

But the next night, the wolves killed six more ewes, and Jimenez said a decision was made to kill whatever wolves were in the area. The area is about 35 miles northeast of Farson in the foothills of the Wind River Mountains.

Wildlife Services officers caught the female, found her den and killed the mother and four pups last week. A male wolf — also seen in the area in April — was not found and did not come back to the den site, which Jimenez said was “not typical.”

He said it is not known what happened to the male and two other pups that were not caught, but pups would not survive without a parent.

Magagna — who is the executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association — said one of his sheepherders found the dead ewes in the morning and immediately called Wildlife Services, which confirmed the losses to wolves. He said his understanding of the situation was one of the ewes was eaten, and the others were just “ripped up.” He did not know the estimated value of the lost livestock.

“These were ewes that were pregnant and just ready to lamb, so it’s going to be fairly high,” he said.

The wolves were first seen in the area in April. In May, Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal asked Fish and Wildlife in a letter to remove the wolves before problems started.

The agency said it agreed to trap and collar the wolves, but was unable to do so before weather prevented further efforts.

“While I am very skeptical of the excuse for suspending the capture and collaring of the wolves, I believe that a better and more reasoned approach would recognize the inevitability that the wolves will become ‘problem’ wolves and will ultimately have to be removed,” Freudenthal wrote in May. “In my view, it would be in the best interest of the wolves, the Service, producers and livestock to capture and not only collar, but relocate the wolves prior to their establishing a den.”

Freudenthal’s May letter continued: “To me, this is akin to small children playing at a railroad crossing. Peril is certainly in the absence of active supervision. This is a change for the Service to be responsible and proactively manage wolves in a way that, in the end, will preclude fatal take of wolves and livestock depredation.”

The governor couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.

Magagna agreed with Freudenthal, saying Monday it seemed “inevitable” the wolves would kill sheep.

“I was told that was not their policy,” he said. “They said if (the wolves) started doing extensive killing they would remove them.”

Jimenez said because wolves are still under federal protection, guidelines dictate wolves are first trapped and collared, and if they continue to be a problem, they are then killed.

“I’m unhappy with that policy that does not allow proactive work,” Magagna said. “But once the sheep were killed, I would say that both Fish and Wildlife and Wildlife Services have been very responsive in getting the wolves removed.”

Wolves are expected to be removed from federal protection as early as next year, but a Wyoming state management plan has not been approved by the federal government. The state is embroiled in a lawsuit so it can manage wolves as predators outside the two national parks and surrounding wilderness areas — making the animals subject to killing on sight if they stray outside those areas.

Magagna said he is “a little bit nervous” knowing the male and pups were not caught.

“Hopefully we’re through with this one,” he said, “until wolves move into this area again.”


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Jun 27

NM: Animal activists fire back in defense of wolves

Animal activists fire back in defense of wolves

ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — Wolves belong in the wild, and ranchers should find a way to coexist, said a supporter of an effort to reintroduce Mexican gray wolves to the wild.

Officials with the federal government’s reintroduction program in southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona held four public meetings last week to gather feedback on the recovery program, which began in March 1998.

“If you’re going to graze (cattle) on public lands, you’re going to do it at your own risk,” Oscar Simpson, New Mexico Wildlife Federation president, said at the meeting here Saturday.

Simpson and Dave Foreman, an Albuquerque resident who directs The Rewilding Institute, suggested that the government buy out grazing leases from ranchers who don’t want to continue running livestock on public lands where there are wolves.

“This comes down to a philosophical debate that’s not resolvable between those of us who love the wolf and those who hate the wolf,” Foreman said.

The meeting in Albuquerque took on a much different tone than one held on Wednesday in Reserve, where dozens of residents blasted the wolf reintroduction program.

On Saturday, many in attendance were wearing wolf T-shirts and buttons that said, “More Wolves, Less Politics.”

About 60 people attended the meeting to discuss proposed new rules and a recent review of the program.

Biologists have recommended allowing the wolves to set up territories outside the current boundaries, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed a one-year ban on some new wolf releases.

The federal agencies running the program are also considering a new “standard operating procedure” that spells out how to handle problem wolves.

During the first meeting in Reserve, ranchers said the government needs to make drastic changes to the program or stop reintroduction.

If the program continues, they say any wolf that strays out of the Gila Wilderness in southwestern New Mexico should be fair game for shooting.

The recovery program was meant to re-establish wild populations of the species that had been hunted to the brink of extinction in the early 1900s. There are now about 50 wolves in the wild.

Ranchers say the government is dramatically undercounting the number of cows and calves killed by the wolves.

Don Jones of the Y Canyon Ranch read a 35-day log written by his wife, including this entry: “June 3. Found another dead cow. … We just cannot find them as quick as the wolves kill them!”

At a meeting in Silver City on Thursday, only two people spoke against the wolves.

In Truth or Consequences on Friday, the speakers mostly opposed the reintroduction.

The two ranchers that spoke in opposition at the Albuquerque meeting said cattle are being killed in large numbers.

Fred Galley, owner of Rayny Mesa Ranch in the Gila, described a grisly attack in which wolves grabbed a cow from the back and “proceeded to eat on her till she bled to death.”

Galley said he and several of his neighbors would take a buyout of their Forest Service grazing permits.

“Why is death by wolves more reprehensible than death by slaughterhouse?” Jane Ravenwolf of Sandia Park asked. “Wolves are doing it because they need to live. We’re doing it because we don’t have a conscience to know better.”

Eva Sargent, Southwest director of Defenders of Wildlife, said her organization wants to expand its efforts to help ranchers.

“Defenders is ready to put money on the table,” she said.

The group already compensates ranchers for livestock killed by wolves and has hired riders to help protect cattle.


Posted in Uncategorized
Jun 27

NM: First wolf to be released is recaptured

First wolf to be released is recaptured

Source: AP

SILVER CITY — A Mexican gray wolf that was released into the wild seven years ago has been captured for killing cattle.

Brunhilda was the first wolf to step into the wild in 1998 as part of a federal government reintroduction program. She was captured in a trap in the Gila National Forest on Thursday.

The alpha female of the cattle-killing Francisco Pack will spend the rest of her life in captivity.

Brunhilda has been reunited with her pack at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in Socorro County.

New Mexico ranchers have criticized the federal program saying wolves should be completely removed from the wild because they are killing scores of cows.

The agencies that run the program are considering changes — including allowing wolves to stray outside the program area.


Posted in Uncategorized
Jun 26

ID: Wildlife officials collar two Avery Pack wolves

Wildlife officials collar two Avery Pack wolves

AVERY, Idaho (AP) — Two wolves have been fitted with radio collars in northern Idaho along the Montana state line to help wildlife managers track the Avery pack.

There are currently three verified wolf packs in western Shoshone County — the Five Lakes Butte pack, Marble Creek pack and Avery pack.

There is also a suspected wolf pack in the Priest Lake area east to the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness area on the Montana border, but no wolves in that pack are being traced.

The average pack has about eight wolves, but females just had pups this spring, noted Jim Hayden, Idaho Department of Fish and Game regional wildlife manager.

“We’ve got a crew out there right now trying to find out how many pups there are,” Hayden said.

The Avery wolf pack has two pups and the pack size is likely six wolves, including the pups, Hayden said.

“But we don’t have a good count yet,” he added.

In 1995 and 1996, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released gray wolves into central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park as part of a program to re-establish wolf populations in the Northwest. The wolves are now exceeding recovery goals in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

Since the first 35 were released in central Idaho, the population has grown to an estimated 500 wolves within state lines, Fish and Game estimates.


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Jun 26

MI: Wolf, cormorant programs may get funds

Wolf, cormorant programs may get funds

MARQUETTE – U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak was among federal lawmakers who recently earmarked more than $15.7 million for Michigan projects including funding to control cormorants, wolves and the emerald ash borer.

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the U.S. Department of Agriculture Appropriations bill recently.

“A large part of protecting the environment and the agricultural industry in Michigan is controlling the damaging effects of overpopulated species and ecological changes,” Stupak said. “I am pleased to announce this funding to help control many of these harmful elements that have been affecting farming, fishing and hunting in recent years.”

Stupak said the House action is the first step in securing these needed funds.

The gray wolf population in northern Michigan has been troublesome for farmers who have watched as their livestock are increasingly preyed upon each year, Stupak said.

The bill includes just over $1 million to control wolf population growth in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has had some success in controlling wolves, but is seeking additional support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the animal from the threatened species list to open opportunities for more control regulations.

A total of $175,000 was included in the bill to help control devastation double-crested cormorants continue to cause sport and commercial fisheries in northern Michigan. The allocation is $25,000 more than last year’s appropriation.

In 2003, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service granted new authority to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services to manage cormorants causing damage to natural resources.

In light of this authority, Stupak has earmarked funding over the past three years specifically directed toward cormorant control in Michigan. Control methods have included egg oiling, shooting and destruction of cormorant nesting areas.

The emerald ash borer has destroyed nearly 15 million ash trees in Michigan. Although many projects are in effect to stop the spread of this deadly beetle, funding continues to be a challenge. A total of $14 million was earmarked in the bill to aid programs for ash borer control.

The final First District earmark in the bill was to control soil erosion due to sediment control problems in the Great Lakes Basin. Stupak announced $500,000 to aid soil erosion programs.

Stupak also designated soft earmarks, or projects that will be considered “first priority” if funding becomes available, or if funding has not been used by the end of the fiscal year.

These projects include water and sewer improvements for the cities of Munising and L’Anse, intermediate re-lending program funds for Northern Initiatives in Marquette, establishment of a Rural Michigan Technology Center in the Upper and Lower peninsulas by the Northern Lakes Economic Alliance and Spies Field renovation in Menominee.


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Jun 26

Germany: Into the Woods

Into the Woods

Economics and declining birthrates are pushing large swaths of Europe back to their primeval state, with wolves taking the place of people.

Kerstin Joensson / AP

Is anyone out there? Some areas of Germany are reverting to a wilder state

July 4 issue – Germans are getting used to a new kind of immigrant. In 1998, a pack of wolves crossed the shallow Neisse River on the Polish-German border. In the empty landscape of Eastern Saxony, speckled with abandoned strip mines and declining villages, the wolves found plenty of deer and rarely encountered humans. They multiplied so quickly that a second pack has since split off, colonizing a second-growth pine forest 30 kilometers further west. Soon, says local wildlife biologist Gesa Kluth, a third pack will likely form, possibly heading northward in the direction of Berlin.

Wolves returning to the heart of Europe? A hundred years ago, a burgeoning, land-hungry population killed off the last of Germany’s wolves. Today, it’s the local humans whose numbers are under threat. Wolf-country villages like Boxberg and Weisswasser are emptying out, thanks to the region’s ultralow birthrate and continued rural flight. Nearby Hoyerswerda is Germany’s fastest-shrinking town, losing 25,000 of its 70,000 residents in the last 15 years.

Such numbers are a harbinger of the future. Home to 22 of the world’s 25 lowest-birthrate countries, Europe will lose 41 million people by 2030 even with continued immigration, according to the latest U.N. Population Division report. The biggest decline will hit rural Europe. As Italians, Spaniards, Germans and others produce barely half the children needed to maintain the status quoand rural flight continues to suck people into Europe’s suburbs and citiesthe countryside will lose close to a third of its population, say both the United Nations and the EU. “It’s a triple time bomb,” says University of Lisbon demographer Nuno da Costa. “Too few children, too many old people and too many of the remaining young people still leaving the village.”

The implications of this transformation touch on everything from tourism to retirement locales to government conservation and agricultural policies. Our postcard view of Europe, after all, is of a continent where every scrap of land has long been farmed, fenced off and settled, where every tree has been measured, counted and named. But the continent of the future may look rather different. “Big parts of Europe will renaturalize,” says Reiner Klingholz, head of the Berlin Institute for Population Development. Bears are back in Austria. In Swiss alpine valleys, farms have been receding and forests are growing back in. In parts of France and Germany, wildcats and ospreys have re-established their range.

This sounds like an eco-environmentalist’s dream, inspiring loose talk of a Europe Pastoralthe return of wide-open spaces and primeval wilderness to a densely settled landscape. Yet the truth is more varied, and interesting. While many rural regions of Europe will empty out, others will experience something of a renaissance. Already, attractive areas within striking distance of prosperous cities are seeing robust revivals, driven by urban flight and a rising influx of childless retirees. From Provence to Piedmont, Kent to the Costa del Sol, ex-urbanites are snapping up vacation homes, hobby vineyards and horse farms.

Contrast that with less-favored areasfrom the Spanish interior across the Alps to Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. These face dying villages, abandoned farmsteads and changes in the land not seen for generations. Both types of regions will have to cope with a steeply aging population and their accompanying health and service needs, says Gunnar Malmberg, a rural geographer at Sweden’s Umea University. “Rural Europe is the laboratory for demographic change.”

Visit the Greek village of Prastos for an extreme glimpse of what Malmberg might mean. An ancient hill town in the eastern Peloponnese, Prastos once had 1,000 residents, most of them working the land. Now only a dozen are left, most in their 60s and 70s. With no children, the school has been closed since 1988. Sunday church bells no longer ring. “The old people here will die,” says visiting ex-resident Petros Litrivis, 60. “Everything will be abandoned.” Without farmers to tend the fields, rain has washed away the once fertile soil. Of the 50,000 goats that once grazed the hills, only a fraction remain. As in much of Greece, land that has been orchards and pasture for some 2,000 years is now covered with a parched scrub that, in the summer, frequently catches fire.

Rural depopulation is, of course, not new. Thousands of villages like Prastos dotEurope, the result of a century or more of emigration, industrialization and agricultural mechanization. “But this time it’s different because never has the rural birthrate been so low,” demographer Costa says. In the past, for example, a farmer could usually find at least one of his offspring to take over the land. Today, chances are he has but a single son or daughter, usually working in the city and rarely willing to return. In Italy, more than 60 percent of the country’s 2.6 million farmers are at least 65 years old. Once they die out, many of their farms will join the 6 million hectares (one third of Italian farmland) that has already been abandoned.

Rising economic pressures will amplify the trend. One third of Europe’s farmland is marginal, from the cold northern plains to the parched Mediterranean hills. Most of these farmers subsist on EU subsidies, since it’s cheaper to import food from abroad. Already, the EU is trying to limit costly overproduction by paying farmers not to farm. “Without subsidies, some of the most scenic European landscapes would not survive,” says Jan-Erik Petersen, a landscape biologist at the European Environmental Agency in Copenhagen. Take the Austrian or Swiss Alps. Defined for centuries by orchards, cows and high mountain pastures, those steep valleys are labor-intensive to farm, with subsidies paying up to 90 percent of the cost. The Austrians and Swiss pay up so that the postcard-perfect scenes can continue to exist. Across the border in France and Italy, subsidies have been reduced for mountain-farming. Since then, all across the southern Alps, villages have emptied out and forests have grown back in.

This isn’t necessarily the environmentalist’s dream it might seem. The scrub brush and forest that grows on abandoned land might be good for deer and wolves, but is vastly less species-rich than traditional farming, with its pastures, ponds and hedges. “Once shrubs cover everything, you lose the meadow habitat. All the flowers, herbs, birds and butterflies disappear,” says the EEA’s Petersen. “A new forest doesn’t get diverse until it’s a couple of hundred years old.” An odd alliance of farmers and environmentalists have joined to put pressure on the EU to “keep the landscape open,” as World Wildlife Fund spokeswoman Catherine Bett calls it. Keeping biodiversity up by preventing the land from going wild is one of the reasons the EU pays farmers to mow fallow land once a year. France and Germany subsidize sheep herds whose grazing keeps scenic heaths from growing in. Outside the range of these subsidiesin Bulgaria, Romania or Ukrainebig tracts of land are returning to the wild.

For governments, the challenge has been to develop policies that slow the demographic decline or attract new residents. In some places, such as Britain and France, large parts of the countryside are reviving more or less on their own as an increasingly wealthy urban middle class in search of second homes recolonizes villages and farms. In southern England, farmland prices have soared, helped along by burned-out investment bankers become hobby farmers, raising organic produce or rare breeds of pigs (box).

Riding this wave, villages like Santo Stefano di Sessanio in central Italydown from 1,700 in the early 20th century to 124 mostly elderly people todayare counting on tourism to revive their town. A Swedish investor has bought an entire section of the village and is turning the conjoining medieval buildings into a complex of hostels for tourists and hikers headed for the nearby Abruzzo mountain chain. In Tuscany, an Italian count has taken the entire empty village of Gargonza and turned it into a luxury wellness spa. “The nice villages will be turned into hotels, and the ugly villages will be housing for hotel employees,” imagines Carlo Altomonte, an economist at Milan’s Bocconi University.

That may be a pipe dream. Once the baby boomers start dying out around 2020, population will start to decline so sharply in many European countries that there simply won’t be enough people for every town to reinvent itself as an ex-urbanite enclave or tourist resort. It’s similarly unclear how long current government policies can stave off the inevitable. In northern Sweden, a vast land of thick forests and small rural settlements, three decades of massive spending haven’t halted the decline. “In Sweden we now talk about civilized depopulation,” says Mats Johansson of the Royal Technical Institute in Stockholm. “We just have to make sure that the old people we leave behind are taken care of.”

Eastern Germany is a case study unto itself. Taxpayers have sunk more than 100 billion euro into rural areas, without even a blip in the speed of decline. The countryside is full of subsidized white elephants, from a bankrupt zeppelin factory in Brandenburg to a never-used Formula 1 speedway close to that part of nowhere in which the wolves now roam. Oblivious to the demographics, hundreds of rural communities built vastly oversize water networks and sewage systems, each certain of drawing new businesses and residents. In nine cases out of 10, a dwindling number of villagers now face sharply rising costs. Worse, in some villages there are now too few people flushing for the sewage to properly flow, requiring costly investments to redimension the pipes. Shrinking, they’ve found, can be an expensive proposition indeed.

Some communities are turning by necessity into laboratories of innovation. In the Swiss canton of Graubunden, where the number of children has sharply dropped, school authorities in the 1980s reintroduced one-room schoolhouses in hundreds of hamlets. “Now we’re entering the next phase,” says Dany Bazzell of the Graubunden schools department. “There are so few children that not even the one-room schools will survive.” In depopulating northern Sweden, Umea University is pushing online learning, giving students an incentive to stay in their village instead of moving away to college, from where they rarely return. Even the French have relaxed their famously strict labor rules for small-town residents, allowing people to combine part-time farm work with civil-sector jobs (such as teaching).

The biggest challenge, however, is finding creative ways to keep up services for the rising proportion of seniors. In the countryside, longer distances can make that tough. When the Austrian village of Klaus, thinly spread over the Alpine foothills, decided it could not afford a regular public bus, the community set up the Dorfmobil, a public taxi-on-demand. It now serves mainly old people without cars or relatives left to drive them. In thinly populated Lapland, an area of 80,000 square kilometers where doctors are few and far between, tech-savvy Finns are meeting the rising demand for specialized health care with Tel Lappi, a serv-ice that uses videoconferencing and the Internet for remote medical exams.

Another pioneer is the Spanish village of Agua-viva, whose residents have formed what may be Europe’s first grass-roots, small-town movement to welcome foreign immigrants. In Spain’s vast interior, one of Europe’s most quickly depopulating regions, many villages are already abandoned, while 90 surviving ones, including Aguaviva, have banded together as the Spanish Association of Towns Against Depopulation. In 2000, Mayor Luis Bricio began offering free airfare and housing for foreign families to settle in Aguaviva, a mud-brown town of about 720 on the dry plain in Teruel province. Now, Aguaviva has 130 mostly Argentine and Romanian immigrants, coddled by locals who are grateful that they came. After closing all but the last classroom in the 1990s, Aguaviva has hired another teacher and again boasts 92 school-age kids. “Aguaviva was going to disappear from the map,” Bricio says. “Immigration was our only solution.”

On a continent with an often troubled relationship to migrants, such bracing realism is an astonishing step. For the most part, though, it’s no solution. Like Europeans themselves, most foreign immigrants continue to prefer cities, where many of them already live. And within Europe, migration only exports the problem. Western Europeans look toward Eastern Europe as a fallback source for easy-to-integrate migrants, for instance, yet these countries have ultralow birthrates of their own. Ukraine and Bulgaria will see their populations drop by a third by midcentury. With the EU alone needing about 1.6 million immigrants a year above its current level to keep the working-age population stable between now and 2050, a much more likely source of migrants would be Europe’s Muslim neighbors, whose young populations are set to almost double in that same time. But that’s a hot-button issue few are as yet willing to address.

Other nettlesome issues are still open, as well. Increasingly, worried European governments are crafting natalist policies to nudge couples to have more children, from offering better child care to monthly stipends keyed to family size. They hope to copy France, which first implemented such policies in the 1930s and remains one of Europe’s very few growing countries. Trouble is, these measures might raise the birthrate slightly, but across most of the aging continent there are just too few potential parents around today.

As for the land itself, right now there’s a trend in many areas toward abandoning less productive land, which is sometimes reforested, sometimes left to go wild. In the American West, this might have been part of the natural cycle: people move on and the wilderness grows back. “But for thousands of years we Europeans are used to having fields and orchards and pastures around our towns,” says Michel Revaz, a Swiss Alpine biologist. “It’s part of our genes.” The landscape, he says, is glued to the European identity, reflecting what the Germans call “Kulturlandschaft”a landscape shaped by centuries of human care. Today’s unprecedented population decline, amplified by the shifting economics of farming, puts the future of many of those Kulturlandschaften in doubt, just as pressure to cut the subsidies that fund them rises. Many Europeans are reluctant to just let nature do its thing. “We still cry when the woods close in,” Revaz says. Unless, of course, you’re a fan of the wolves.


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