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A row over wolves in Finland

A row over wolves in Finland

Helsinki, Oct 20 (IANS) Guess why is the European Commission in conflict with Finland? Over wolves!

Exasperated over the permits being given by Finnish authorities to hunt down wolves, the Commission has slapped legal action against Finland, accusing it of not doing enough to protect the wild animal.

Finland has been charged with giving permission to kill wolves despite lack of proof that they pose any danger to humans or can cause great damage.

Finnish authorities are not ready to accept the accusation.

“The Commission’s action is not well founded at all,” says Ilpo Kojola, a scientist specialising in carnivores, pointing out that Finland’s wolf population is genetically diverse, well developed and has gradually spread.

“Individual kill figures are open to interpretation,” he says, in remarks published in a nature resources magazine. “I feel it is strange for the Commission to take such conspicuous action in the matter.”

At the end of 2004, Finland was home to some 185-200 wolves, a respectable increase from the 100 odd that existed a few years ago. In 2005, at least 80 wolf cubs were born.

These are official figures, not accepted by everyone.

In any case, whatever the real numbers, they are nothing compared to the whopping 35,000 estimated to live in Russia, which shares a winding border with Finland. Finnish wolves are known to cross over to Russia and vice-versa.

The authorities, however, admit that many Finns tend to fear wolves more than necessary.

This is mainly because of attacks by wolves on pet dogs. In some places, children are no longer permitted to walk to school due to fears of possible wolf attacks.

All this encourages killings, mainly by hunters and reindeer keepers.

Finland’s ministry of agriculture claims the population of carnivores is big enough to withstand legal hunting. Critics dispute this.

Under the European Union Habitats Directive, wolves, bears and lynxes enjoy full protection. They can be hunted only if they pose danger to people or property. But even then the hunting has to be supervised.

Critics say despite this clear-cut directive, the ‘slaughter’ of wolves, bears and lynxes continue. This is why the European Commission proceeded against Finland, which now holds the presidency of the 25-nation European Union.

Unlike other endangered species that come under the environment ministry, wolves – along with bears and lynxes – come under the control of the agriculture ministry in Finland. According to critics, the agriculture ministry tends to be influenced by the hunting lobby.

In the circumstances, Finland has prepared a management policy for its wolf population and to deal with conflict situations.

The policy takes into consideration international regulatory frameworks and international obligations on Finland regarding wolves.

In preparing the policy, the University of Helsinki carried out a research project that included open meetings attended by over 1,000 people. The aim was to elicit views from those dealing with the animal every day.

Scientist Kojola is clear that data on wolf population is gathered after long and comprehensive monitoring and is very thorough.

“From the scientific point of view, a population is only a population when it produces young and spreads,” he says. “That is exactly the situation for the Finnish wolf population.”

–By M.R. Narayan Swamy