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CH: Citizens to decide who can pull trigger on wildlife

Voters are deciding whether parliament’s changes to Swiss hunting laws go too far, or whether to endorse them at the ballot box this Sunday. Pollsters say it’s a neck-and-neck race between those in favour and those against.

This content was published on September 25, 2020 – 11:00

Susan Misicka

A year ago, parliament adapted the national legislation on hunting. The changes – inspired in particular by concerns about Switzerland’s growing wolf population – allow the cantons to cull wild animals that they consider problematic without asking for federal permission.

This could also affect species such as lynx, beaver, ibex, swan, grey heron and Eurasian otter. At the same time, the amended law would nearly double the annual federal budget – to CHF4 million ($4.3 million) – for Switzerland’s 80 wildlife reserves and bird sanctuaries.

In response, environmentalists and animal rights activists launched a referendum calling for a nationwide vote challenging the parliamentary decision. Groups such as Pro Natura, WWF Switzerland and BirdLife say that the amendments make it too easy to kill animals that should be protected for the sake of biodiversity – including animals that have neither attacked livestock nor caused any other damage.

Against and for

Several political parties are against the reformed law, among them the leftwing Social Democrats and Green Party and the centrist Liberal Greens. They maintain that the existing legislation already provides sufficient options for dealing with problem animals – including the option to shoot them if need be. They also point out that the revised law does not increase protection for threatened species such as grouse, woodcock, and hare.

Proponents of the proposed reform – the conservative right Swiss People’s Party and most branches of the centrist Christian Democrats and the centre-right Radical-Liberals – argue that the Swiss wolf population is growing too quickly. There are currently about 80 wolves living in Switzerland, compared to a handful between 1995 and 2000. The Swiss farmers’ and hunters’ associations are in favour of the reform, as is the committee for mountain regions.