Climate and Environment Minister Ola Elvestuen came home from the UN climate meeting in Poland to immediately face howling from all sides, once again over Norway’s growing but still fragile wolf population. Now no one is happy, because Elvestuen is allowing a hunt in a protected zone for the first time, but not allowing hunts in other areas where they were expected.
Wildlife authorities had recommended hunting three wolf packs in a zone set aside for wolves. Local residents had complained they didn’t feel safe, while sheep ranchers feel their animals are threatened.
Elvestuen’s ministry ended up allowing one hunt but ordered that two wolf packs be protected. Hunters in Hobøl in Øsfold County southeast of Oslo, meanwhile, will probably need to put their rifles away. The ministry decided that wolves now roaming in the area must be allowed to survive. Another pack found in Akershus and Hedmark counties was also spared.
“I’m very disappointed,” Terje Halleland of the Progress Party, told Norwegian Broadcastng (NRK). He claimed that a compromise in Stortinget set a goal for the wolf population that will now allow it to be exceeded.
“We had a crystal clear agreement on predators, that involved maintaining a (minimum) wolf count,” Halleland said. “The decision from the ministry means that’s not being met.”
His criticism is especially significant since the Progress Party is part of the government coalition along with Elvestuen’s Liberal Party. It’s the second major dispute within the government in as many weeks, following last week’s uproar over migration.
The Progress Party and the Conservatives who lead the government coalition agreed with the Labour and Christian Democrats parties to set a population goal allowing just four to six litters of wolf pups a year. New figures from the state agency compiling data on predators in Norway, Rovdata, shows that 10.5 wolf litters were born last winter, including half of those in a pack that roams in the area along the border to Sweden. Two wolf families have been shot since, but the total still exceeds the agreed amount.
Both the opposition Labour and Center parties were also angry about Elvestuen’s decision, made in conjunction with both the agriculture ministry (led by Bård Hoksrud of the Progress Party) and the health ministry, led by Bent Høie of the Conservatives. So were several environmental and animal rights organizations, for vastly different reasons. They don’t want to see any of Norway’s wolves shot because wolves remain a threatened species.
“It’s very serious that the government is giving in to calls to shoot wolves within protected zones,” Silje Ask Lundberg, leader of Norway’s chapter of Friends of the Earth (Naturnvernforbundet) told NRK. Norway’s total wolf population is now estimated to number between 59 and 66.
Elvestuen referred repeatedly at a press conference on Monday to the “high conflict levels” over wolves in Norway, stressing that the government sought to lower it but can’t please everybody. Instead it has now further irritated key players on both sides of the issue.