Wolves in the EU at risk of having protection downgraded


Wolves in the EU at risk of having protection downgraded

6 September 2023
Protection for the species is under threat following movement from the European Commission towards a proposal that would downgrade wolves’ status of protection, which could give Member States more flexibility to authorise culling.

In light of “conflicts with local farming and hunting communities”, The European Commission issued a press release stating that they will collect data until 22 September 2023 on wolf populations and their impacts. This will inform their decision on proposing to downgrade the conservation status of the species.

Wolf populations in the EU remain fragile

EU efforts towards the recovery of wolves are paying off. Wolf range has increased over 25% in the last decade, and they are now present in all mainland Member States. Yet, this success remains fragile as 6 out of the 9 transboundary wolf populations in the EU did not yet reach a favourable conservation status. The downgrading of the protection status of wolves would jeopardise the efforts invested and further threaten the viability of populations. 

The current legal framework allows sufficient flexibility

The high protection status granted to wolves under the Habitats Directive already provides the possibility of derogations under article 16. In 2017, a fitness check of the Birds and Habitats Directives concluded that the Directives remain relevant and fit for purpose. In 2019 and 2020, Member States reported 772 derogations for the killing of large carnivores to prevent serious damage to livestock. In 2018, it was estimated that over 900 wolves were killed each year in the EU. 

The use of such derogations should be strictly regulated as they are only permitted when no alternative solutions could be identified, and should not jeopardise the conservation status of the species. The European Commission issued guidelines for Member States to comply with these requirements. In this context, the use of such derogations have been subject to multiple infringement procedures, including against Sweden that remains pending.

Coexistence is the solution

President von der Leyen’s claim that “wolf packs in some European regions have become a real danger for livestock and potentially also for humans” is false. We estimate the presence of 19,000 wolves in the EU, which is insignificant compared to the 86 million sheeps reared. Between 2012 and 2016, the annual number of sheep compensated because of wolf depredation corresponded to 0.05% of the over-wintering sheep stock. 

More than 80 projects funded through the European Commission LIFE programme since 1992 have demonstrated the efficiency of coexistence measures such as livestock guarding dogs and fencing. These measures have proven more effective than culling large carnivores to protect livestock. Farmers across the EU should be appropriately supported to install and maintain such protection systems. In addition, risks of attacks in the EU are minor and wolves usually move away when encountering humans.

Benefits from wolves

Besides potential damages to livestock that can be efficiently prevented, wolves provide important services to the environment and the economy. They are keystone species, bringing back biodiversity, preventing the spread of diseases and reinstating a natural balance in the ecosystem, as demonstrated in Yellowstone National Park. Such services can also provide important economic benefits. In light of the global biodiversity crisis, the EU must ensure the continued protection of these important species and promote coexistence in the interest of all. 

We trust the European Commission will uphold their commitment to preserve existing protection levels. We also call for increased transparency on the data received and considered to be publicly available.

Local communities, scientists and all interested parties are invited to submit data by 22 September 2023 on wolf population and their impacts to the following email address:  EC-WOLF-DATA-COLLECTION@ec.europa.eu