EU chief Ursula von der Leyen blasted for ‘outrageous’ backward step

EU plans to lift a continent-wide ban on wolf hunting are “outrageous”, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) has said – with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen accused of “deliberately sacrificing decades of conservation work for her political gain”.

The Commission yesterday tabled a proposal for a European Council Decision to adapt the protection status of the wolf under the international Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats. Specifically, the Commisson is proposing to change the status of wolves from “strictly protected” to “protected”.

The current rules prohibit the capturing and killing of the carnivores unless the animals pose a danger to humans or livestock – but the shift in status would mean their hunting could be authorised.

The WWF estimates there are 12,000 grey wolves in Europe, and 200,000 worldwide. Sabien Leemans, senior biodiversity policy officer at the WWF’s European Policy Office, said: “This is an outrageous announcement that has no scientific justification but is motivated purely by personal reasons and undermines not just the protection status of the wolf, but with it all nature conservation efforts in the EU.

“President von der Leyen is deliberately sacrificing decades of conservation work for her political gain, echoing her political allies’ attempts to instrumentalise the wolf as a scapegoat for socio-economic problems in rural communities. This is unacceptable and can create a dangerous precedent for all species and habitats in and outside the territory of the EU.”

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Wolf Pack Hunts A Hare

The announcement also ran counter to public opinion, Ms Leemans added, with a recent survey published by the Eurogroup for Animals on rural communities’ perceptions about co-existence with large carnivores indicating that 68 percent think that wolves should be strictly protected. More than two-thirds (72 percent) agreed that they have a right to co-exist with humans.

Ms Leemans added: “The proposal sabotages the EU’s role as the reliable and leading partner in international fora and questions the authenticity of its efforts to achieve global biodiversity goals.

“Just one year ago, President von der Leyen made a strong statement supporting the landmark agreement to guide global action on nature through 2030 together with the rest of the international community. Today’s announcement calls these international commitments into question.”

Speaking yesterday, Ms von der Leyen, whose pony Dolly was killed by a wolf in Germany last year, said: “The comeback of wolves is good news for biodiversity in Europe. But the concentration of wolf packs in some European regions has become a real danger, especially for livestock.”

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She continued: “To manage critical wolf concentrations more actively, local authorities have been asking for more flexibility. The European level should facilitate this and the process the Commission started today is an important step. I am deeply convinced that we can and will find targeted solutions to protect both, biodiversity and our rural livelihoods.”

Commissioner for environment, oceans and fisheries Virginijus Sinkevicius added: “The proposal to change the protection status of wolves under the Bern Convention recognised the need to address the challenges posed by increasing wolf populations, while keeping the aim of conservation of biodiversity and the objective to reach and maintain a favourable conservation status of the species.

“The Commission will continue to support national and local authorities with funding and guidance to promote the co-existence with the wolf and large carnivores in general. Investment into prevention measures remains essential to reduce livestock predation.”

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