The Lone Wolf Approach to Conservation

Sweden, Conservation

Sweden has been in the vanguard of countries seeking to preserve the natural environment. It was the first European country to establish a national park (Sarek National Park was established in 1909), thereby preserving part of Europe’s last wilderness. The first Nature Conservancy Act was adopted in 1909, and in 1969 a modern environmental protection act was passed. Since then tens of thousands of square miles have been set aside as national parks and nature reserves.


But things are changing.  Last year, the state authorised hunting of 27 wolves to limit the nationwide population to an estimated 200 individuals.  This year a further 20 can be hunted this year.  Previously, wolves had been almost eradicated in Sweden, with a single pack remaining in the 1980s (twenty years after many thought them extinct in the area). A lone Russian wolf was introduced to diversify the narrow gene pool brought about by inbreeding within a single family unit, an action which combined with conservation and protection measures has lead to a significant increase in wolf numbers.  By 2004 there were around fifty animals spread over six packs and a dozen pairs, with another twenty straddling the border with Norway.

The problem now is that the wolves are reportedly attacking farmer’s livestock and competing with hunters for deer.  In many ways this is similar to the situation in Scotland with birds of prey preying on grouse, or in the case of Golden Eagles, the odd lamb.  The difference is that in Sweden, despite the country’s reputation for progressive environmental policy or, perhaps, because of it, the government has taken the decision to limit wolf numbers.  The decision raises several questions such as whether 200 is the correct limit – does it limit genetic diversity too much, particularly given the limited gene pool? And how are the wolves selected for killing? Is it random or are the older animals selected? Or can some packs be trans-located to other, less populated, parts of the country?

The action of the Swedish government does beg the question: Could the Scottish Government make such a brave decision regarding management of raptor numbers? If not, could a different government in Holyrood?

Probably not.  Raptors, or Birds of Prey, aren’t burdened with the reputation of wolves. An eagle may have eaten Prometheus’s liver every day, but it was his well deserved punishment, and the story isn’t as prevalent and ingrained from such an early age as that of the wolf who huffed and puffed and blew the house down or of the one who ate Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother.  There isn’t a cultural hook on which to hang the blame.

Related Post: Conservation of the Natural Balance

SMALL PRINT: For the record, I don’t condone illegal killing of wildlife, nor am I suggesting legalising a wholesale slaughter of Golden Eagles, hen harriers and other birds of prey. Nothing more radical than trying to strike a balance between human activity and the environment.
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