Here is a story of parallels. Around 1930 when farmers and hunters took out the last wolves from Yellowstone National Park (YNP), farmers and hunters took out the last wolves in France. Then, partly under pressure from animal rights extremist groups, both countries reintroduced wolves in the 1990s. (The United States reintroduced the non-native Canadian timber wolf into YNP, and France introduced wolves from Italy.) While states are actively working to control U.S. wolf populations through hunting seasons, an ongoing battle with anti-hunting groups, yesterday France said it will allow its wolf population to expand by 40 percent despite that farmers lost 12,000 sheep to wolves in 2017 alone.
As reported by the BBC, the French government is permitting the country’s wolf population to increase from 360 wolves to 500 wolves by 2023. I just did the math based on the 12,000 sheep killed last year Does this mean an additional 4,800 sheep will be killed annually by wolves by 2023, translating to an annual loss of nearly 17,000 sheep? Of course, this doesn’t include other livestock and wildlife. As we’ve seen from the YNP experiment, not much is safe from a pack of wolves, which kill both for food and for sport.
According to the BBC, farmers who live among the wolves are concerned they may lose their livelihood as the wolf population expands. While animal rights groups have accused French government ministers of lacking political courage—and preferred a more radical plan—in a joint statement, France’s Agriculture Minister Stephane Travert and Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot said that "we place trust in all of the stakeholders and local lawmakers to calm the debate.” They seek co-existence and want to plan for livestock owners “to be able to apply for state funds to protect their animals from wolves.”
Wolves were wiped out in the United States and France decades ago partly due to the damage they caused to farmers’ livestock and other wildlife. With regard to the global animal rights extremist movement, those who are against managing their populations are likely people who have never even seen a wolf in the wild or the carnage they can cause. My home state of Colorado’s Department of Parks and Wildlife recently held meetings to consider the reintroduction of wolves. Hunters, ranchers and other residents are working to keep that from happening.
While there is a need for wildlife management of all species, predator and prey alike, wolves in France remain protected by an international treaty known as the Bern Convention (Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats).
Putting myself in the farmers’ shoes, if a government is going to allow an established wolf population to grow, shouldn’t there be a solid management program in place to keep numbers at a level that does not do the damage we have seen in both countries? In what is being called “a gesture to farmers,” the French government said it would permit the culling of 40 wolves as it did in 2017.
In other news, wolves also are returning to Belgium after more than a century. Last year Germany estimated it had 60 wolf packs, 15 percent more than it had the previous year.