Can there be a good reason to kill two-thirds of your wolves? Norway thinks so.

Originally published by Fusion on November 10, 2016

Norway’s sheep farmers, fearing the loss of their traditional livelihoods to packs of wolves roaming the rugged outback, have embraced a controversial approach to preserving their rural professions: killingnearly two-thirds of the nation’s wolf population.

“Wolf attacks hit sheep herds hard and very extensively,” said Erica Fjærn, a spokesperson for the Norwegian Association of Sheep and Goat Farmers (NSG). “This has led to sheep farmers quitting.”

Currently, wolves are only supposed to live in designated “wolf zones” — areas along the craggy Norwegian-Swedish border established to nurture the country’s recovering wolf population. But according to Fjærn, there are too many wolves and they’re spreading across the country.

“We have to manage the [wolf] population,” she said. “They will repopulate very quickly if given the chance and then we’ll have a national problem. They’re not supposed to be in all of Norway.”

Fjærn said families that have allowed their sheep to roam freely for decades — if not centuries — have had to move to wolf-free areas, only to have the beasts follow them and continue killing. Others, she reiterates, have abandoned the time-honored occupation permanently.

To manage the population, the Norwegian government has authorized hunters to remove 47 of the nation’s 68 wolves. The hunt, which began this fall and will continue into 2017, is expected to help mitigate conflicts by reducing Norway’s growing wolf numbers to a government-approved population size.

In a nation often viewed as environmentally-friendly, the wolf cull reflects a deep-seated battle over the future of Norway’s conservation policy. The goal is to shrink an exploding wolf population in order to mitigate human-animal conflicts, but it raises a question: how wild are wilderness areas actually allowed to be?

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the battle was between humans and animals. Today, the fight is between people over wolves.

“It’s pure politics,” said John Linnell, a biologist with the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA). “In many ways [the wolf cull] represents a total moral failure on Norway’s part to make any significant contribution to wolf conservation.”

This debate isn’t limited to Norway; in the United States, the reintroduction of wolves to the Rocky Mountains has ignited similar passions, and conflicts, between livestock producers, conservationists, and the federal government. For conservationists, the booming wolf population in the U.S. is a cause for celebration; for livestock producers, a vicious example of government overreach.

Read more at Fusion.

Tristan Ahtone

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