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Open letter to Commission President von der Leyen on protection of wolves

BirdLife, alongside seven other European NGOs, have voiced significant concerns regarding the dissemination of inaccurate information pertaining to European wolves by the President of the European Commission.

Dear President von der Leyen,

On behalf of the undersigned environmental and animal protection organisations, we are writing in response to the Commission’s press release on ‘Wolves in Europe’ dated 4th September 2023. We would like to express our deep concerns about the misleading information this communication spreads regarding wolves in Europe.

Misleading information regarding wolves

Regarding the dangers posed to humans and livestock, the messaging in the press communication is misleading, and it preempts the result of the public consultation. The claim that the concentration of wolfpacks has become a danger for livestock and potentially for humans is not based on science.
In Europe, the wolf is not considered to be dangerous for humans. Scientific evidence has shown that
wolves do not treat humans as prey, and fatal encounters are exceptional, in contrast to a number of real and significant threats to human life (such as extreme weather events or car accidents and pollution). Damage to livestock is often linked to the lack of adequate supervision and/or physical protection.

Tools available to protect livestock

EU and national guideline documents, good practices, and tools are available to prevent and compensate for the economic damage caused by wolves. Good practices include the training of dogs to protect herds, education of herders, tools and technical solutions to deter wolves. The European Union Guidelines for State Aid in the agricultural sector allow EU Member States to grant full compensation to farmers for damages caused by protected animals, such as wolves. This also makes it possible to fully reimburse costs of investments made to prevent such damages, for example installing electric fences or acquiring guard dogs. In addition, rural development funds in the EAFRD have the potential to support coexistence, notably via investments and increased agro-environmental area payments for areas where the presence of large predators might prevent delivery of environmentally beneficial grazing practices. These opportunities are presently underutilized.

Consultation breaches Commission’s Better Regulation Rules

Any decision to change the conservation status of wolves must be based on reliable scientific data,
according to the provisions of the relevant legislation, and not on anecdotal evidence submitted through a non-transparent and irregular consultation process. It is incomprehensible that the Commission announced the collection of data on “challenges related to the return of wolves” for an 18-day period via a dedicated Email address. We contend that this violates the Commission’s own rules with regard to Better Regulation. The Better Regulation Guidelines require that all stakeholders should have a reasonable period in which to make informed and effective contributions. 18 days is not a reasonable period. The Commission should already be in the possession of significant data from the recently conducted Fitness Check of the Nature Directives, as well as from Member States reporting under the requirements of the Habitats Directive, including in relation to the existing derogations.

Call to action

As President of the European Commission, you are in a unique and authoritative position, and we are
greatly alarmed by the misleading social media comments on wolves that were issued in your name.
Protecting wolves in Europe is not only a matter of ecological significance, but also a reflection of our
commitment to biodiversity conservation and the values of coexistence and tolerance. Wolves are an
integral part of Europe’s natural heritage, playing a vital role in maintaining ecosystem balance and
biodiversity, and the return of the wolf to Europe is a considerable conservation success that must not be jeopardised. The European Commission must set an example for sound policymaking, and responsible wildlife management and conservation that is driven by science-based data, rather than the opinions and economic interests of a few.
We would like to get clarity on the Commission’s impartial position on this issue.

Yours sincerely,
Ariel Brunner, Regional Director, BirdLife Europe and Central Asia
Ester Asin, Director, WWF European Policy Office
Gabriel Schwaderer, Executive Director, EuroNatur
Dr Joanna Swabe, Senior Director of Public Affairs, Humane Society International/Europe (HSI)
Staci McLennan, Director of Policy-Europe, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)
Dr Mark Jones, Head of Policy, Born Free Foundation
Faustine Bas-Defossez, Director for Nature Health and Environment, European Environmental Bureau
Anaïs Berthier, Head of ClientEarth Brussels office

Cover picture: Rollin Verlinde

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Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.