The Norwegian Red List for species lists the wolf as critically endangered (CR).
In the last count (winter 2021-2022), 125-129 wolves were registered. Of these, 51-52 lived solely in Norway, while the remaining 74-77 wander on both sides of the border between Norway and Sweden.
In order to hunt animals without breaking the Nature Diversity Act or the Bern Convention, the hunting:
Can not threaten the survival of the species
Must be aimed at damage prevention
The wolves in Norway and Sweden originate from very few individuals, and Norwegian politicians are not doing enough to improve the situation. Due to this, inbreeding poses a significant danger to the Norwegian wolves.
Wolves living solely in Norway
Wolves living on both sides of the Norwegian/Swedish border
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The critically endangered wolves are hunted each year
The Norwegian Parliament has decided upon a «wolf zone» that accounts for less than five percent of Norway's total land area. If a wolf wanders outside this zone, permission to shoot it is usually granted quickly.
In addition to this, Norwegian authorities commisions license hunting of a large number of the wolf population each year.
In the license period from 2017-2018, permission was granted to shoot 50 wolves in Norway, out of a total population of 84 wolves.
In the winter of 2018–2019, 26 wolves were shot.
In the license period of 2019-2020, 17 wolves inside the wolf zone and 12 wolves outside the zone were decided shot.
In 2020-2021, permisson was granted to shoot 57 wolves, out of a total of 103 to 106 wolves living in Norway. 32 of the wolves that were decided to be shot, lived inside of the wolf zone in family groups.
Additionally, illegal hunting poses a serious threat to the wolf. Illegal hunting is the major cause of wolf mortality in Scandinavia, and near half of all wolf deaths can be ascribed to this.
WWF took the Norwegian Government to court
WWF Norway sued the Norwegian government in 2017, claiming illegal wolf management after two wolf packs were eradicated in what has since become the yearly licence hunt for wolves.
In total, 27 wolves of the approximately 82 that lived in Norway at the time were killed. Wolves are Critically Endangered in Norway.
WWF Norway allegded that the current management practice violates the national Nature Diversity Act, the Bern Convention, as well as our Constitution.
In 2018, WWF lost in Oslo District Court. We appealed to Borgarting Court of Appeal, which ruled in favour of WWF on key elements, stating for instance that the Government has lowered the bar for wolf hunting more than is legally permitted.
However, the Court of Appeal ruling lacked answers to several fundamental questions about Norway's management of our carnivores. Therefore, WWF appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court for further clarifications on the rule of law. At the same time, the Norwegian Government also appealed the ruling to Supreme Court.
On March 26th 2021 the verdict was out from the Supreme Court. WWF lost on all accounts.
The Supreme Court established that the Norwegian government had acted in compliance with both the Biodiversity Act and the Bern Convention when it has allowed extensive hunting of critically endangered wolves in Norway.
The wolf is native in Norway
There have been wolves in Norway for several thousand years, and they are as natural here as the the moose or the red squirrel. Most of Norway is suitable wolf habitat. Thus the wolf is no stranger in Norwegian forests.
Before the Parliament decided to exterminate the wolf in 1845, a coherent wolf population lived throughout an area that stretched across Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia.
Norway has a responsibility to protect the wolves
Norway has an international commitment to preserve the wolf in accordance with the Bern Convention and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). In Norway, the wolf has been protected by law since 1971. This obligation is further described in the Nature Diversity Act. According to the Nature Diversity Act, «The goal is that the species and their genetic diversity are safeguarded in a long term perspective, and that the species occurs in viable populations in its natural range. »
Worst in Europe
Norway has one of Europe’s smallest populations of wolves, even though we have vast areas that are suitable habitat for wolves. Germany, France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Poland and Croatia all have populations exceeding 200 wolves.
In Denmark, the official wolf management plan states that the continental part of the country can house 10 wolf packs, equalling 80-100 wolves. The area, called Jutland, has a land area of 23 872 km². In comparison, Norway stretches across 385 207 km². With this in mind, there is no rational reason why Norway shouldn't have space for more wolves than we have.
Statistically, the wolf poses little danger to humans
The wolf is inherently afraid of, or will actively try to avoid, humans. The last recorded wolf attack on a human in Norway happened when a little girl was killed by wolves in the year 1800.
Even though the wolf will avoid humans, its ability to adapt to different ecosystems also enables it to live in human dominated areas – like cultural landscapes and agricultural lands. However, in these areas it will adjust its behaviour and become nocturnal to a larger extent.
One can never rule out that a dangerous situation might arise in human contact with a wolf, and thus it is important to bear in mind that the wolf is a wild animal we should always interact with in a respectful, safe, and intelligent manner, as is the case with other wild animals such as moose, deer and brown bear.
The wolf is responsible for only a few percent of the sheep mortality
The wolves in Norway live almost exclusively off wild ungulates, and in the wolf zone, moose is their most important prey. Predators are only a small part of the reason why sheep die during range grazing in the summer – about 80 percent of the sheep loss is due to other causes like accidents, infections, diseases, parasites and poisonous plants. In total, wolves cause less than two percent of the annual sheep mortality.
Licensed hunting does not reduce sheep loss
Licensed hunting on wolves lasts from December 1st until May 31st outside the wolf zone. Within the wolf zone, where the wolves are allowed to establish families, the hunting takes place from January 1st until February 15th. There are no sheep on pasturelands during this period.
Almost all of the wolves that kill sheep in Norway come from Sweden in the spring, just before the sheep are released into pasturelands. Therefore it has zero or minimal effect on sheep loss during pasture season if Norwegian wolves are shot during the licensed hunting in the fall and winter.
Wolves originating from Sweden caused as much sheep loss in Norway five and ten years ago – when there were fewer wolves in the wolf zone – as is currently the case.
Norwegian wolf packs rarely kill pasture animals. Almost no sheep wander freely inside the wolf zone, where the established wolf packs live, and the wolves in these territories usually stay within the territory borders, where they live off ungulates and other wildlife. Moreover, the wolf zone is not «full»; there is space for significantly more packs there than today.
Inbreeding - a major threat to the wolf population
The wolf population in Norway and Sweden (the Scandinavian wolf population) is largely inbred. This means that the genetic variation in the population is low.
If we imagine two random individuals from the entire population and examine their DNA, they will in fact be genetically as similar as siblings, even though they are not from the same family.
This means that the entire wolf population is very vulnerable. Genetic variation is what makes a population resilient in the long term. Without this variation, it is like a ticking bomb: a parasite or a virus could threaten the entire population.
Therefore, it is incredibly important that wolves of other genetic origin are allowed to establish themselves in Scandinavia. This entails wolves that have wandered into Norway from Finland or Russia. When these mate with Scandinavian wolves, genetically important variation is introduced to our wolf population, and chances of long term survival improves considerably.
WWF’s demands for the wolf management
The wolf population must be managed sustainably
WWF believes that the current Norwegian management of wolves violates the Norwegian Constitution, the Nature Diversity Act as well as the Bern Convention. The management is not based upon science, but is rather a result of a political barter trade, aimed at keeping both conservationalists and farmers happy, though not posing a satisfactory soultion to either parties.
The Parliament’s agreed population goal for wolves, which is three annual wolf litters in packs living within Norway (4–6 puppy litters when including border packs), is so low that the wolf is constantly managed on the brink of extinction, and will remain critically endangered..
WWF therefore has called for a scientifical assessment on how many wolves are needed in order to keep the population viable.
Better measures for protecting pasture animals
There is enough room for both pasture animals and predators in Norway. In earlier days, it was unthinkable to let sheep wander unguarded in nature for several months without shepherds. In Germany, predator proof fences and guard dogs are being used to protect the pasture animals from wolves. Most of Europe does not allow pasture animals into rangeland with as little supervision as is the case in Norway. This is also one of the reasons why reimbursements for sheep lost to large predators in Norway are almost as high as for the rest of Europe altogether.
WWF calls for the Norwegian Government to gather more knowledge on co-existence, and to launch a national research project to come up with solutions that can reduce the conflict between wolves (and other large predators) and pasture animals.
Support schemes for wolf municipalities
Municipalities within the wolf zone should get economical support to conflict reducing measures. A share of this should be earmarked for development of local businesses, based on sustainable and careful use of natural resources – for example, experience-based tourism in forests.
There is need for more knowledge and information on how the wolf lives, how to recognize its tracks, as well as how humans can co-exist with wolves.