Chapron, Guillaume, Epstein, Yaffa, Ours Ortmark, Mar, Helmius, Lovisa, Ramírez Loza, Juan Pablo, Bétaille, Julien and López-Bao, José Vicente (2023) European Commission may gut wolf protection. Science, vol.382 (n°6668). p. 275.

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The recovery of the wolf in Europe is one of the rare conservation successes on the continent (1). Instrumental to this recovery has been the strict legal protection of wolves throughout most of their range under Annex IV of the Habitats Directive (2). Strict protection has prevented anti-conservation interest groups from gaining the upper hand on wolf policy. The Court of Justice of the European Union has several times given a strict interpretation of the Habitats Directive in favor of wolf conservation (3). However, less than a year after it agreed to the ambitious Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, the European Commission has announced that it is considering a proposal to weaken the protection of wolves (4). This goes against a Directive “fitness check” study requested by the previous Commission, which concluded that changing annexes would be counterproductive and stressed the importance of enforcement (5).
The Commission has grown increasingly reluctant to fulfill its role of enforcing legal obligations for wolf conservation. It has failed to take action to prevent the repeated violations of EU law by Sweden for more than a decade (6) and has passively watched a wolf population disappear in Spain (7). It is now considering putting forward “a proposal to modify, where appropriate, the status of protection of the wolf,” (4) presumably by moving the species from Annex IV to Annex V of the Habitats Directive, as demanded by farmer, landowner, and hunter organizations (8).
In some areas, wolves are already classified in Annex V, under which wolf killing does not need to be justified. In practice, Annex V listing means that there is very little oversight from the EU. The protection of Annex V species has sometimes been treated as optional. Finland, for instance, has for years considered Annex V listing of its wolves in the northern part of the country as a license to nearly eradicate them (9).
Although wolves under Annex V still need to have Favourable Conservation Status (FCS), as under Annex IV, the contentiousness of what constitutes FCS would leave ample room for Member States to set it at the lowest possible population size for political reasons. This is already the case in Sweden, where the government instructed its Environmental Protection Agency to set FCS to between 170 and 270 wolves (10).
A change in wolf protection would in practice mean far fewer restrictions on the killing of wolves in Europe, which is why Sweden and Austria have recently asked the Commission to implement it (11). Under Article 19 of the Habitats Directive, however, a change in wolf protection requires the unanimity of all 27 Member States (12). Conservationists in Europe therefore need to find a single unsupportive government to veto undoing decades of wolf recovery.

Item Type: Article
Language: English
Date: 20 October 2023
Refereed: Yes
Place of Publication: New York
Uncontrolled Keywords: Wolf, European Commission, Conservation
Keywords (French): Loup, Commission européenne, Conservation
Subjects: A- DROIT > A4- Droit privé > 4-10- Droit de l’environnement
A- DROIT > A8- Droit de l’Union Européenne
Divisions: Institut des Études Juridiques de l'Urbanisme et de la Construction (Toulouse)
Site: UT1
Date Deposited: 14 Nov 2023 10:17
Last Modified: 14 Nov 2023 10:23
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