Europe’s highest court has ruled that wolves in the European Union cannot be hunted, except in the rarest cases where member countries can prove there is no other option to end human-wolf conflict.
The European Court of Justice ruling followed a challenge to a decision by the Finland government to allow two hunters to kill seven wolves in early 2016. The challenge was brought by a local nature organization. Wolves are critically endangered and protected in Europe under the EU Habitats Directive, which requires EU countries to strictly protect the species, with deviations allowed only if certain tests are met.
Wolf populations were wiped out in parts of Europe because of indiscriminate hunting, making such protections necessary, and it is only recently that they have begun to rebound. Allowing hunting interests to get a foot in at this crucial time would set the clock back once again for these beautiful carnivores, threatening their survival.
HSI/Europe has been working to promote coexistence with wolves and other large carnivores in Europe and to counter calls to change EU legislation to allow more wolves to be culled. Among other initiatives, in 2017, we organized a symposium at the European Parliament on the issue of coexistence with large carnivores.
In its ruling, the court stated that EU member states seeking any exemptions would have to prove, using rigorous scientific data, that the killing would solve the problem it is supposed to address and would have a net positive effect on conservation of wolves; guarantee that killing the wolves would not harm the conservation status of wolves; and any killing would need to be limited to a specific number of individuals, under strict monitoring.
The ruling also sets an important precedent for other carnivores protected under the Habitats Directive, like bears and lynx, who are also in trophy hunters’ sights and face threats similar to those faced by wolves.
The high bar Europe has set for protecting its wolves is in sharp contrast to how the U.S. government is handling wolf recovery on its shores. Here, despite the fragile state of wolf populations in several U.S. states, the Trump administration has proposed removing Endangered Species Act protections for these animals in the lower 48 states, putting them directly in the crosshairs of trophy hunters. Some states, including Idaho and Wyoming, have also persistently mounted attacks on their own wolf populations.
We hope that our government will take note of this humane and progressive path chosen by their European counterparts. Native carnivores around the world face unprecedented threats to their survival today, following decades of trophy hunting, poaching and habitat loss, and continuing to do more of the same will only lead to some of our most precious wildlife being lost forever. We applaud the European Court of Justice for standing on the right side of this issue.