How Many Wolves Are Good for Switzerland?

16

The Swiss Environment Minister, Albert Rösti, has sounded the alarm at the rapidly rising number of wolves, which are growing by around 30% in Switzerland each year. The number of reported wolf attacks on livestock has risen dramatically. This begs the question: how many wolves can peacefully co-exist with humans in the Alpine state?

In 2019 the number of Swiss resident wolves was less than 100, rising to almost 150 in 2021 and 240 last year – while today, more than 300 wolves are roaming Switzerland, spread over 32 different packs.

Switzerland has sufficient wolf-friendly territory to support between 50 and 100 packs, according to the KORA foundation, which monitors Swiss carnivore ecology and wildlife management. Ecologists argue that wolves should be allowed to prosper not only for sentimental reasons – apex predators are the most efficient means of keeping down numbers of herbivore grazers, such as deer.

However, a balance must be established between purely ecological considerations and the welfare of farmers, their livestock, and other people who might come into contact with wolves.

A scientific study in 2016 calculated that the Swiss wolf population requires at least 20 packs to be sustainable in the long run, but revisions to the hunting law talk of packs being reduced by up to 70% – down to around 12 packs. The government believes this would leave sufficient wolves to honour its obligation as a signatory of the Bern Convention on wildlife protection to safeguard the predator.

This figure was presented in a draft update to Swiss hunting laws, prompting conservation groups to drop heavy hints of a legal challenge. “The will of parliament and of the people to implement a balanced hunting and protection law is being ignored,” said the conservation group Wolf Switzerland.

“The whole idea of killing wolves or even managing large carnivore populations is currently one of the most divisive issues in Europe,” John Linnell, a senior scientist at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, told SWI swissinfo.ch earlier this year.

Cost to taxpayer

On one side of this dividing line, farmers point to a five-fold increase wolf attacks on sheep, cows and goats in Alpine pastures since the turn of the Millennium when wolves started to multiply in Switzerland.

And this also brings financial consequences for taxpayers as farmers are compensated for livestock killed by wolves and for installing anti-wolf measures to protect their flocks.

The Swiss Farmers’ Association complains that herd protection funding has dropped (a claim the Federal Office for the Environment refutes). “How much money do we want wolves to cost? We have clearly exceeded the pain threshold. Switzerland is too small for the 300 wolves that currently exist. The wolf population must be reduced,” the association stated by email to SWI swissinfo.ch.

Balancing act

Parliament has already decided to allow the culling of wolves if they are deemed a threat. The original proposal was struck down by Swiss voters in 2020, forcing a revision last year that includes more restrictions on shooting wolves whilst retaining the principle that they can be shot before attacking livestock.

The Federal Office for the Environment would not give a precise number of wolves that could sustainably live in Switzerland. “The wolf population in Switzerland is increasing rapidly. This poses major challenges, particularly for alpine farming with sheep and goats,” it said in an emailed statement to SWI swissinfo.ch.

“Without interventions, the wolf population in Switzerland will increase by around 30% per year. Switzerland wants to help ensure that the Alpine wolf population as a whole is not endangered.”

Source : SWI