Officials confirm that Finland’s wolf population has collapsed because of poaching

Wolf numbers have nearly halved since 2005

Finland’s wolf population in February 2007 and February 2011, and the development in 1978-2011. Helmikuu = February, lauma = pack, susipari = a pair of wolves, yksilöä vähintään = minimum number of individuals.
The map shows clearly that the number of packs has been thinned out dramatically south and east from Oulu and in the south-eastern corner of the country. Absolute numbers have fallen from around 250 in 2005 to barely half of that today.
By Heli Saavalainen

It has been an open secret for years, but now it is official: poaching has caused Finland’s wolf population to collapse in such a way that the species, which is already considered extremely threatened, is now indeed in dire straits.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, under whose jurisdiction beast of prey issues fall, plans to get out into the field in the Game Councils next winter in order to root out the deeply-rooted hatred towards wolves.
“The idea is to start unravelling the conflict systematically”, says negotiating official Sami Niemifrom the ministry.
The administration has been under a lot of pressure to keep the tightly-protected wolves alive, for Finland is already being monitored by the EU Commission because of the illegal killings of wolves.
The ministry, therefore, calls for extensive cooperation between various authorities in order to curb poaching.
“We will now begin – hopefully – together with several ministries to think of ways to tackle this situation. This cannot be just the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s responsibility. The Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of the Environment have to be included”, Niemi emphasises.

The number of wolves in the country has dropped by more than a hundred from the peak years.
When in 2005 there were 250 wolves in Finland, last spring’s corresponding figure was between 135 and 145.
The number of separate wolf packs is estimated by the the Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute at 13 or 14, when half of the packs on the Finnish-Russian border are included.
The packs are more or less in their former locations, but from some areas wolves have disappeared completely. For example several packs south and east of the city of Oulu have simply ceased to exist.

A more concerted investigation into the reasons behind the steadily diminishing number of wolves was commenced within the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry last spring.
Now poaching has been ascertained as the main cause: on Tuesday, September 20th, the ministry confirmed in the Etelä-Saimaa daily that no other reasons lurk behind the collapse of the wolf population.
The wolves have not voted with their feet and migrated to Russia, and they have not died of illnesses either. Legally, with the requisite permits, only nine wolves were killed last year.
“Finland has such a strong and healthy elk population that the packs would have no reason suddenly to abandon their territories. It is also known that genetically Finland’s wolf population is strong and it does not carry illnesses. Licenced culling of wolves has been moderate with respect to the increase of the population”, Niemi lists.
“So, the only explanation left to us is illegal killings.”

More and more poaching incidents have come to the knowledge of the authorities and an increasing number of cases are being looked into.
In the spring, the Penal Code was changed in such a way that the law now includes enactments related to aggravated poaching and aggravated concealment of an illegal catch.
To investigate such deeds, the police was given the right to use coercive measures such as monitoring telephone traffic.
“But the issue cannot be solved simply by increasing supervision, for in the background there is a conflict problem”, Niemi emphasises.

To resolve the conflict, dialogue is needed between the authorities and the hunters. In Niemi’s view the Game Centre of Finland, which was launched in March through the amalgamation of the Hunters’ Central Organisation
and 15 Game Management Districts, is a good place for the planning of Finland’s beast of prey policies.
“For the first time, we have a structural chance to seize the beast of prey conflict and dismantle it, so to speak. The idea is to begin systematically to unravel the old notions and fears together with the Game Centre of Finland and its councils”, Niemi says.
“If we cannot find a solution to the poaching issue this way, hopefully we will at least be able to bring the conflict under control.”

Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 21.9.2011

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