As reported by AFP, the French government announced this week that it’s going to permit the population of wild Eurasian wolves – Canis lupus lupus, a subspecies of the gray wolf – to grow within its borders by 40 percent over the next five years. In absolute terms, that means there will be an increase from 360 to 500 by the year 2023.
This will be a welcome reprieve for the wolf, which has struggled somewhat to regain numbers in France after being completely annihilated in the 1930s through hunting.
As AFP notes, they made a small comeback in the early 1990s via Italy, but many of them headed into Switzerland and Germany. Although wolves are legally protected by the Bern convention, limited, carefully regulated hunting will be allowed each year in order to ensure their population numbers don’t rise uncontrollably.
As noted by The Economist, the forest cover in France has expanded in the last three decades, largely thanks to the migration of rural human populations to the country’s various metropolises. This means that the wolf’s habitat is, in some areas, actually expanding.
Conservationists and environmentalists are likely to approve of the latest move by the French government, particularly considering the somewhat melancholy history of the gray wolf and its various subspecies.
The gray wolf, Canis lupus, is currently listed as “least concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). However, the latest report on this dates back around a decade.
In other parts of the world, including the US, the picture is more mixed, with various gray wolf populations there labeled as “endangered” or “threatened”. Regardless of the current threat level they're facing, the key point here is that their once-global population has been dramatically receded due to a one-sided conflict with humans.
With this in mind, it's understandable why reintroduction programs and legal protections have arisen in the last few decades.
This latest French initiative is sparking somewhat similar levels of anger as comparable reintroduction programs have done in the US. Generally speaking, conservationists argue that reintroduction programs can work and should be supported. On the other side, landowners and farmers, fearing for their livestock or personal safety, tend to oppose such measures.
French farmers, particularly those near the Alps or Pyrenees, have long been vexed by such actions, as wolves do predate on their livestock and damage their livelihood to some extent. Although undeniably a problem, it’s not clear that such attacks are ever “out of control”.
It’s possible that there’s a little hyperbole on both sides, but it’s hard to disagree with the notion of reintroducing wild species to territory that humanity has unjustifiably ejected them from. At the very least, it boosts regional biodiversity – something that current species extinction rates threaten to constantly undermine.