Tag Archives: reintroduction

Bringing Back Carnivores

The wolverine, one of many carnivores making its way back into Scandinavia

In my previous posts on rewilding and wild boar, I talked about the effects of reintroducing species that were previously found in Norway. Now, I want to talk more about the large carnivores in Scandinavia which serve as protection against invasive species. This opinion piece is coming from an ecologist and a foreigner, so treat this like a Scandic breakfast buffet and take what you want.

Where did the growing populations of carnivores come from?

The history of Scandinavian carnivores – namely the brown bear, wolf, lynx and wolverine – is broadly similar across species. There were diverse populations until the 1800s, when humans equipped with guns and fear drove the carnivores to or over the brink of extinction. Then, around the 1970s, through migration from countries where remote populations were able to persist and/or through protective legislation, populations slowly began to recover. Now that species are growing in size, people are starting to have mixed feelings about sharing their land with hungry predators.

The Social Perspective

The great litmus test: are the carnivores in Scandinavia a menace or an important species to protect? Your response to this question could be an indication of your socio-economic background and where you live. Norwegians, particularly young people and those living in urban populations, support the rights of carnivores to exist. However, most people do not want to live near them. Rural farmers are the most likely to disapprove the growth of wild carnivore populations, citing concerns about hunting of sheep and semi-domesticated reindeer and public safety, though it is worth noting that carnivores do not tend to attack people. The last recorded bear-related death in Norway was in 1906. Despite publicly supporting the protection of carnivores, the Norwegian government is simultaneously sponsoring the culling of wolf packs and the removal of wolverine dens. Carnivores are able to access human-owned prey largely because of historic, culturally rooted practices of  letting livestock graze free in the spring and summer.

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The free-grazing nature of Norwegian farming makes the reintroduction of carnivores unpopular with rural communities (Image Credit: Creative Commons)

The Biological Perspective

I like to think of an ecosystem as a game of Jenga. If humans continually shuffle around and remove species the whole system will collapse. While we may seem to be talking about wolves, wild boar, or the common ragweed we are actually talking about all the species near and far. The effects of adding or removing species influences what species feed on, competition between species, and secondary effects. While there are short term economic benefits to saving livestock or crops, there are long-term consequences to removing species ranging from flooding to annual payments for culling rampant deer populations. I think we should all support protecting carnivores so we can protect the ecosystems we depend on.

The Way Forward

It’s all well and good to aim for the reintroduction of predators, but without accounting for the aforementioned rural farmers division will continue to plague this issue. The tradition of free-grazing livestock may need to be rethought, and education on dealing with local presence of predators should be pushed in rural communities. Scandinavian governments will need to help with both, and conservationists will need to make an effort to connect with those on the other side of the debate, if a more diverse, stable ecosystem is to be achieved.

Rewilding

The reintroduction of wolves into Norway continues to incite controversy

Can you imagine a wild Scandinavia filled with untamed forests, wild boar, and large predators (and maybe a stray Viking)? This is the dream of some scientists advocating for the reintroduction of species once found in Europe that have either been hunted to extinction or driven out by intensive agriculture. The reintroduction of species, particularly animals dubbed “ecosystem engineers” such as beavers and large carnivores are of special interest due to the positive landscape-level effects of these species.

Why support bringing species back?

Reintroducing species, or rewilding, can have effects well beyond making hippies in Green Peace happy. The reintroduction of beavers in the UK, for example, has reduced flooding in Devon, and the reintroduction of wild boar in Sweden has led to an increase in plant species across habitat types where the wild pigs rooted. The reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in my home country the good old US of A has led to the natural regulation of deer and elk populations, in turn leading to more diverse forests as grazing of seedlings decreased.

Why not reintroduce species?

Reintroducing species has understandably led to controversy. Sure, wolves are cool-until they eat your sheep. Since wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone in the 1990s, locals have protested citing safety concerns, the loss of livestock, and a decreasing population of elk for hunters. In Sweden, the boom in wild boar numbers has led to destruction of crops, and much outcry from farmers. Having protected species on land also makes it harder for companies to extract natural resources, both from a political and practical perspective (image a miner facing off with a bear).

The future of reintroducing species in Scandanavia

Species that are either being reintroduced in the UK and US or are under consideration are being hunted to extinction in Scandinavia. Norway, a country known for leading the change in environmental issues, is mired in debate over maintaining their current populations of large carnivores like wolves and wolverines. It seems unlikely that sheep farmers that have pushed for the cull of wolves to protect their flocks would support bringing in any more large animals that might pose a threat to their economic well being. If a species like wild boar are reintroduced to Norway like in Sweden and carnivore populations are kept low, hunting would be the main limitation to the population exploding to pig-pocalypse proportions.

Bringing back some of the species we have lost could bring back some biodiversity that we have lost. There will be short term costs, but the long term benefits of preserving biodiversity for future generations is immeasurable. However, I do think the Viking is best left extinct.

For more information on rewilding, we invite you to read the following works.

Feral by George Monbiot, The Return of Native Nordic Fauna project

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert