Swedish Wolves end of September 2012

Most on this blog is in Swedish and for a Swedish auditorium, but sometimes I write in English. In the following I sometimes give my opinions based on other posts on this blog.

An educated guess is that the Government has asked the National Conservation Agency to decide (not suggest) about the minimum wolf number required for FCS (Favorable Conservation Status) to October 1st. To fulfill the expectations from EU (see below) as well as local desires with a speedy process this shortcut in decision mechanism might be justified, an inquiry about wolf management suggested to put decisions about such minor details as number of wolves to the environmental agency rather than political bodies,  and that gives the government a loophole for second thoughts if the result seems too disgusting. The parliament decided 2009 about wolf policy to 2012, with the intention to get a thoroughly investigation and a new decision in time for planning for 2013. There has been 3 years to prepare for this decision, which now is expected within two weeks. In my opinion it has been an incomplete preparation, needed information and calculations were not done. A few weeks before the decision I, who regard myself as rather well-read and follows the debate, have no idea (at least not from what is possible for me to read in public sources) what the decision will be. There is an EU-directive and there are carnivore guidelines to this directive. I made a suggestion myself and put a limit downward on 125 for biological reasons, but still suggest to keep 200 wolves which offers some flexibility , the later number for a mixture of biological and political reasons (mainly that it would be a continuation of the ”current” policy). There are other still lower suggestions claiming agreement with the EU-directive. There is a vulnerability minimum number report which suggest a minimum of 100 for Sweden/Norway (see below), but the report itself as well as comments indicate that the FCS number should be higher, which some do not subscribe to. A major reason for suspecting that higher numbers could be motivated, was that genetics was not considered. But I disagree, if genetics were considered (current inbreeding and prognosis of its change) probably the required values would have been slightly lower. A higher practical limit may be the opinion of an expert group attached to the inquiry, which suggested 700 (provided that Norway, Finland and Russia also raised their wolf numbers). But after considering the experts, still the official inquiry (Liljelund) stopped at 450 (with a slow increase towards that number during the next decade). Thus my educated guess is that the decision will be between 150 and 450 and the major factors are not scientific interpretations of the EU directive and considerations, but non-scientific balancing and prediction of political consequences. The most senior spokesman of the concerned scientists means that beyond the vulnerability analysis, it is a political and not scientific decision. I and some others agree that it is more a political than a scientific decision in the range 125-700. This range of numbers can be claimed to have reasonable good scientific justification according to the guidelines. The Government made a bill to Parliament September 2013 with a suggested range of FRP (lowest number) 170-270 there Naturvårdsverket can pick their preference on scientific grounds. I think that was a good suggestion, it did not disagree much with my lower limit which assumed an ordinary higher number.

It is not a good mark for our Swedish system neither for the guidelines issued, that a well informed experienced qualified observer like me am unable to make a good educated guess about the outcome of the finally decided needed number of wolves than probably within a range of 3 so shortly before the decision. A decision should home in more natural and slower in a reasonable decision process. It is neither a good mark that needed investigations were not made in spite of plenty of time. It has to be seen if the issues complementing the vulneribility analyses asked for will be satisfactory reported and if the the vulnaribility report will be considered at all, but the interview linked to above does not seem optimistic about possibilities to consider genetics, and thats anyway not all information needed.

Conservation of the wolf population in Sweden, press release EU 120710
“European Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik and the Swedish Environment Minister Lena Ek met today to discuss the management plan for the conservation of the wolf population in Sweden, in the context of the infringement procedure that is currently open. On this occasion, Mr Potočnik made the following statement:

“I welcome the management plan submitted by the Swedish authorities as an important step in achieving compliance with EU environmental rules. I’m reassured by the fact that Sweden has respected EU law regarding protective hunting during the 2012 season and I appreciate the efforts being made by the Swedish authorities. I think Sweden is on the right track.

I have encouraged Sweden to continue to act in a transparent and open manner with all stakeholders.  I see this management plan as an excellent opportunity for strengthening a process where all people would feel a real ownership of the policy. The more stakeholders are involved in the plan’s development, the less controversial its implementation will be.

The management plan contains good elements but needs further improvement.  In particular, the management plan should indicate how and when the favourable conservation status of wolves will be reached, what would constitute a sustainable population size, and what measures will be taken to improve the genetic status of the wolf population. The plan must be able to withstand scientific scrutiny, notably the definition of a minimum viable population of wolves. The European Commission is also looking forward to receiving the Swedish Government’s assessment of the Large Carnivore Investigator’s report.

Following our meeting I am reassured that we can expect to see further improvements to the management plan before it starts to apply in January 2013.”

My comments: Note that this is not a joint press release or a corresponding Swedish press release and the statement was written before the meeting. The Swedish Minister was in Bryssels to get the view of the commissioner, not to discuss. It is clear who feels in command and who receives instructions.

How come the Swedish Minister does not know what is expected of a management plan? To me it seems reasonable demands on the content.

I note that the protective hunting decisions in Sweden are approved by EU, Swedish environmental groups has complained about many of the cases.

I note that the Swedish management plan will be applied from January 2013 with no mentioning of need of approval by EU. That is the most important information and to get a plan launched is now completely in the hand of the Swedish Government and I hope Lena Ek now sees to that it happens.

I note that the commissioner put emphasize on the minimum viable population of wolf, and thus consider it as a main constituent of the management plan and thus the number needed for favourable conservation status.

A new Minimum Viable Population Report A modern minimum  viable population analyses using modern data and methods was badly needed. The Swedish government is to be saluted for that such a competently done report recently appeared. It is also object for scrutiny, most agree that the calculations are well-done and the objections are rather by the method as such and as the analyses is demographic. The study is very well done in my opinion, but there are formulations in the conclusions I think are unfortunate. The most important genetic aspect is considered, data from the current inbred wolf population is used. In principle it is assumed that inbreeding does not raise. However, only under very unlikely circumstance inbreeding will raise to levels which considerable increase the minimum viable population. Scientists like to be cautious and avoid stating too much, and this has led to unfortunate cautious wordings and reservations, which are likely to lead to that the polarised wolf-debate will go on. The genetic variation of Swedish wolf can be expected to raise and inbreeding to sink if the current rate of natural migration is sustained, thus it does not matter much that the analyses is demographic. However the report concludes that a wolf number below 40 is not sustainable and a wolf number of 100 is sustainable over reasonable large catastrophes. The report does not conclude it, but 50 wolves are sustainable over almost all catastrophes analysed, and already an MVP of 100 means an extra safety factor (which is generally recommended when dealing with translating MVP to number needed for favourable).

The Scandinavian wolf population fulfills the criteria for favourable population status (see partly below). This became more evident after the MVP report. It makes it clear that the current wolf population with its high inbreeding is sustainable. It makes it clear that the current Swedish wolf number is sustainable and give a wide range of freedom to political considerations how much above the minimum level they feel needed to feel safe to claim the current number sufficient. Thus Sweden must not wait for inbreeding to decrease to declare that the conditions are fulfilled. If Sweden does that in the management plan which will be applied January 2013, Sweden can also plan harvesting of wolves for decreasing inbreeding starting late January 2013. The promise by the Government in August 2011 can be kept while complying to EU-law.

I suggest however that the new management plan written by the government the next months will be complemented with a quantitative decision of an extension of the till now unsuccessful, but biological feasible translocation of puppies from zoological gardens to wild dens and a decision that at least one regeneration (wolf pack) annually in the northern part of the country will be tolerated. This too guarantees that inbreeding will sink and migration sufficient.

Other matters of the Swedish wolf situation

There are more than 200 wolves in Sweden, in the autumn 2012 it maybe 250 above one year old and 110 fresh pups (violating limits set by parliament of maximum 210). The final report on number of wolves in the winter 2011/2012 has been issued. ”In the winter” 11/12 where were 260-330 wolves in Scandinavia, but to translate that to Sweden and now is not that easy. In the winter 12/13 where were 350 in Sweden and in beginning of winter 13/14 where will be 420. The stem is rather seriously inbred (about F=0.25), as the stem has few founders. Most experts including me believe that actions to reduce inbreeding should be the first priority over raise in number. Immigration from the eastern neighbour Finland is low, but two immigrants got their first pups 2008 and their progeny has formed a number of family groups, and therefore the inbreeding has decreased somewhat and was 2011 slightly below 0.25, and the claim that Swedish wolves are more related than full sibs is therefore not supported by science any more. Preparations are made for translocating pups from zoos to wild dens, but will not be executed before 2013.  The increase in wolf number was reduced by hunting 2010 and 2011. But the EU commission did not like that and indicated it may violate EU-law, as the wolf was hunted without being declared FCS (“favorable conservation status”). Now growth is uncontrolled and no evident long-term policy is enforced. Four documents (investigations on behalf of the government) exist to form a basis for a long-term policy (Liljelund Apr 11, Liljelund Apr 12 and NVV management plan which must be improved to comply with desires of EU, and a MVP analyses). No-one knows what the Swedish government dares to do without risking complaints from EU or if the growth will stop before the biological limit is reached. The groups who oppose more wolves get better organised and more active. The last months even rather large organisations opposed any wild wolves (a new situation, earlier only unorganized individuals opposing wild wolf existed). Those who want more wolves remain active. A wolf pack recently killed a caretaker at a zoological garden, which means that the statement about no humans have been killed by wolves in Sweden by more than a century is not true any more.

NNV has had a public hearing about some issues on wolf and got a large number of responses from the public. This is available on the net and NNV says that they will analyse it. Even if the hearing was restricted to some formulated issues, it contributes to the public impact and gives some place to all stake-holders.

The investigations which together with opinions about them and other suggestions should give the ground for policies decided this autumn. The documents  do not in my opinion constitute a good basis for a long-term policy. The documents make conclusions and assumptions about the effect of immigration and translocations based on calculations, which are not relevant for the current status and future scenarios. Programs are suggested, which probably are impossible besides very expensive and time-consuming. The wolf number and other criteria suggested for FCS are subjective and have not sufficient scientific basis. Proper definitions of key terminology is required.

It will not be possible to reach FCS without selective hunting keeping the population number low, but hunting is not permitted by EU without FCS.

A goal of inbreeding F=<0.1 is suggested as a prerequisite for favorable conservation status (FCS). The current rate of inbreeding is not that harmful and no obstacle to FCS. Everybody agrees it is a priority to get the inbreeding reduced, but that can hardly be done without hunting. Wolves with little inbreeding is overrepresented in protective hunting and thus the hunting going on now increases inbreeding and worsens the problems of the Swedish wolf.

The effect of one immigrant or translocation on the inbreeding is smaller the larger the recipient population. The current considerations assume the number of wolves remains constant at the 2010 level. Reduction will be slower if the population is larger. This seems realised by Liljelund, who suggested conditions required to reach FCS. He suggested to reduce inbreeding before the population raised. This proposal has not been honored by the government, but the stem grows and the protection hunt done is not selective. Remains to see if government/parliament change opinion and follow this good advice from the investigations they ordered for the new policy decided in the autumn.

Hunting sparing the immigrants, their progeny and other members in the family group in a revir (grandchildren) reduces inbreeding. The licensed hunts 2010 and 2011 were arranged excepting areas occupied by immigrants and their descendents. Of 47 wolves felled no-one was “genetically valuable” (not  a child or grandchild to an immigrant). This  can be expected to magnify the effect of immigration reducing inbreeding. This effect of hunting has been confirmed by information obtained by genetic markers. If selective hunting is repeated the next years and intensive enough to prevent population growth, the reduction of inbreeding caused by the recent immigrants is expected to raise by a factor two or more. This positive effect of hunting has been neglected in any calculations till now. If intensive hunting is not done 2013 and 2014 this is equivalent to abstain from one or two immigrants. Neither it has been fully considered that non inbred immigrants and their progeny have larger reproductive success. The investigation suggests that the immigration from Finland is insufficient for FCS, for reducing the inbreeding or for maintaining inbreeding at a lower level. This seems incorrect. The natural immigration is sufficient for reducing the inbreeding, it is sufficient for FCS and it is sufficient to maintain inbreeding at a lower level. Still I support the planned translocations and suggesting allowing at least one immigrant to settle in northern Sweden to strengthen the immigration the coming decade.

NVV has indicated intention to make new calculations taking the factors pointed out above into consideration and predictions, but not said when results will be available.

The FCS by the official investigator with a minimum number 450 was not based on a recent relevant vulnerability study or compilation. A foreign group was consulted and based their suggestion on long time evolutionary potential and maintaining genetic variation using the wolves in other countries. This is not absolutely required as a basis for FCS.

Even if not strictly needed for FCS, it seems a good idea to visualize an international meta-population of wolves not below 500 “effective wolves” (about 2000 real) and considering alternative with more wolves with some physical and genetic contentedness. This would assure long-term sustainability of the north European wolf including evolutionary potential and conservation of genetic variation with a modest Swedish share. The documents suggest such a metapopulation including Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russian Karelia, but it seems possible to extend that to a larger geographic area. It is a disadvantage for the genetics of this metapopulation if the Swedish wolf population is enlarged the next decades.  The Swedish stem will not contribute reasonable to the international meta-population, unless its inbreeding is reduced and fresh founders efficiently introduced, and this can hardly be done within a decade or if the stem is allowed to grow. Thus the possibility to form a metapopulation for long-term sustainability is an argument for maintaining the Swedish wolf population at a low number the next decades, and that gives time for discussions, formal international agreements and data collection for the ”formation” of the metapopulation.

The background material does not contain acceptable quantitative estimates of costs outside the state sector (hundreds of millions annually) and other problems (“social”) with the current and enlarged wolf stem, neither an environmental consequence study, thus it is not easy to balance cons against pros with an enlarged wolf stem.

About Primary factors for management are inbreeding and number. Even if this is not evident for the public, the meaning of used terms is not clearly defined and sometimes used with slightly different interpretations and management decisions made will thus be unclear and open to different interpretations (like what is the number of wolves in Sweden, what is inbreeding, what is effective migration). Improved definitions are needed! The management plan issued in beginning of summer has improved but not solved the situation.

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  1. #1 av Leif på 17 september, 2012 - 13:31

    An interesting catch 22: ”It will not be possible to reach FCS without selective hunting keeping the population number low, but hunting is not permitted by EU without FCS.”

    • #2 av DagL på 17 september, 2012 - 17:38

      Yes, but fortunately there is still an easy way around this catch 22. That is so make the current population FCS. We will probably get the answer within a month!

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