It's hunting season in Norway, and the most sought after animal in the eyes of the country's eager shooters is the wolf. The animal is so popular that there are more than 700 registered hunters for every one of the creatures available. And with 35 wolves, and licenses to kill capped at 16 individuals, that means over 11,000 hunters are competing for the coveted opportunity to kill one of them.
Wolves are currently listed on the Norwegian Biodiversity Information Centre's red list of species at risk of extinction. Yet the number of registered licenses has risen sharply from a year ago, when it was just under 10,000.
Sverre Lundemo, biodiversity advisor for the World Wildlife Fund-Norway, is hoping that the organization and other environmental NGOs will be able to sway the Norwegian parliament to help boost the number of wolves in the wild.
"The wolf risks becoming functionally extinct, with no wolf litters … if the population target is reduced from today's number," Lundemo said.
In the coming weeks, the Norwegian parliament is expected to propose a new population target for the wolves and possibly to change the boundaries of Norway's management zone — protected spaces for the wolves, which extend across about 5 percent of the country. Wolves who wander outside the zone are fair game for hunters.
But Lundemo and her allies have plenty of opposition.
"There are a number of stakeholders, including several farmer's associations, that want to have a target of no wolves, or a reduction in the number we have today, which the hunter's association is proposing," Lundemo said.
In 2005, the Norwegian government opted to kill five of its country's wolves, or about 25 percent of the country's entire population, in order to protect domestic livestock.
Wolf hunting in Norway is also regulated on the regional level. Eight wolf management councils grant permission to hunt for wolves in each of their respected areas.
The wolves these sporting Norwegians are after mostly reside in the southeastern part of the country.
This isn't the first time wolves have been over hunted. In the 1960s the wolf population of Norway almost became obsolete. In 1971 Norway imposed a hunting ban to protect what remained of the species.
In the 1990s, there was a joint project between Norway and Sweden to re-introduce wolves to the wild. As a result, in 1997, after decades of the species living almost exclusively in captivity, the first wolf litter of an entirely Norwegian pack was born.
Since 2004, the population target of these wolves, set by the Norwegian parliament, has remained an incredibly low three wolf litters per year. According to Lundemo, the parliament established around the same time the management zones that still exist today.
"Norway is, as opposed to Sweden, not part of the European Union and has not implemented the Habitat Directive, which enforces the use of 'favorable conservation status' for species," Lundemo said. "Thus, despite protection and a low population target, it is possible to allow hunting in Norway."
In Sweden there is a relatively large wolf population, around 400 individuals.
Lundemo said that due to westward migration each year from Sweden, the wolf will not completely vanish from Norway. Some wolves will always come over the border into the Norway, the question is whether they will make their home or breed there.
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