Romanian Environment Ministry gives green light for trophy hunting of wolves and brown bears
The Romanian Ministry of Environment proposes again hunting as the only solution to human-wildlife conflict, ignoring once more the specialists they consult, including the Romanian Academy of Science. Just a year ago, the ministry proposed to cull 1,691 strictly protected animals without proposing other solutions or alternatives for minimising human-wildlife conflicts. The draft Ministerial Order drew the ire of more than 5,000 citizens who sent individual requests to the ministry as well as several civil society organisations and was retracted.
“However, a year later, the Wildlife Emergency Service (SUAS), whose trained staff are supposed to protect communities and people's property by tranquilizing and relocating problem animals, exists only on paper. We still do not have a credible wildlife census system justifying the culling of animals,” says Cristian Papp, large carnivores expert at WWF-Romania.
What happened during the past year? Three ministers, new numbers and unfulfilled promises
In January 2017, seeing that the measures promised in October 2016 by then Minister of Environment Cristiana Paşca Palmer were not implemented, WWF-Romania submitted an open letter to the new Minister of Environment Daniel Constantin asking to go on with the process. The letter received no answer and no action was taken.
Last spring, WWF launched a petition to support the ban on trophy hunting which was signed by over 12,000 people but ignored by the Ministry of Environment, which proposed in the end a return to the practice of “conflict prevention” by shooting strictly protected wildlife.
In June, WWF helped organize a meeting with the General Hunters' and Anglers' Association of Romania (AGVPS) to find solutions for the conservation and management of large carnivores in Romania. The participants agreed that the management of large carnivores should be based on sound scientific evidences, using the best available and the most trustworthy scientific data.
In July, following public demonstrations, the new Minister of Environment Gratiela Gavrilescu proposed a draft Ministerial Order which included the relocation or, ultimately, the culling of problem animals. WWF repeated its proposal from last autumn, adding new recommendations about their implementation. However, the Ministerial Order came into force on 4 September 2017, without taking into account the recommendations of the EU, WWF-Romania or other civil society organisations and disregarding the results of public consultations held in June 2017.
What is WWF asking for?
1. Repeal of the Minister's Order no. 1169 / 04.09.2017, or modify it to take into account the recommendations of WWF and other NGOs expressed in the public debate process at the beginning of July 2017.
2. Transparency of the process of granting derogations by publishing each folder requesting the derogation respectively relocation / culling reports on the Ministry of Environment’s website, clearly showing the necessity and the reasons for the proposed derogation.
3. Complete removal of the "preventive" shooting practice of protected wild animals and the protection of local communities by relocation or, if this is not possible, the removal of only problematic bears.
Art. 1 (1) (a), mentions the first case in which the derogation may be granted, namely "to prevent significant damage, in particular to crops, domestic animals, and to prevent significant damage to other property" which means that wolves and bears can be killed by using the ‘ambush’ method to prevent economic damage, practically before any damage occurs.
4. Complete the text of the Order with information about the destination of culled animals, including their parts, which could be sold as trophies after a ‘trophy hunt’.
5. A real census of protected wild animal populations using the latest and most effective scientific methods to underpin the development of the strategy for the management of protected wild animals.
Art. (1) states that "... the derogating measures shall not be detrimental to the maintenance of favourable conservation status of the populations of the named species in their natural habitat ...". However, there is insufficient valid and credible data from scientific point of view in order to determine the conservation status. There is practically no scientific evidence that may back or support the objective application of the Order.
6. Improve the compensation system for damages caused by wild animals to reduce the tension between communities and animals.
7. Develop and implement a system for preventing damage using good practices that give results in other member states and recommended by the EU (electric fences, specialised dogs in guarding sheepfolds, etc.).
Why is there sometimes conflict between humans and bears?
Romania hosts aproximately 40% of the European brown bear population (excluding Russia). The brown bear is strictly protected at European and national level by the EU’s Habitat Directive. Hunting is well regulated and is only possible to control the population. This should be applied only to problem bears that generate repeated conflicts or imminently endanger the health and integrity of people. The use of traps for catching and killing animals has a long history, but since 1992, with the Habitats Directive entering into force, it is illegal in the EU Member States. In Romania, trophy hunting is forbidden.
The main issues that have led to the current level of conflict with large carnivores in Romania:
- A wildlife population management system aiming especially to gain economic profit and not to conserve large carnivores or to avoid human-bear conflict.
- Human intrusion and disturbance in the habitats of large carnivores, including the over-harvesting of forest fruits and other sources of food for bears.
- Fragmentation and reduction of large carnivores' habitats (due to linear transport infrastructure, residential development, development of tourism and visitor infrastructure, etc.).
- Poor waste management, especially in rural communities in the proximity of areas populated by large carnivores.
- Lack of support for promotion and implementation of appropriate conflict prevention measures.