By Nina Berglund
Killing two more wolves on New Year’s Day wasn’t enough to satisfy those who view the predator as a threat to their livestock or safety in the great outdoors. Nor is the fact that more wolves are being shot than ever before. Anti-wolf activists, mostly farmers and residents of rural areas, marched through Oslo again Tuesday evening, just in time to grab attention on Norway’s nightly national newscasts.
Wolves in Norway continue to set off an increasingly polarized and heated debate over the management of the wolf population.
“We have to take out more young wolves, to get down to the number of wolves the Parliament has agreed upon,” insisted Erling Aas-Eng, leader of Hedmark Bondelag, the farmers’ organization and lobby group in Hedmark County, to state broadcaster on Tuesday. “We can’t have uncontrolled growth (of the wolf population) in the wolf zone.”
He was referring to the areas that were supposed to be set aside as conservation zones to protect Norway’s wolf population. Two wolves were shot last week in the zone around the popular ski resorts at Trysil in eastern Hedmark County. It was the first time the government has allowed wolves to be killed in a wolf zone, setting off protests from those striving to protect wolves, but that hasn’t pleased or satisfied Aas-Eng and others who still feel threatened by the roughly 65 wolves now believed to roaming in Norway.
‘Thousands’ expected to march against wolves
Kristina Hegge, leader of the farmers’ group in nearby Oppland County, told NRK that 770 people from Hedmark and 300 from Oppland had signed up to ride buses to Oslo on Tuesday and take part in the demonstration. It began just after 5:30pm at the large square known as Youngstorget in Oslo, and proceeded in a torchlit parade to Eidsvoll plass, the area in front of the Parliament building (Stortinget). Appeals began at 7pm, just when NRK’s nightly newscast Dagsrevyen goes on the air.
Hegge noted that other anti-wolf activists traveled to Oslo from Telemark, Østfold, Akershus, Buskerud and Trøndelag, while some protestors were flying in from Northern Norway. “We’re traveling down (to Oslo) because we understand the problem, and must show support for those who live in the wolf zones,” said Svein Olav Thomassen of the farmers’ organization Troms Bondelag.
Preservationists lost in court
Their latest demonstration also came despite the refusal Monday of an injunction sought by animal rights activists to halt the wolf hunt. It was filed by the animal rights group NOAH, which also has sued the state ministry for environmental issues over its controversial decision last year to allow some hunting in the wolf zones. NOAH claims that violates international conventions that Norway is obliged to honour. It had tried to halt the New Year’s Day hunt but the injunction petition wasn’t heard until after the hunt occurred. Now NOAH has lost, but that’s a victory for the anti-wolf activists that they don’t seem to acknowledge.
It all shows how the debate over the management of the wolf population in Norway is more polarized and heated than ever. Both sides were also speaking out against each other on national radio Tuesday morning, while professors were attempting to show how the fear of wolves is rooted more in history and myth than any real threat. All those debating, including Hegge of the Oppland farmers’ group, admitted they had never actually seen a wolf in the wild themselves, while state statistics show that predators other than wolves kill far more free-grazing sheep than wolves do.
NOAH, meanwhile, is planning its own pro-wolf demonstrations this weekend and not just in Oslo. Conservationists and those who don’t feel threatened by wolves will be out marching on Saturday afternoon in Fredrikstad, Trondheim, Bergen, Kristiansand and outside the Norwegian Embassy in Helsinki, Finland.
“We must show that threatened species must be protected,” NOAH leader Siri Martinsen told NRK. “We can’t be exposed to the possibility that the wolf population in Norway can be wiped out again.”