for Improved Management of Large Carnivores in Europe
Large carnivores (wolves, lynxes, brown bears and wolverines) are returning across Europe due to strict protection. While their return can be considered a conservation success, the increase in large carnivores also creates challenges for people sharing the same environment with these animals.
These SOPs contain case studies and recommended examples for specific aspects of large carnivore management that have been identified by the stakeholders of the EuroLargeCarnivores project as being successful, or at least very promising, in different European countries. They provide information about different types and aspects of governance for new situations that have developed due to the increased presence of large carnivores and encompass technical, economic, social, educational, and political best-practice innovations. The three overarching themes addressed are risk and damage prevention, monitoring of large carnivores, and species management at individual and population level.
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The project partners believe that these SOPs provide the current best practices and practical advice on model methods and procedures and suggest their adoption where needed. While they are at times comprehensive, every SOP should only serve as the starting point and requires adaptation to the specific local context.
In its policy support statement on artificial feeding as a management tool, the Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe (LCIE) defined artificial feeding as “all deliberate food provisioning by humans to wildlife in natural habitats and which is considered a wildlife management tool, independent of the aim”.
The Human-Bear Conflicts Expert Team of the IUCN SSC Bear Specialist Group defines human-bear conflict (HBC) as, “any situation where wild bears undesirably use or damage human property, where wild bears harm people, or where people perceive bears to be a direct threat to their property or safety”.
Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora, commonly known as the Habitats Directive, aims to promote the maintenance of biodiversity in Europe, taking account of economic, social, cultural and regional requirements. Together with the Birds Directive it forms the cornerstone of the European Union's nature conservation policy and establishes the Natura 2000 protected area network.
In its policy support statement, the Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe defines a bold wolf as a wolf that repeatedly tolerates recognisable humans (i.e. not people in vehicles or buildings, on hunting stands, riding horses, etc.) within a distance of 30 metres or even actively and repeatedly approaches people within such distances. Bold behaviour may be a result of strong habituation, possibly linked to, and reinforced by, positive conditioning.
The threat posed to livestock by large carnivores has been one of the main issues behind their historic persecution and present-day calls for predator control. As legal protections have tightened and European populations of large carnivores, particularly wolves, recover, sustainable approaches to coexistence are needed. To reduce losses of livestock to predators a variety of non-lethal methods have been developed, of which one of the most effective are guardian animals.
Large carnivores have a variety of impacts on human interests, of which predation on livestock is the most widespread (Gervasi et al. 2021). Historically, livestock owners, shepherds and hunters responded with intensive efforts to eradicate predators, resulting in drastic reductions in their range and numbers. Changes in policy, legislation and land-use since the mid-20th century have enabled the ongoing recovery of wolves, bears, lynx and wolverines in Europe (Linnell and Cretois 2018).
The impact of livestock depredation by large carnivores in Europe differs depending on the scale of assessment. When considered on a national level, or in relation to a country’s agricultural sector as a whole, economic losses are generally low. At a finer scale, however, there can be marked differences between individual farms or flocks, with some of them suffering disproportionately high, occasionally even catastrophic, losses.
Where hikers, bikers or other active people meet herds protected by livestock guarding dogs conflicts can arise. In many western countries livestock guarding dogs are deployed without a permanent shepherd present, which is a practice that deviates from the tradition of always having the livestock owner with the flock.
Various approaches have been taken to protect livestock against large carnivores in Europe, from the age-old use of livestock guarding dogs and shepherds through historical campaigns of persecution and eradication to more recent targeted efforts that seek to safeguard livelihoods while enabling carnivore conservation through coexistence.
Depredation on livestock is a major issue in carnivore conservation and management. Three main approaches have been taken to address it: damage prevention, predator control and mitigation of financial losses. The first of these, in which people try to protect their livestock from attack, has been practiced since domestication began and is still highly relevant today.
Large carnivore management engenders controversy and disagreement because of the diversity of values, worldviews, opinions and interests that exist among and within interest groups. This leads to social conflicts and ethical trade-offs (Bruskotter et al. 2021). Science can help by providing an objective knowledge base to guide discussions and negotiations, but stakeholders often complain that reliable information is either lacking or inaccessible (Salvatori et al. 2021).
Monitoring means measuring a variable over time in order to detect changes. As a consequence, monitoring must be tailored to suit the level of changes that one wishes to detect. A specific kind of wildlife monitoring permits the conservation status of species can be evaluated - and appropriate management decisions taken.
Successful wildlife management is predicated on reliable estimation of key population parameters. Monitoring their trend over time is vital for the design and implementation of appropriate interventions and evaluation of their effectiveness.
Since 2000, the European member states can employ EU funding of the Rural Development Programme (RDP) to financially support livestock protections measures (e.g. electric fencing, livestock guarding dogs, shepherding, etc.). The RDP is part of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) of the European Union.
Alpine pastures are an important part of the cultural landscape in the Alps. In Switzerland an incentive system for grazing livestock on alpine summer pastures (alpine grazing support for livestock owner) and to graze alpine pastures in a sustainable way ( summer pasture contribution for pasture manager) was developed in the 1990s and continuously adjusted (most recently 2014).