Two young one-year-old wolves (Canis lupus) play in the wild of the border between Finland and Russia in Kuhmo, Northern Finland. LEHTIKUVA

International news

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, has sparked controversy with her recent proposal to the EU member states to downgrade the protection level of wolves under the Bern Convention, also known as the European Wildlife and Natural Habitat Conservation Agreement. This move has been met with strong criticism from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which has called it a "science-contradicting proposal" and urged member states to reject this politically motivated suggestion, citing a lack of scientific evidence to support it.

The wolf population in Europe has recovered from the brink of extinction thanks to conservation efforts, and the species has reestablished itself in many of its former habitats. Despite this recovery, WWF emphasizes that the wolf is still far from reaching a favorable conservation status across Europe. Current research does not support the notion that killing large predators is an effective and sustainable method for resolving conflicts between predator conservation and livestock farming. Instead, preventative measures such as predator-proof fencing and the use of livestock guardian animals are seen as more effective solutions.

Petteri Tolvanen, Program Director at WWF Finland, argues that the proposal to lower the protection level of wolves is not based on scientific evidence but rather personal and political agendas. "Von der Leyen is trying to make wolves the scapegoat for rural challenges. Her proposal also represents a complete U-turn in the EU’s stance on wolf protection. Just last year, the EU rejected a similar proposal from Switzerland because the wolf is not at a favorable conservation level in most EU member states," Tolvanen said.

Earlier this year, 12 EU environment ministers also expressed their clear opposition to lowering the protection level of wolves in a letter to Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius.

Tolvanen views the proposal as a dangerous precedent that could jeopardize the EU's decades-long achievements in nature conservation. "If the wolf’s status as a strictly protected species can be weakened in this way, might similar attempts be made later for other species or habitats?" he questions.

The Bern Convention, effective since 1979 and the world's longest-standing conservation agreement, has designated the wolf as a strictly protected species. Signed by 50 states and the EU, it has been the foundation for EU conservation legislation, including the Habitats Directive.