The Re-establishment of Wolves in Scandinavia

Lars Furuholm: Director of Environmental Protection, Värmland County Administrative Board

Today, the wolf has established a small but permanent population in Scandinavia. In February 1998 there were around ten known pairs, and a number of lone wolves. In total, the wolf population of Norway and Sweden is estimated to consist of 50 individuals.

The story of the return of the wolf is extremely interesting and exciting. How can a species which was believed to be extinct in this part of the country return? And why did it return to the counties of Värmland and Dalarna?

Perhaps it isn't so strange that the wolf has become established in this area. The sparsely populated Värmland forest landscape along with an extremely rich elk population provide the shy wolf with exactly what it requires; plenty of living space, an undisturbed environment and a good supply of food.

Two factors which could counteract the growth of the wolf population are road accidents and illegal hunting. It is difficult to estimate the hidden statistics in these cases. Are these factors really important for the development of the wolf population, or are they irrelevant?

One positive factor for the growth of the wolf population is the predator fences which the Värmland County Administrative Board began to place around herds of domestic cattle in areas central to the wolf population in 1992. About 80 fences have been put in place with good results. No domestic animals have been attacked inside fences which have been in operation. There have, in fact, been very few cases of wolves attacking domestic cattle in recent years.

Stable population:

Towards the end of 1997, the Swedish National Environmental Protection Agency's proposed program of measures for wolves was sent out for consideration. The proposal suggests that the Scandinavian wolf population should consist of "fifteen pairs, or perhaps one hundred individuals".

Predator researchers at the Center for Biological Diversity have, in their comment to the proposal, stated that a population of at least two hundred animals is necessary if it is not genetically isolated. If the population was genetically isolated, a population of at least five hundred animals would be necessary to ensure that the wolf would survive in the long term under natural circumstances in this country.

Today the Scandinavian wolf population consists of about 50 - 70 animals, but due to the fact that there are now several pairs, the long-term objective may perhaps be achieved in a few years time. It may, however, take longer, because reproduction is dependent upon a stable number of reproductive alpha pairs. Alpha animals which are shot or run over by cars will cause a delay in the population increase, because wolf families are then split up. Another consequence of split families is an increase in the number of lone wolves seeking to establish their own territory.

Once a decision has been made about the size of the wolf population, the question of hunting wolves in Sweden will arise. To begin with, this may take the form of the protective hunting of individual animals, but may later develop into more comprehensive hunting in order to keep the population at the level stated in the long-term objective, i.e. fifteen pairs or one hundred individuals. It is, however, obvious that many problems may arise concerning the practicalities of wolf hunting.