Farmers demand right to shoot Alpine wolves

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The Independent Online

France is to defy the wishes of environmentalists and animal-lovers and allow a limited cull of the wolves which have colonised the French Alps in recent years.

France is to defy the wishes of environmentalists and animal-lovers and allow a limited cull of the wolves which have colonised the French Alps in recent years.

The Environment Minister, Serge Lepeltier, will announce next week that he will permit the shooting of about half a dozen of the 55 wolves now ranging in 10 packs from the Italian border to the edges of the Rhône valley.

His proposals, which also include subsidies for the employment of extra shepherds and guard-dogs, were rejected in advance yesterday by 350 sheep farmers demonstrating in the town of Gap, south of Grenoble.

The farmers have demanded the right to shoot wolves on sight and called for a "zero wolf" policy in the French Alps. They say the wolves, extinct in France until they emigrated from Italy 12 years ago, threaten to destroy the tradition of grazing sheep on high Alpine pastures in the summer.

In 1994, 192 sheep were killed by wolves in France. By 2002 the death toll had risen to 2,800. Since then, killings have been reduced by the introduction of protective measures.

Under the Berne Convention (1979) and the EU "habitats" agreement of 1992, wolves are listed as an endangered and protected species. Killing them is illegal under French law. However, officially sponsored culls are permitted to protect farm animals, so long as there is no threat to the species.

Environmental and animal welfare groups complain that the proposed cull could fatally damage the "fragile" presence of an animal which has lived alongside man in France for many centuries.

Sheep farmers say that the government plan is inadequate and unfair. The government has promised €4m (£2.7m) a year in aid to farmers who contract to defend their sheep with guard-dogs, extra shepherds and fences. Compensation paid for sheep killed by wolves would be given only to farmers who had taken defensive action.

The Confédération Paysanne, which represents small farmers, said yesterday that its members would end up paying 60 per cent of the cost of the anti-wolf measures. "This plan wants to reduce sheep-farming to a side-show in a theme park for wolves," the confederation said.

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