Backlash after Italian councils allow bears and wolves to be shot

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Backlash after Italian councils allow bears and wolves to be shot
File photo of a brown bear: Ulrich Perrey/DPA/AFP

Two northern Italian councils have legalized the shooting of wild wolves and bears, plans which have been met with backlash from animal rights organizations and the Minister for the Environment.


The provinces of Trento and Bolzano, both located in Italy's Alpine region, issued the rules allowing troublesome wolves or bears to be shot without needing approval from the state.

In Trento, the bill was passed on Thursday with only one opposing vote and six abstentions, and allows for the animals to be caught and possibly shot, if they are considered a risk to "people or to the mountain agricultural system". Days later, Bolzano passed a near-identical bill.

READ ALSO: What does the future hold for Italy's native bears?

Italy's environmental minister has described the new rules as "a clear violation of the constitution" and "a serious mistake", and said he was ready to launch a legal challenge if the councils didn't back down.

"You don't shoot at wolves and bears. I will ask the Council of Ministers to contest the provincial law of Trento and Bolzano. I invite the presidents of the relevant provinces to come to Rome to find alternative solutions to guns."

Italian animal rights organization Enpa criticized the rules as "unacceptable" and an "unprecedented attack on the constitution", calling on Italians to protest and thanking Costa for his comments. WWF Italia also called on the government to act.

The new provincial laws were prompted by requests from local farmers, who argue that rising numbers of the predators has led to increasing attacks on livestock, while the animals have even been spotted in residential areas.

Bolzano councillor Arnold Schuler said: "We need to ask ourselves whether the protected status [of the wolves] is still necessary", Ansa reported, and added that he believed the rules would withstand any legal challenges.

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The Italian wolf population dropped to just 100 in the 1960s, but in 1971 they were declared a protected species and a ban on hunting them has allowed numbers to creep back up to an estimated 1,600. They live predominantly in the mountainous regions of the Appenines and the Alps.

The creatures are not popular with local farmers, with agricultural organization Coldiretti saying the number of attacks of livestock has risen sharply in recent years. In 2014, farmers in Tuscany illegally killed wolves and left the carcasses in public areas in protest at the damage to their cattle and property.

Last year, the country mulled a controversial plan to cull five percent of the wolf population, a measure which was stopped following protests from environmentalists.

Brown bears meanwhile were reintroduced to forests in northern Italy in the 1990s and there are thought to be around 50 of the animals there today. Guidelines were created to deal with "problematic" bears, stating that only in extreme cases should bears be put down. Alternative solutions include relocation to a new area, placing the bear in a confined space behind bars or sterilization. 

In summer 2017, authorities for the first time resorted to the most extreme option -- killing the bear. The animal in question, a female named KJ2 (Trento's monitored bears are known by initials rather than names partly in an effort to prevent residents growing attached to them), had allegedly attacked a walker after previously being suspected of injuring another tourist.

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