Head to head: No, it is not time to downgrade protection status for Europe’s wolves

The dilemma has animal rights activists and livestock farmers on opposing sides. Thomas Waitz argues that the way forward is rooted in better management of cohabitation between wolves and farmers
Europe's wolf population has expanded rapidly due to improving habitat conditions and the success of the EU Habitats Directive | Photo: Adobe

By Thomas Waitz

Thomas Waitz (Greens/EFA, AT) is co-chair of the European Green Party and was a member of the Committee of Inquiry on the Protection of Animals during Transport

18 Apr 2023

This is one half of a head-to-head debate in response to the question, "Is it time to downgrade protection status for Europe's wolves?" In a separate post, Herbert Dorfmann argues the other side of the debate

Wolves and other large, indigenous carnivores have long been an intrinsic part of Europe’s ecosystems. They play an important ecological role in shaping habitats, biodiversity and population dynamics.

Wolves benefit wild and semi-natural ecosystems and biodiversity by regulating populations of wild prey, thereby reducing disease transmission and minimising the damage they cause to crops. This in turn allows natural regrowth of forests and the river-bank vegetation that prevents flooding.

After past habitat loss and eradication led to extinction across large parts of Europe, wolf populations have in recent decades recovered some of their former ranges. Most Europeans welcome the return of wolves and want these large carnivores to remain in their natural habitat.

However, the recovery of wolf populations has, understandably, led to cohabitation conflicts in the farming sector, especially in alpine areas where traditional, supervised pastoralism has been discontinued. Managing co-habitation and securing farmers’ livelihoods while protecting biodiversity and large carnivores therefore must be a common European effort and cannot be the sole responsibility of farmers.

The wolf is protected under European law by the 1992 Habitats Directive, with Article 16(1) allowing derogation measures in some cases. The EU has allocated financial subsidies for the financing of livestock damage prevention measures such as fences, night-time recovery shelters and active shepherding in its Common Agricultural Policy and LIFE+, the EU’s funding instrument for the environment and climate action.

Implementation of livestock damage prevention measures is the only feasible solution for farmers.  

Over the last decades studies have shown that these prevention measures are rated as highly effective. A 2021 study published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation found that more than 75 per cent of farmers said the measures have reduced the risk of predation when properly designed and implemented. 

The conservative push to change the protective status of the wolf is a debate without substance. Even with a lower protection status, wolves will remain a part of our ecosystem; this is why implementation of livestock damage prevention measures is the only feasible solution for farmers.  

Nevertheless, conservative politicians are trying to instrumentalise farmers and install fear within the population to weaken nature protection laws and the EU Green Deal. Their goal is to open up negotiations on the Habitats Directive and to water down its overall environmental and species protection aspects, not only in relation to the wolf.

Amending the Habitats Directive would, for example, also open up for discussion the protection of Natura 2000 areas, an important network of protected breeding and resting areas for rare and threatened species across the EU. 

I am convinced that supporting livestock damage prevention measures must be our main goal. I, along with the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament, believe that CAP and LIFE+ can and should play a major role in supporting farmers to improve the protection of their grazing livestock from predators.

I therefore urge the European Commission not to open up the Habitats Directive and put the protection of hundreds of species as well as areas at risk. I call on Member States and regions to effectively use all the financial opportunities open to them and to promote farmers’ uptake of these funds from 2023 onwards.  

The wolf is here to stay. We must learn to coexist with it peacefully.  



Read the most recent articles written by Thomas Waitz - Why the EU needs better rules to protect animals during transport