16 september 2005
The wolf discourse in Finland
Provincial and national expectations and objectives
for the management of the Finnish wolf population
Jukka Bisi and Sami Kurki
Over the past years, the wolf population has increased and spread to new areas in Finland. These developments have highlighted people’s contradictory attitudes towards wolves and the different objectives set for managing the wolf population. The discourse concerning wolves has been particularly heated in eastern Finland, where the wolf population and its growth are focused. The supranational conservation objectives brought on by Finland’s membership in the EU, and the regional application of the official policy on wolves, have led to conflicts.
The aim of this study is to locate the objectives and expectations related to the growth of the wolf population, to examine their regional and national differences, to position the various interest groups in relation to the objectives and, in particular, to present the views of those who live in the areas where wolves occur and who interact with them. The latter is considered as important, because it is assumed that the attitudes of these people are a determining factor in the successful management of the wolf population.
This study is qualitative in nature, and two main methods were used to collect its data. At the level of individual provinces, all major parties dealing with issues related to nature, the use of natural resources and the monitoring of such use were asked to respond to a written questionnaire concerning wolves. The respondents were then divided into nine groups, their answers were charted in tables, and the quantitative distributions of the answers to key questions were provided. A total of 221 replies were processed. It is estimated that about 1,000 people from various interest groups were involved in the preparations. About 200 of these people also took part in meetings arranged in each of the 15 game districts so as to present the answers given by the respondents and to engage in consultations with the aim of fostering cooperation.
The same process was also carried out together with corresponding parties working at the national level. In addition, 30 meetings open to the general public were arranged in cooperation with regional game districts; these meetings were attended by about 1,600 people, who discussed wolves and the management of wolf populations. The meetings were recorded, the recordings were transcribed and the transcriptions were classified according to their contents, which were then analysed. Some 2,000 instances of wolf-related speech were recorded in the meetings.
Attitudes towards wolves are generally negative and problem-based. Fear of wolves is wide-spread, and its roots may be attributed to, among other things, the cases of wolves eating humans in the 19th century and the related stories and tales about wolves. Fear of wolves arouses more discussion in western and southern Finland than in northern Finland. Wolves are seen as causing serious problems for reindeer, cattle and sheep farming and also for the use of hunting dogs. The damage done by wolves is not the only thing seen as a problem; the protection of animals, the prevention of damage and the constant concern for the safety of animals also have an impact on attitudes towards wolves.
The study identified some conflicts between different parties and different regions concerning objectives for managing the wolf population. Most of the respondents and local people feel that the wolf population in eastern Finland has grown too large. At the national level, the majority want the wolf population to be included in regulated, permit-based hunting, and most respondents also take the view that the social impacts of population growth should be taken into account in the management of the population. Those involved in hunting with dogs and reindeer farming are the most vociferous proponents of cutting down the wolf population and they also hold the most negative attitudes towards wolves.
In contrast to the other respondents, many conservationists and environmental authorities aim to expand the wolf population and find it difficult to accept hunting as a means of managing the population. These respondents see the increasing of knowledge and the raising of awareness as the most important means of maintaining co-existence between man and wolf, and they stress the importance of ecological sustainability. However, the conservationists hold some mixed opinions about these matters.
Tolerance has been stretched beyond breaking point in some parts of eastern Finland. People living in areas where wolves occur feel that they can no longer influence decisionmaking which affects them and that the authorities, conservationists and the EU do not listen to their opinions. Almost all respondents would prefer that the wolf population would be more evenly distributed across the country, but the countryside residents outside eastern Finland are not keen to accommodate a growing wolf population. The difficulties of reconciling reindeer farming and wolf management are also generally recognised. Those most willing to expand the wolf population are from southernmost Finland.
Conflicting expectations are placed on the national authority responsible for game management, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and regional game districts. The Ministry has been under severe pressure for implementing a wolf policy that has been criticised by almost everyone. Likewise, the research on wolves conducted by the Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute has been hampered by conflicting objectives. The lack of trust between the various parties hinders their efforts.
Reaching a consensus on the issue of wolves requires a willingness on the part of the various parties to compromise on their objectives. Numerous demands have also been placed on legislation and its interpretation, and concessions to these demands would promote consensus and increase tolerance for wolves. Such demands include reforming the system used to compensate for damage and formulating a clearer interpretation of the conservation status of wolves.
However, it seems impossible to create a policy on wolves that would be endorsed by everyone. The range of interpretations enabled by the EU’s species-specific legislation on conservation is in itself a major source of conflict. For example, the concepts of favourable conservation status and social sustainability are interpreted by each party according to its own interests. Because of the nature of wolves and the fears associated with them, a consensus should be reached as to the management of the wolf population. As this issue is currently a bone of contention in the area of environmental policy, the conservation of wolves and the management of wolf populations have become more complicated and the cooperation between various interest groups has been hampered.