Court victory for wolves in Norway: the state breached the law when culling wolf families

The Norwegian animal rights organisation NOAH sued the Norwegian Ministry of the Environment for culling the Letjenna wolf family in January 2020 in the so-called wolf zone.

In winter 2021, another two wolf families were culled in the wolf zone on a similar ground. NOAH challenged the legality of the culling decision of Letjenna-wolves in April 2020. The Oslo District Court issued its judgment on Friday, 9 July. The court concluded that the high legal threshold for exempting from the strict protection of wolves in the wolf zone was not met in the present case and that the Ministry’s decision is legally invalid.

Overriding Public Interest

The Ministry of the Environment argued in the trial that it is an «overriding public interest» to minimize the critically endangered wolf population if the population exceeds the politically determined population level of 4-6 wolf families. The Ministry also emphasized that culling is necessary to ensure «trust in the administration».

Fra NOAHs ulvemarkering i Oslo
NOAH’s wolf marking in Oslo. Photo: Ida Toldnæs

NOAH argued in the court that Norwegian law does not allow shooting wolves on the sole ground of regulating the population size of this critically endangered animal, and that there is a high threshold for shooting wolves also on the grounds provided in the law. NOAH argued further that any negative effects that the presence of wolves had on human interests, should have been tackled by non-lethal measures, such as using vests for hunting dogs.

High Legal Threshold

According to the court, the requirement of a “high legal threshold” was not met as the state had failed to show the wolves had caused any special adverse effects to local business development, human settlement, general social activities or leisure and outdoor activities; neither were the wolves perceived as especially conflictual. The court found that the wish to minimize the size of the wolf population was therefore used as the decisive justification. The court found that this kind of application of the exception ground “overriding public interests” was incorrect, as this would leave the wolves in the wolf zone without strict protection as soon as the number of wolf families exceeds the politically determined level. The court could not see that this was the intention of the legislator and that “trust in the administration” speaks for upholding the “high legal threshold” for exemptions in the wolf zone.

NOAHs advokater i ulvesaken.
NOAH’s lawyers at the wolf trial outside of the Norwegian Court House

This year, the world will enter into a new agreement on the protection of biodiversity. NOAH believes that the failure of the Norwegian authorities to protect its wolf population puts Norway in a bad light in this process.

Siri Martinsen, head of NOAH: – The district court’s ruling shows that the authorities have not given the wolves the legal protection they are entitled to under the law. It is time for politicians to take the protection of endangered wild animals seriously. There is little point in hiding behind the country’s efforts for species conservation. Norway must take much better care of the endangered species that live in this country.

Background information

The wolf is critically endangered on the Red List of Species and there are around 5-6 reproductive wolf families in Norway plus 3-7 families straddling in the border areas of Sweden and Norway. The so-called wolf zone constitutes around 5% of the territory of Norway in the South-East of the country where the strict protection regime for wolves applies as required by the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (1979). The rest of the country is a no-go zone for wolves and wolves who cross this administrative line are shot.

In the last four years, Norwegian authorities have authorised the culling of 6 wolf families in the wolf zone, that is around 40 wolves. Since 2017/2018 altogether 100 wolves have been killed as a result of state-sanctioned hunting in Norway. There are around 60-70 wolves in Norway.

Illegal hunting is one of the main threats to the wolf population in Scandinavia – it is estimated that half of the deaths in the Scandinavian wolf population are due to illegal hunting. The second biggest threat is the high degree of inbreeding.

Norwegian wolf population is biologically considered part of the South Scandinavian wolf population which is estimated to be around 350-450 wolves[1]

NOAH jobber målrettet for å stoppe utrydningspolitikken,