European Commission to Investigate Swedish Wolf Hunt

January 28, 2011 Updated: October 1, 2015

OPEN SEASON: Henrik Widlund is pictured as the wolf hunt season started in Hasselforsreviret, central Sweden, on January 15.  (Anders Wilkund/AFP/Getty Images)
OPEN SEASON: Henrik Widlund is pictured as the wolf hunt season started in Hasselforsreviret, central Sweden, on January 15. (Anders Wilkund/AFP/Getty Images)
The Swedish government's policy on wolf hunting is under review by the European Commission. For the second consecutive year, Sweden has allowed wolf hunting under license, which might be in violation of European Union laws protecting endangered species.

On Thursday, the EC, Europe’s legislative body, announced that they would start a formal procedure to investigate if the Swedish wolf hunt violates EU law. This may lead to a case against Sweden in the European courts.

According to EU law, endangered species can only be killed under special circumstances. Previously, this had been the only form of wolf hunt allowed in Sweden, so-called "protective" hunting of individual wolves who have attacked and killed livestock, carried out by the government.

The wolf was considered extinct in Sweden a few decades ago, but today there are some 300 wolves in the country and the government has decided that 210 is enough.

The issue is extremely controversial in Sweden, where many people in rural areas are against having any wolves in the country at all, since they kill livestock, hunting dogs, and game animals like the moose. The other camp considers the wolf to be a magnificent animal that should be protected. This year's licensed wolf hunt has engendered an extremely heated and polarized debate, including attempts at sabotage, and even death threats against hunters.

The official reason given to allow the licensed hunt is the prevention of inbreeding, but this has been heavily criticized by experts, since there is no way to control which animals are shot and whether they are genetically healthy or not.

Mikael Karlsson, president of The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC), who filed the formal complaint with the European Commission, states in an article on its website that the hunting will weaken the wolf population and that the decision to keep the population at 210 animals will prevent it from ever being healthy.

EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik, told Swedish Radio that the wolf hunt violates EU law. He had earlier said in a statement that "the actions of the Swedish authorities leave me with little choice other than to propose to the commission that it begin formal proceedings against Sweden.” He expressed hope that the EU and Sweden would be able to come to an understanding over the matter, however.