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Return Of Wolves To Britain Would Be Howling Success

The wolf population has rebounded in a number of central and eastern European countries and in recent years has reappeared in France, Germany and Switzerland.
by Staff Writers
London (AFP) Jan 31, 2007
The wolf died out in Britain two centuries ago but reintroducing the animal would bring environmental and economic benefits, according to a study released on Wednesday. It agrees with numerous landowners and green groups who are campaigning for the grey wolf to return to the Scottish Highlands, extending its European revival.

Environmental scientists led by Erlend Nilsen of the University of Oslo say that wolves would keep down numbers of red deer that, at the moment, have to be expensively culled to prevent overgrazing that damages trees, grass and shrubs.

In a study published by the Royal Society, Britain's de-facto science academy, Nilsen's team modelled the introduction in a highland area of three wolf packs, each comprising one dominant pair and two subordinates.

At first, deer numbers would fall swiftly and the numbers of wolves would rise. But then, as the deers became less populous, the wolf numbers would balance out.

Eventually, after 60 years, the populations of both species would be in equilibrium, but only provided the culling of female deer was not excessive and limited to a maximum of five percent of females.

Forestry and bird life would benefit -- and deer owners would also make a buck, so to speak.

Deer herds typically bring in around 550 pounds (850 euros, 1,100 dollars) per 10 square kilometres (3.86 square miles), if the costs of culling female deer and the use of the stags for trophy hunting are taken into account.

But wolves would boost this income to 800 pounds (1,230 euros, 1,600 dollars), as there would be little or no culling to do.

This figure is conservative, as it does not take into account possible revenue from larger staghorns from trophy hunting -- or from "wolf tourism" for people eager for a glimpse of the animals.

The study acknowledges that sheep would also be a target for the wolf but found that local farmers -- who in the Highlands are heavily subsidised for raising sheep and could be compensated for losses -- were not greatly worried about this question.

They were certainly more positive about the wolves than the farming lobby alleges and the general public also seemed quite enthusiastic, it says.

The study appears in Proceedings B of the Royal Society.

The wolf population has rebounded in a number of central and eastern European countries and in recent years has reappeared in France, Germany and Switzerland.

That has stirred a sometimes fierce debate between livestock owners and environmentalists as to which animals should be protected. A Swiss proposal to strip wolves of their "strictly protected" status on the Bern Convention, a European wildlife treaty, failed in November 2006.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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