Letter to the Secretariat of the Bern Convention about the endangered status of Norwegian predators

Publiseringsdato: 11. mars, 1999

Secretariat of the Bern Convention
Directorate of Environment and Local Authorities
Environment Conservation and Management Division
Council of Europe, BP 431 R6
F 67006 Strasbourg, Cedex

Oslo, 3/11/1999

The endangered status of Norwegian predators is set politically, not professionally in the national red list

Bellona wishes to inform the Secretariat of the Bern Convention, that the Norwegian Directorate of Nature Management is basing the endangered classification of four large predators on political, not scientific motives. The Norwegian predators: bear, lynx, wolverine and polar fox are now classified as less endangered than a scientific evaluation – which it should have been based on – has concluded. Political pressure stemming from conflicts mainly about agriculture and culling-interests are the cause. We are familiar with the fact that the Norwegian “red-list”, where the official status of the endangered Norwegian predators is set, is under revision at the Directorate of Nature Management. Bellona therefore demands, as does the scientific community, that the revised list include the status of directly threatened for bear and polar fox and vulnerable for lynx and wolverine. Should this recommendation not be carried, it would be impossible to continue regarding the Directorate of Nature Management as a body that adheres to a scientific standard.

The National “red-list” exists to organise administrative efforts for different threatened species, where the more endangered species receive more protection. The present listed status of bear, lynx, wolverine and polar fox is not correct and means these threatened predators are not protected sufficiently in Norway. Bellona asks the Secretariat of the Bern Convention to scrutinise the case and determine whether the wrongly set official status and listing of these threatened predators entails that the Directorate of Nature Management is in defiance of the wording of the Bern Convention.

Determination of the degree of endangerment shall be a scientific evaluation
The correct knowledge of a species stock size, ecology and extent of endangerment is a necessary supposition for being able to have the justifiable management of a species, in particular where hunting and grants for culling, are current administrative features. It is a matter of course that management must be based on scientific investigations, results and facts concerning these conditions. In every country employing modern Wildlife Management, the authorities regularly distribute so-called “red-lists”– a survey of endangered species. The species are placed under different categories, depending on their extent of endangerment, and that placement is based on scientific knowledge concerning the reproductive status of the species within the country’s border, independent of size of stock and eventual positive management actions in neighbouring countries.

On commission for Norwegian management authorities and as a contribution to a revised “red-list,” The Norwegian Zoological Association (NZA) prepared a list of threatened mammals in Norway in 1996. It was based on scientific criteria. The Directorate of Nature Management (DN) published Störkersen (1996), the new “red-list”, later that year. Many of the threatened predators were adjusted further down the categories of endangerment, without presenting scientific facts that supported these changes. The reason is political; with pressure coming from local conflicts to do with livestock herds and hunting interests. The result is scandalous – a political, and not a scientific “red-list” for many of the threatened and endangered predator-species. The many millions of N.kr. spent on predator research in Norway under the direction of, amongst others, the Norwegian Institute of Nature Research (NINA), DN and some advanced colleges, are wasted in this way as long as that body of knowledge is not taken seriously.

Endangered status provides a premise for management
The “red-list” is far more than a publication stating the status of threatened species in Norway. The statuses set in the “red-list” form important guidelines for administrative measures that determine the degree of protection a species receives. The criteria used provide a basis for justifiable decisions on culling, hunting, core-areas and so on. If predators are linked to lower categories of endangerment than that which exists, then culling quotas could be set higher than the species can endure. Bellona is of the opinion that it is impossible to have justifiable, much less, a sustainable predator administration in Norway without a sound scientific basis.

The following presents the points we feel should be included in any “red-list” changes.

The bear has been classified as vulnerable since the end of the 1970’s. This incorrect classification was due to a major over-estimation of the stock size. Flawed research estimated the stock in Norway to comprise 13 breeding stock components totalling 160-230 individual bears. Both NINA (Swensson et al., 1994) and the Norwegian Zoological Association (Isaksen et al., 1998) later concluded that the bear’s status is directly threatened. Still, the bear’s status in the Norwegian “red-list” has not changed. No known breeding in South-Norway has occurred for decades. Just one documented breeding occurred in Lierne in Nord-Trøndelag and perhaps 10 in Finmark. Worse Sweden introduced bear hunting in 1998 (female bears included) in a border area straddling the bear’s core area in southern Norway. When the rebuilding of a bear stock in Norway is dependent upon migrating females from this area then the bear’s status in Norway becomes more threatened than ever. We quote NINA’s fact-sheet on bear’s from 1994:

“The data shows unambiguously that the few bears in Norway are immigrants, especially from Sweden (except Finmark). With today’s level of culling, the bear will disappear from Norway without immigration from the increasing Swedish population…. NINA therefore considers the bear’s status to be directly threatened.”

With one documented breeding in mid-Norway and perhaps up to 10 in Finmark in recent decades, Bellona demands that the bear, in a revised “red-list,” be given the rightful status of directly threatened and the improved protection this will entail.

The wolverine in the present “red-list” is given the status of rare, while the NZA (Isaksen et al., 1998) and scientists at NINA and DN (Landa et al., 1998) have concluded that it is vulnerable. NZA based their conclusion on a stock estimate on den-identification and found a minimum of 150 animals in Norway in 1996. For the period from 1995-1997, the Norwegian stock has been more exactly estimated to be 147 (plus or minus, 25 animals), where 26±7 are in southern Norway (Landa et al., 1998). There is no development after the compilation of NZA’s report that indicates the situation has improved; so the term vulnerable is still the most correct. The test arrangement with local wolverine committees that set culling quotas has left the wolverine more vulnerable than ever. The wolverine is not a particularly good hunter, subsisting on carrion, in addition to the weakened animals it kills itself. It is therefore dependent upon the stock levels of the other major predators, which leave carrion. This makes it even more vulnerable in Norway. We quote from Landa et al.(1998):

”In 1996, the wolverine was reclassified from ”vulnerable” to ”rare” in the Norwegian National Red List. In Sweden, the wolverine is listed as ”vulnerable”, even though there seem to be many more wolverines in a smaller area than in Norway. The species is listed as endangered in Finland, where the authorities estimate that there are at least 110 wolverines (Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry 1997). Based on the most recent IUCN criteria (IUCN 1996), we conclude that the Fennoscandian wolverine population as a whole should be classified as vulnerable”.

Scientists have clearly shown that they can’t be restrained from publishing their findings internationally. Should their findings and recommendations for a revised “red-list” be disregarded out of political expediency, their conclusions would become very embarrassing for Norway.

The Lynx is now classified as inadequately known in the Norwegian “red-list”. According to the NZA’s report (Isaksen et al., 1998), the specie’s status in Norway should be ‘threatened.’ The NZA has concluded that it should be given the status vulnerable. The stock size is not well known. Stock estimates from the winter of 1996/97 showed a stock of 500-600 animals. But the lynx is extremely taxed. An unlimited hunt in large areas of west and north Norway and annual culling quotas of 140-155 animals in the remaining parts of the country threaten to eliminate the species. In Nord-Trøndelag the stock has been actively reduced in the last three years. Together with the risks of illegal hunting, roadkills and natural threats like disease and a decline in their food supply, this situation in total suggest the Lynx be classified as Vulnerable.

Polar fox
The polar fox is classified as vulnerable in the “red-list” while the NZA’s report (Isaksen et al., 1998) concludes it is directly threatened. This applies to the stock on the mainland, not Svalbard, where the animal abounds. Numbers of polar fox on the mainland are not likely to exceed 100 (Isaksen et al., 1998), and low reproductive rates even in years rich with rodents, gives reason to consern. Why the polar fox population fails to grow is not known. A lack of carrion due to smaller stocks of other major predators, competition from the red fox and inbreeding are possible contributing explanations. The polar fox inhabits the same area as the wolverine and is especially dependent on the latter’s left-overs from carrions. This is reason to suspect a polar fox on the brink: one whose endangered status should counter the political pressure for the culling of the wolverine. With very few animals surviving and a falling reproductive rate, the polar fox needs to be classified as directly threatened.

The otter is also threatened according to the NZA report (Isaksen et al., 1998). While its status in Norway is currently demanding consideration, NZA has concluded that it is indeed vulnerable due to low numbers in southern and eastern Norway. The otter’s condition, despite its survival in the north and northwest of the country, threatens it with extinction in southeastern Norway and illustrates that regional “red-lists” are needed.

Bellona demands that the Directorate of Nature Management in Norway change the status of the bear and polar fox to directly threatened and that of the wolverine and lynx to vulnerable in the revised national “red-list,” as the scientific community advises.

If this does not happen Bellona maintains that the Norwegian management of predators is politically motivated and not scientifically based, leaving the endangered predators: bear, polar fox, wolverine and lynx insufficiently protected. Bellona asks the Secretariat of the Bern Convention to scrutinise the case and evaluate whether the listing of endangered predators suggests that Norwegian predator management is in conflict with the Bern Convention.

With regards,

Dr. Mai Britt Knoph,
The Bellona Foundation
Program Manager/Environmental Management


Isaksen, K., Syvertsen, P.O., Kooij, J.van der & Rinden, H. (red.) 1998. Threatened mammals in Norway: factsheet and suggestion for a “red-list”. Norwegian Zoological Association. Report 5. 182 pages. (In Norwegian)

Landa, A., Tufto, J., Franzén, R., Bø, T., Lindén, M. & Swenson, J.E. 1998. Active wolverine Gulo gulo dens as a minimum population estimator in Scandinavia. Wildl. Biol. 4: 159-168.

NINA, 1994. The Scandinavian bear survives – but: The bear in Norway is directly threatened. NINA factsheet nr. 12, Norwegian Institute for Nature Management (NINA). (In Norwegian)

Størkersen, Ø.R. 1996. New “red-lists” for endangered species in Norway. Pp. 71-78 in: Brox, K.H. (red.) Nature 96/97, Tapir Forlag, Trondheim. (In Norwegian)

Swenson, J.E., Sandegren, F., Wabakken, P., Bjärvall, A., Söderberg, A., Franzén, R. 1994. The bear’s historical and present status and management in Scandinavia. NINA Research report 53. (In Norwegian)

Copy to:

Minister of Environment Guro Fjellanger, Ministry of Environment, POBox 8013 Dep., N-0030 Oslo Norway.

Directorate for Nature Management, Tungasletta 2, N-7005 Trondheim, Norway.