People at the heart of wolf management in Denmark
By Michelle Henley
As wolves make a comeback across Europe, finding ways to respond to escalating conflicts between wolves and people is critical if wolves are to persist in our landscapes. Human-wolf conflicts typically arise because people have experienced a negative encounter with wolves or because of depredation on livestock, competition with hunters for game, and fear of wolf attacks on people.
Along the North Sea, Denmark
Conflicts are often exacerbated when communities feel that wolf managers fail to recognise their interests and values and they feel powerless with regards to wolf management. A team of Danish researchers from Aarhus University carried out a study which aimed to change this dynamic by engaging a group of Danish citizens living near a wolf territory to talk about their own interests, concerns and constraints in order to find acceptable solutions to human-wolf conflicts.
The project called the “The Wolf Dialogue Project” challenged the traditional stakeholder approach of top-down decision-making by government and policymakers by asking this group of local citizens to develop an alternative vision for wolf management. A demographic and political cross section of 41 local citizens from the parishes of Idom and Råsted near Stråsø in Denmark participated in nine workshops to discuss the impact of wolves on the community. Following these workshops, 20 participants expressed their interest in continuing the project, and an additional five workshops were run to develop proposals for a new wolf management plan.
The researchers ensured they involved a diverse group of citizens in the project by having an inclusive approach for gathering and presenting information in a way that did not exclude or disadvantage any person. They then created a safe space where the participants could talk openly about their views on wolves and wolf management. The creation of a safe space included a list of rules such as short comments, no interruptions when a person spoke and no personal attacks.
The researchers found that establishing a safe space provided a platform for an open and honest dialogue and joint fact-finding. As the proverbial saying goes: “a problem shared is a problem halved,” and the researchers reported that the participants felt empowered because they were taking responsibility for their common situation.
The recommendations for a new vision for wolf management identifiedsix key issues and agreeable solutions to them: resource conflict, minimising fear, increasing people’s safety, improving knowledge, improving cross-border collaboration on wolf management, and wolf management in a local context on the Jutland peninsula of Denmark.
One of the key recommendations was the need for better and more accessible information on wolf behaviour at different times of the year to help participants plan, mitigate and respond to potential interactions with wolves. This could be facilitated through improved collaboration and information sharing on local wolf presence and activity. The participants also wanted better access to free advice from professionals when experiencing issues with problem wolves. For example, the development of effective strategies to moderate wolf behaviour through deterrents, knowing how to respond to wolf depredation on sheep and how to protect children walking to school near wolf territories. The need for adequate financial support for deterrents and implementing prevention measures along with compensation for livestock losses were also identified as important.
While the group recognised the importance of a local context and that a new wolf management plan should be based on fact, knowledge and experience from a Danish context, it also recognised the need to ensure cross-border collaboration across Europe for effective wolf management.
The participants presented the results of their work at a meeting with the Danish Wildlife Council and other government agencies involved in wolf management who agreed to take local perspectives into consideration in the future wolf management plan. This study demonstrates the importance of meaningful communication and the need to modernise the unequal concentration of power in land-use management and decision-making across Europe by ensuring local people are at the heart of wolf management.
Hansen, Hans Peter; Dethlefsen, Cathrine S.; Fox, Gwen Freya; Jeppesen and Annika Skarðsá (2022) ‘Mediating Human-Wolves Conflicts Through Dialogue, Joint Fact-Finding and Empowerment’ Frontiers in Environmental Science, Vol.10.
Michelle Henley lives and works in the Highlands of Scotland. She works as a conservation land manager with an interest in large carnivore conservation and finding solutions to enable wildlife-human coexistence.
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