Ariège: capercaillie hunting soon suspended for 5 years

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The Council of State has ordered the minister in charge of hunting to suspend the hunting of capercaillie, present in the mountains of Ariège, for 5 years. “Good news” for the France nature environment association, which seized it.

A little respite for the capercaillie. The Council of State, in a decision of June 1, 2002, ordered the minister in charge of hunting to suspend capercaillie hunting for 5 years throughout the metropolitan territory of France. This decision will therefore apply in Ariège, where the sedentary bird lives at altitude. The highest French administrative court specifies that the minister must issue a suspension order before July 15, 2022.
“This is good news, rejoiced Thierry de Noblens, administrator of the France nature environment association (FNE) Midi-Pyrénées, one of the seven to have seized the litigation section of the Council of State. Especially in this long and old context. Since 2008, with the Ariège Ecological Committee, we have been attacking all the prefectural decrees authorizing the hunting of capercaillie with harvest quotas. »
To illustrate his point, Thiery de Noblens mentioned “an accumulation of case law in Ariège, Haute-Garonne and in the Pyrénées-Orientales” (see box) favorable to various associations for the defense of the environment. The court rulings concern the capercaillie alone or together with the rock ptarmigan, another bird species they wish to protect.
At the origin of the last referral to the Council of State, seven associations – including FNE Midi-Pyrénées and the Ariège Ecological Committee. They asked for the cancellation of a decision by the Minister for Ecological Transition of April 12, 2021. Barbara Pompili then refused to suspend capercaillie hunting for a period of five years. At the beginning of June, the judges considered that they were “founded in requesting the cancellation for excess of power of the refusal”.
Satisfied with the decision, Thierry de Noblens is pleased to have “trapped” the member of the political group La République en Marche, then minister in the government of Jean Castex. “We asked her for a moratorium, but we knew she was going to refuse,” he says. We therefore challenged his refusal and the Council of State agreed with us, in particular because of the evolution of the population of the capercaillie. »
The judges insisted that the bird, also called capercaillie, “is in a poor state of preservation […] despite the efforts undertaken, in the departments in which the species is likely to be hunted”. Among them, Ariège. This situation requires, according to them, “to refrain from any harvesting of capercaillie throughout the territory for a fairly long period”. It will be five years.
This decision pleases Thierry de Noblens, even if he considers that it is not sufficient (even under paper) to protect this dark bird with a gray neck and black chin. “The Council of State gives respite to the species, he summarizes. Now, we hope it will tackle other factors that impact the capercaillie. Little by little, the bird makes its nest.
Asked, the representatives of the hunting federation of Ariège did not wish to react to the decision of the Council of State and its consequences on the practice of hunting in the department.

A capercaillie killed while hunting in the mountains.
DDM Archives – ANDY BARREJOT

The “one of the factors” to protect the species, but not the only one

The fight is not over. Thierry de Noblens, administrator of the association France nature environment (FNE) Midi-Pyrénées, is not satisfied with the decision of the Council of State. According to him, the forthcoming suspension of capercaillie hunting for five years is “one of the factors to combat the mortality” of this species, but not the only one. “I am going to make concrete proposals to the French office for biodiversity (OFB)”, he announces.
The situation of the large gallinaceous living in the mountains worries him all the more since he has been classified as “vulnerable” on the red list of breeding birds in metropolitan France since 2016. It was carried out by the Natural Museum of Natural History and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) France, in collaboration with reference organizations on the species and with the involvement of numerous experts.
If he is aware of not being able to fight against the weather, Thierry de Noblens began by indicating that it was one of the “big factors of mortality for the capercaillie”. Especially the July one. He develops: “It is the moment when the chicks are born. If it rains or is cold for four days, which often happens in the mountains, where they reside, the mortality is considerable. And to illustrate with a counter-example: “There was a heat wave in 2003 and it was a good year for the capercaillie because the month of July was hot and dry. Reproduction was good. »
On the other hand, there are two other factors “where we can play”, continues the member of FNE. “First there are the pastoral fences for cows and horses. Capercaillie do not see their sons and kill themselves when there is fog or backlight. But there are thousands of kilometers in the mountains. The solution, “put rectangular metal labels that they can see much better”, according to Thierry de Noblens. If he appreciates that there are more and more of them, he wants their deployment to accelerate.
Another “big mortality factor” highlighted by the defender of the capercaillie is “its increasingly frequent disturbance”. “In winter, they take refuge in trees, pines or spruces, he notes. Even if there is up to 10 meters of snow, they can eat pine needles. They do not starve, but take time to digest them and should therefore not be disturbed. However, there is more and more off-piste skiing, people on snowshoes, etc., in winter. As they are frightened, they fly away, become exhausted and die. The member of the FNE therefore wants there to be “more information on winter sports”, especially in the Ariège ski resorts.
To conclude, Thiery de Noblens mentioned the “big problem” of capercaillies. “When a species is protected, it cannot be hunted. When it can be hunted, the hunting federations do not want us to deal with it and consider it to be their property because it is game. We could do good things with the hunters but they don’t want to. » The call is launched.

A hunt opened 8 times over the last 10 years

Eight out of ten. In Ariège, capercaillie hunting has been opened eight times over the past ten years by the prefecture of the department, according to data provided by Stéphane Defos, director of the Departmental Directorate of Territories (DDT).
Asked about the guideline of the prefecture of Ariège, he indicates: “Each year, there is an analysis of the French office of biodiversity (OFB) on the basis of the counting results of the observatory of galliformes of mountain (GMO). Depending on the data, the prefecture decides whether or not to open hunting with harvest quotas. »
Stéphane Defos details: “In 2018 and 2021, it was not opened because the capercaillie reproduction figures were not sufficient. The other years, it was opened with quotas. Most of the time, these decisions were challenged in court because environmental defense associations felt that there were not enough capercaillie to allow hunting. »
The director of the DDT specifies that in 2017, a decree opening hunting with a quota was canceled in the department. He then cites two decisions where the hunt was suspended during the season, in 2019 and 2020.

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