“ A wolf observed in Finistère: a first for more than a century » ; “ the wolf is back in Île-de-France » ; “ wolf attacks in Limousin ». In the local gazettes, the observation is everywhere the same. The emblematic king of steep forests is no longer confined to the Alps. From the Somme to the Atlantic Pyrenees, he wanders in search of new territories.
Monday, June 27, the prefect of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region communicated his annual report on the population of gray wolves in France. This is estimated at 921 individuals at the end of winter 2021-2022 by the French Office for Biodiversity (OFB), body responsible for counting. A year earlier, on the same date, the number of wolves was estimated at 624: “ These elements confirm the favorable demographic dynamics of the lupine species, observed for ten years »writes the prefecture.
A ghost with white fangs, the wolf arouses fascination as much as ancestral fears. However, since his return to France in 1992, an attack on the man has never been reported. Hidden between trees and rocks, it has become almost impossible to observe. Fingerprints, hairs, droppings… Agents of theOFB rely on the clues left in his path to establish a rough estimate. And this strongly displeases the unions of breeders, hunters and mayors of rural villages.
The battle of numbers
“ The numbers are underestimatedplague Claude Font, Deputy Secretary General of the National Sheep Federation (FNO), attached to the agricultural union FNSEA. Each year, the prefecture gives an initial estimate before revising it upwards twelve months later. There, we are talking about 921 wolves, but maybe there are 1,200 or 1,300. »
If this figure crystallizes so many tensions, it is because it determines the number of animals to be slaughtered. Shaped by the Ministry of Ecological Transition under Nicolas Hulot, the 2018-2023 National Action Plan on the wolf provides for a maximum of 19 % of the population are slaughtered each year. In 2022, some 174 individuals could thus be killed by the specialized State service, against 118 initially planned. The FNSEA and the Young Farmers’ Union are demanding 300.
- The number of wolves in France stirs up tensions, to the detriment of understanding the behavior of this animal. CC BY–HER 4.0/Musicaline/Wikimedia Commons
In the eyes of Pierre Jouventin, ethologist author of The Wolf, this unloved who looks like usthese counts “ artificial » would be a scientific camouflage against a background of political quarrels: “ 624, 921, 1200… It doesn’t mean anything. Counting wolves is not as easy as counting sheep. Especially since the agents of theOFBserious as they are, are sandwiched. »
On the one hand, the National Federation of Hunters and agricultural unions, the FNSEA in the front line, want to inflate the counter so that a maximum of wolves are slaughtered. On the other, defenders of the mammal are trying to reduce the figure to save as much as possible. “ Christian Hubaud, mayor of a village in the Hautes-Alpes, estimates that there are up to 60,000 wolves in Francemocks the former director of research at CNRS. This is more than the European population. Looks like a coffee shop ! »
Beneath the wolf harvest threshold lies the issue of livestock protection. “ The state obliges us to respect animal welfare, which is completely normal and for which we are controlledcontinues Claude Font, breeder in Haute-Loire. However, besides that, it allows our herds to be decimated, in an atrocious way. Go talk about animal suffering to a farmer who discovers his slaughtered, disembowelled sheep. »
“ When we kill the dominant couple, it’s the whole pack that we blow up »
A study, published in Global ecology and conservationcomparing the methods of defense against the wolf, points however to the inefficiency, even the counterproductivity, of the slaughter. “ When we kill the dominant couple, it’s the whole pack that we blow up », explains Pierre Jouventin. The dominated wolves then leave in all directions, in search of a new territory and a spouse to found a family. “ From a pack centered on a territory of 200 to 300 km² in the Alps, we therefore obtain wandering wolves throughout France. We are doing the exact opposite of what should be done… »
Induced or not by these blind regulations, the expansion of the wolf exposes unsuspected territories to the threat of predation. In Corrèze, Seine-Maritime or Finistère, the first waves of attacks occur and breeders are not ready: “ Anticipation is not in place, we are completely latelaments Annabelle Wurbel, member of the predation commission at the Confédération Paysanne. It takes two years for a guard dog to learn how to properly guard a herd. We are neither trained nor informed. Humanly, it will be hard to live… »
A goat breeder in the Drôme, she regrets that the budget for the National Action Plan is not increasing: “ The means are not up to the problems that are advancing straight towards us. » The Confédération paysanne is campaigning in particular for Circle 3 to be deployed throughout the territory. Established in areas of possible expansion of the wolf, this system encourages the implementation of preventive actions, such as the purchase of patous, compensated at 80 %. “ We must refine our means of protection and for that, we must develop research. We need to know and understand wolves »concludes Annabelle Wurbel.
“ The more wolves you kill, the more attacks you suffer »
If the Peasant Confederation refuses to make the wolf a hunting board, it asks that shots be made to respond to the damage to the herds. A will to which Pierre Jouventin opposes: “ The packs are very organized. Once the experienced adults are slaughtered, the lonely survivors find themselves unable to hunt wild game. Young wolves do not know the techniques for catching a deer or a wild boar. So what are they doing ? They fall back on easy prey. »
The ethologist assures us: in Spain, Italy and Romania, where wolves are much more numerous than in France, the trio shepherds-patous-fences works perfectly. “ The more wolves you kill, the more attacks you suffer. How is it that France is both the country that spends the most to fight against the canine and the one that has the least results? ? There are obvious facts there that no one raises. »