The predators, the prey and the arguments: Contested wildland management for large mammals in Norway

Case Study brief banner centeredContext
For much of the 20th century wolves were extinct and brown bear and lynx populations were greatly reduced in Norway. With few large carnivores left in Norwegian wildlands, sheep farming practices evolved from sheep herding to free grazing in forests and alpine tundra. In addition, roe deer and moose populations were managed to proliferate and spread throughout the country to benefit hunters.

Subsequently, the recent return of large carnivores into the Norwegian wildlands has given rise to a heated debate over food production, rural policies, nature management, biodiversity protection, and the associated conflicting interests concerning the different uses of the Norwegian wildlands.

To examine the surrounding arguments in detail, we consulted a wide variety of written sources (journalistic, scientific, political), supplemented by informal discussions with stakeholders and experts. We identified 40 arguments about issues specifically concerning moose, roe deer, sheep, wolves, bears, and lynx in the wildlands in southeastern Norway. The arguments covered a broad range of different ecosystem services or disservices, dependent on stakeholder interests, and included arguments framed in positive or negative terms. We then asked key stakeholders from the different interest groups, including land managers, farmers, hunters, conservationists, and outdoor recreation organisers, to order the argument statements according to their perceived importance.

From the interviews with representatives of key stakeholder groups, we identified three distinct lines of argumentation reflecting orientations towards intrinsic, cultural, or utilitarian values (Table 1).

Table 1. The arguments with which the three stakeholder groups with intrinsic (1), cultural (2), or utilitarian (3) lines of argumentations agreed, and disagreed most.

Line of argumentation Agreed most Disagreed most
Intrinsic values (group 1) The Norwegian population targets for lynx, wolf and bear are too low to secure viable populations in the long-term and must therefore be increased The lynx population ought to be kept low so as not to compete with hunters for roe deer
Bear, wolves and lynx have a right to live in Norwegian nature Wolf and bear conservation is a threat to traditional farming and a living countryside 
Norway must ensure that Norwegian populations of wolves, lynx and bears be conserved for the future, because Norway has committed to do this through numerous international agreements The wolf is more of a burden to the Norwegian society than it is of value
Cultural values (group 2) Sheep have long been a natural element in the Norwegian wild- lands Traditional Norwegian sheep farming incurs larger costs than benefits for Norwegian society
It is important to facilitate traditional sheep grazing so that future generations may experience Norwegian sheep farming the way it is today Roe deer are a pest for many gardeners and therefore the populations must be diminished
Today’s sheep farming practices contribute to securing rare species and valuable cultural landscapes The Norwegian population targets for lynx, wolf and bear are too low to secure viable populations in the long-term and must therefore be increased
Utility values (group 3) Moose hunting is an important constituent of our Norwegian cultural heritage Lynx mostly predate on sick and weak roe deer
Roe deer hunting provides many positive experiences The wolf is central to restoring the ecological balance in Norwegian nature
The wolf is more of a burden to the Norwegian society than it is of value The Norwegian population targets for lynx, wolves and bears are too low to secure viable populations in the long-term and must therefore be increased

The three stakeholder groups had distinct views on the role of humans in nature and their policy orientations differed accordingly. Group 1 framed the arguments along the lines of intrinsic nature values. They viewed humans as a disturbance in nature and favoured increased carnivore populations with larger geographical distributions and strict nature conservation, i.e. limited human influence. Group 2 framed the arguments along the lines of cultural values. They argued that human use of cultural landscapes through (sheep) farming creates habitats for red-listed species and promotes biodiversity. Moreover, group 2 favoured strict limitations on carnivore distribution to separate sheep and carnivores, with farms inside carnivore zones being bought out and strict control of carnivores outside their zones. Group 3 framed the arguments along the lines of utilitarian values. They viewed human management of wildlife as necessary to ensure an ecological balance. Group 3 favoured the status quo except for wolves, i.e. stay at existing population targets for lynx and bears, and highly managed populations for moose and roe deer (hunted species).

The three stakeholder groups clearly favoured different aspects of biodiversity and different ecosystem services. The services and the species that they valued most were sometimes in direct conflict with the interests of the other stakeholder groups. Yet common to all stakeholders was the appeal for clearer management policies to harmonise environmental and agricultural objectives, even though this meant that the interests of some stakeholders would be compromised. Thus stricter, unambiguous management policies regarding large mammals in Norwegian wildlands could potentially lead to greater stakeholder acceptance for the intended policy.

The debate over large carnivore management in relation to hunted game species and sheep farming is not unique to Norway. Throughout Europe, the return of large carnivores has sparked fierce debate over large mammal management and conservation policies. Thus, many of the elements identified through this case study would also apply to other European countries where large carnivores are returning. Conflicts between wildlife and agriculture also occur for other species, including cormorants, geese, cranes, and otters.

Lessons learned

  • The stakeholder groups behind the three main lines of argumentation held fundamentally different views on the role of humans in nature and thus favoured different policy orientations.
  • Depending on stakeholder interests, the same ecosystem services were sometimes perceived as a good to some, and bad (a disservice) to others.
  • Common to all three stakeholder groups was the appeal for clearer management policies to harmonise management practices.

Looking for more information on effective arguments for biodiversity?
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This brief is a result of research carried out under the BESAFE project, and as documented in Bredin et al. forthcoming in Ecological Economics.[add doi reference] This brief was written by Yennie Bredin at NINA, with contributions from John Linnell, Jiska van Dijk and Henrik Lindhjem.

The BESAFE project is an interdisciplinary research project funded under the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme, contract number: 282743.