The Romanian environment minister Grațiela Gavrilescu has released an executive order confirming that lethal population control and trophy hunting of bears and wolves will resume.
The shock announcement comes less than a year after the conservation community commended the country for introducing a critically-needed ban on the hunting of brown bears, wolves, lynx and wildcats.
According to the order, by the end of 2017, the local authorities and independent hunters may kill up to 140 bears and 97 wolves deemed to be 'nuisance' animals. The temporary prohibition saved the lives of as many as 1,691 bears, wolves and wildcats.
Survival of bears and wolves
The new bear and wolf hunting quotas effectively eliminate the protection these animals had been afforded over the past nine months. The order also clears the way for trophy hunters to shoot bears and wolves as long as they do so in the presence of "technical staff".
Under the terms of EU legislation (Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC) lethal population control is only permitted once the Member State has exhausted all non-lethal methods. This requirement is notable by its absence from Romania's new order.
In the past, the Romanian Academy's Commission for the Protection of Natural Monuments has strongly cautioned against unjustified lethal take, since it may be detrimental to the survival of bears and wolves in Romania.
Key scientists and experts also dispute the effectiveness of lethal population control or trophy hunting in mitigating human-wildlife conflict.
In fact, human persecution of carnivores can actually lead to greater conflict with humans and farm animals, because it disrupts social structures and alters predation patterns, leaving these predators more reliant on farm animals as food.
Rescind the order
Humane Society International/Europe and the Romanian conservation organisation, Agent Green, together with other world's leading wildlife organisations have urged the Romanian Government to rescind the order and require a case-by-case analysis for each problem bear or wolf.
The groups also urge the government to direct the majority of the resources toward educational programmes for the affected communities and non-lethal mitigation strategies, such as electric fencing, visual deterrents (known as "fladry") and bear-proof rubbish bins.
Ruud Tombrock, executive director for Humane Society International/Europe said: "The Romanian Government's U-turn on the trophy hunting of brown bears is beyond disappointing.
“Less than a year ago, the conservation community praised the previous government for taking decisive action to stop the unjustified persecution of Europe's large carnivores.
“This change of policy is clearly in response to strong lobbying efforts from the trophy hunting and animal agriculture industries. This order threatens the very survival of bears and wolves in Romania.”
Bear and wolf kill quotas
Gabriel Paun, CEO of Agent Green, said: "This new order...outrageously just made it possible for trophy hunters to openly participate in these killings and sell the parts of the animals' remains, shamelessly making a business out of it.”
Brown bears play a vital role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem in Romania, and while official figures put the Romanian bear population at more than 6,000, HSI and our partner groups fear that may be an over-estimate due to inaccurate counting methods.
Brown bears face a number of threats to their survival, including habitat destruction, increased motorized activity near their habitat, climate change, and human persecution. The population estimates on which the proposed brown bear and wolf kill quotas are based are biologically implausible and biased.
The effect of human persecution on brown bears and wolves is "super additive," meaning that hunting kills result in mortality exceeding the simple 1:1 ratio and generates pressures on the population that far exceed what would occur in nature.
One study found that killing large wild predators has, in some cases, the reverse effect of increasing their predation on livestock and only two non-lethal mitigation techniques proved to have "preventive effects."
Brendan Montague is acting editor of The Ecologist website. He tweets at @EcoMontague.