BRUSSELS — The European Commission announced on Monday that it is weighing whether to adjust rules to limit protections for wolves as a resurgence in the canine numbers has triggered growing tensions with farmers concerned about the safety of their livestock.
The announcement came almost exactly a year to the day after a wolf killed a pony belonging to the president of the European Union’s executive branch, Ursula von der Leyen, early last September at her family farm in Hannover, northern Germany.
“The concentration of wolf packs in some European regions has become a real danger for livestock and potentially also for humans,” von der Leyen said in a statement. “I urge local and national authorities to take action where necessary.”
Experts and environmental groups estimate that up to 19,000 wolves may be present in the 27 EU member countries, with populations of more than 1,000 of them thought to roam in Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Poland, Romania and Spain.
Their numbers are estimated to have grown by 25% over the last decade. They remain a protected species in most of Europe, but people have lost the habit of living near them and traditional ways to manage and protect livestock from wolves have been abandoned.
The commission said that it wants to “modify, where appropriate, the status of protection" of wolves and that it wants to update the rules “to introduce, where necessary, further flexibility,” depending on how their numbers have evolved.
To do this, the commission is calling on local communities, scientists and other interested parties to provide fresh data about wolf populations and their impact by Sept. 22 — in just over 2 weeks. A similar call in April for information did not “provide a full picture sufficient” to take action, it said.
The commission would not confirm whether it is seeking a cull of wolves. Asked about it, spokesman Adalbert Jahnz said only that “we are hoping to get a full and accurate, up-to-date, picture of the situation in order to be able to take any further measures that are necessary.”
But in an interview on Monday, German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke said that she plans to deliver concrete proposals by the end of the month for making it easier to shoot wolves to protect grazing animals like sheep in her country.
“The shooting of wolves after wolf attacks must be possible more quickly and with less bureaucracy,” Lemke told the daily Die Welt. “If dozens of sheep are attacked and lie dead on the pasture, then it is a tragedy for every animal farmer and a very big burden for those affected.”
Associated Press writer Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin contributed to this report.