"Switzerland Grapples With the Return of Gray Wolves"

"A new law will make it easier for provinces to cull wolf packs. Will they survive?"

"Ten years ago, high in the Alps, two gray wolves crossed the Italian border into Switzerland. Within a year they had pups, settling in the southern canton, or province, of Grisons, and the Calanda wolf pack was born. It was the first since the mid-19th century, when wolves were hunted to extinction in the tiny European country better known for cheese, chocolate, and flowery Alpine meadows. Since 2012, the pack has had 47 pups, with young wolves spreading out through the mountains.

By 2025, barring management changes, Switzerland is projected to have over 300 wolves in 50 roaming packs. To environmentalists, the wolf’s return is a rare success story in Europe’s biodiversity crisis—an unexpected homecoming for a long-absent native species. But for the nation’s Alpine farmers and shepherds, wolves are livestock killers that represent an existential threat to their traditional way of life. Can the Swiss government find a solution to help humans and wolves coexist?

“The wolf is indigenous to Switzerland, so it's just natural that it should return and play a part in the ecological system,” said Sara Wehrli, a wolf conservationist for Pro Natura, Switzerland’s oldest environmental organization. “But we don’t have any real wilderness anymore, not compared to the US, for example. So naturally wolves and human beings have to coexist in our small country.”

As they roam the Alps, Switzerland’s new wolves have found easy prey in the cows, sheep, and goats that farmers set loose there to graze unsupervised during the summer months. That pastoral tradition is a significant part of the small mountain nation’s cultural heritage and a major tourist attraction, maintaining the famous open alpine meadow aesthetic. In the winter, the wolves follow livestock into the valleys—and populated villages."

Christian Elliott reports for Sierra magazine October 3, 2023.

Source: Sierra, 10/04/2023