Five Norwegian hunters were sentenced to prison time on Tuesday, in a landmark ruling on charges of illegal wolf poaching. According to Prosecutor Tarjei Istad, the verdict will dissuade other would-be wolf hunters, since it “sends a clear signal that they risked sitting in jail for a long time.”
The five hunters will serve prison stints raging from six to twenty months. They are also forbidden from hunting for two to five years. This is the first successful prosecution for illegal wolf hunting, although the defendants have already filed swift appeals.
Wolf hunting has become an unlikely political battleground in Norway in recent years. Hunting is a cultural mainstay in some parts of the country, the proponents of which have butted heads with city-dwellers who support conservation efforts. The issue has also been cast as one of government infringement onto property rights: some of the most vocal supporters of a carte blanche against the wolves are farmers worried about trespassers devouring their sheep. These camps split quite nicely along political lines, and wolf-hunting as thus become a battle between Left and Right.
Tuesdays convictions raise the stakes of Norway’s wolf dispute, amid tensions on the rise on both sides. In 2005, the Norwegian government was widely criticized by environmentalists for its lax policy on wolf hunting, which led to tighter, if controversial, regulations. (One researcher who wrote a paper on illegal wolf poaching in Norway found his car tires mysteriously slashed shortly after publication.) In 2008, rumors swirled that some farmers had resorted to planting homemade explosives around their flocks to protect against furry intruders. In 2014, after charges were initially brought against the five hunters, one Norwegian politician protested on social media with a selfie in a wolf fur coat. “I knew there would be reactions,” Sandra Borch of the Centre Party said at the time, “but I want to show that I do not care.” Bosch has been strongly supportive of free rights for farmers to hunt wolves.
Given Norway’s track record for taking wolf-sniping in stride, it seems likely there are political motives at play. Norway’s tiny wolf population — around 30 in all — is hardly Europe’s largest. But the sentimentality surrounding the issue has garnered global attention. Norway has also faced pressure for the high numbers of whales and moose killed by its hunters annually.
Taking a hard line on wolf-hunting is also consistent with Norway’s contradictory environmental values, which some analysts have dubbed “carbon laundering.” For a country that has branded itself on a platform of ecological sustainability and progressive environmental policies, Norway is a prolific polluter. Despite its tiny size, it ranks among the Top 5 world exporters of gas and oil. To some people, investing a fraction of the dividends into green initiatives — or making a big to-do about jailing wolf killers — looks like an awfully puny act of absolution.