Concerns over the possibility of culling up to eight bears in the Trentino

23 Mar 2024
Today is World Bear Day, which is celebrated every year on 23rd March, to raise awareness of the dangers that bears are facing, and to stand up for the protection of these wonderful animals which play an important role in maintaining the balance of the ecosystems.
In this regard, the Animal Welfare Intergroup has recently sent an open letter to the President of the Italian autonomous Province of Trento and to the Italian Minister for Environment raising concerns over the recent illegal changes in a provincial implementation law of the EU Habitats Directive thus opening the possibility of culling up to eight bears in the province of Trentino in 2024 and 2025.

You can read the open letter here below:

Dear Mr Fugatti, dear Minister Pichetto Fratin,

On 12 February 2024, the province of Trento revised Provincial Law No. 9 of 11 July 2018 implementing Article 16 of the Habitats Directive. Although the revised provisions contain improvements compared to the previous legislation, we are deeply concerned by the foreseen possibility to remove up to eight bears (Ursus arctos) annually in the province for the years 2024 and 2025, and emphasise that the legislation is in breach of EU legislation.

Article 16 of the Habitats Directive, appropriately transposed in Article 1 of Provincial Law No. 9 of 11 July 2018, provides that two conditions must be met for Member States to derogate from the Directive and authorise the culling of strictly protected species such as bears.

First, the derogation shall be conditioned to the absence of satisfactory alternatives. In the context of Trento, the culling of bears is motivated by the need to guarantee public safety. It is therefore essential to assess whether all measures aiming at preventing bear attacks have been appropriately implemented before considering lethal measures.

In 2021, the Higher Institute for Environmental Protection and Research (ISPRA) provided recommendations for preventive measures to manage conflict with bears in the province, in particular:

  • Replacing classic bins by bear proof trash containers to limit food availability in direct proximity of human settlements. A proper assessment is needed to ensure that all bins have been replaced with appropriate mechanisms efficiently preventing bear foraging. Media reports indicate that the replacement is delayed or that several bins have been modified with a system that remains inefficient.
  • Removing anthropogenic sources of food, for example from ungulate feeders. Bears have regularly been observed to eat from such feeding stations. Such practices are particularly harmful, resulting in a behavioural change of bears who become active during winter and can be more confident. Despite several calls for a prohibition on such practices, they remain legal in the province.
  • Strengthening communications to inform and raise awareness of the population on the appropriate behaviour to prevent the event of an encounter and to manage it. Several indicators suggest that this work remains insufficient to improve the safety of inhabitants. A survey conducted in November 2023 by Savanta shows that 67% of rural inhabitants in Trento knew nothing or only a little about what to do in case of an encounter and 78% said that they would feel safer if they knew more about the behaviour of large carnivores. It appears that these preventive measures have been insufficiently implemented.

Second, the Habitats Directive foresees that derogations shall not be detrimental to the maintenance of the populations of the species at a favourable conservation status. It must be noted that the ISPRA study providing the scientific justification to the legislation does not consider the risks associated with inbreeding in the Trentino’s bear population. We are particularly worried that the legislation does not provide expressly for the management of sole problematic bears, leaving the door open to the culling of bears regardless of the risks they pose to public safety. Importantly, the legislation should provide for a reassessment of the population and risks after each removal. As large carnivores, bears are umbrella species providing essential ecosystem services, such as keeping prey populations balanced, impacting plant growth and riparian river systems by dispersing herbivores and small carnivores or reducing animal disease breakouts in ungulates and other animals.

Mr Fugatti, we call on Trentino’s government to comply with EU legislation, safeguarding strictly protected species such as bears, first by remedying the gaps in terms of prevention and ensuring that culling only occurs when strictly necessary, targeting specific problematic individuals.

Yours sincerely,

Tilly Metz MEP

President of the Animal Welfare Intergroup

Bear sanctuary FBB, Four Paws