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Wildlife



14/09/2017

Understanding and Enhancing the Contribution of International Law to Lion Conservation

By Melissa Lewis

As one of the world’s most iconic and charismatic megafauna, the lion, Panthera leo, is a species whose conservation attracts international concern from conservationists and the global public alike. However, lion range and numbers have declined markedly over the last two decades.

In a recent publication in the journal Nature Conservation, two members of the Tilburg Environmental Law Team (Arie Trouwborst and Melissa Lewis) collaborated with biologists and social scientists from the University of Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit  (WildCRU) to assess the present and potential future role of international wildlife treaties in lion conservation.

Lionesses, Kruger National Park, South Africa (photo: M. Lewis)

Lionesses, Kruger National Park, South Africa (photo: M. Lewis)

Like other species of large carnivores, lions present a special set of conservation issues from a legal perspective due to their great spatial requirements, elevated human-wildlife conflict potential, and role as both keystone and umbrella species. For these reasons, and because of the transboundary nature of many lion populations and some of their threats, international law plays a distinct role.

Lion conservation has featured prominently on the agendas of certain wildlife treaties – including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and, more recently, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). In October this year, for instance, Parties to the latter Convention will decide whether to list the lion on one of the CMS’s appendices, and will further consider the adoption of several draft decisions of significance for lions and other African carnivores. Although sometimes less obvious, a range of other treaties also play a role in the endeavor to conserve the world’s remaining lion populations. For instance, 39 of the sites that are currently designated as Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention, and 18 of the areas that have been designated as World Heritage Sites under the World Heritage Convention, are of actual or potential significance to lions.  A myriad of regional instruments are also relevant – examples including the African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, the SADC Protocol on Wildlife Conservation and Law Enforcement, the various treaties establishing transfrontier conservation areas (TFCAs), and even the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats.

Lion, Kruger National Park, South Africa (photo J. Lewis)

Lion, Kruger National Park, South Africa (photo J. Lewis)

In this paper, we identify not only a substantial body of relevant international wildlife law, but also a significant potential for enhancing these instruments’ contribution to lion conservation. We argue that the time is right to invest in such improvements, and we provide both general and treaty-specific recommendations for doing so. With the 2017 CMS Conference of the Parties fast approaching, the paper’s support for augmenting this Convention’s role in lion conservation is especially noteworthy. The paper concludes that: 

“Given the fragmented collection of treaties which currently apply to lions and the absence of adequate international instruments and/or institutions for lion conservation in at least portions of the species’ range, an important role appears, in principle, to be reserved for the CMS, both in terms of coordination and gap-filling. Listing lions under the Convention would be a logical step in this regard … [and] would both signal the need to develop more elaborate species-specific frameworks for lion conservation and sustainable use and increase the avenues available for achieving this.”

It further provides recommendations for making optimal use of the Ramsar and World Heritage Conventions and TFCA agreements in sites of importance to lions; outlines possibilities for adjusting CITES’ restrictions on the trade in lions and their parts; and emphasizes the importance of maximizing range states’ participation in, and compliance with, wildlife treaties, and of promoting strategies which involve the local people who live alongside lions.

 

Arie Trouwborst, Melissa Lewis, Dawn Burnham, Amy Dickman, Amy Hinks, Timothy Hodgetts, Ewan A. Macdonald & David W. Macdonald (2017) “International law and lions (Panthera leo): understanding and improving the contribution of wildlife treaties to the conservation and sustainable use of an iconic carnivore“. Nature Conservation 21: 83-128.


21/08/2017

The Importance of International Wildlife Law and the Value of Multidisciplinary Collaboration in this Field

By Arie Trouwborst (TLS)

In the battle to halt and reverse the global biodiversity crisis, a crucial role is reserved for international legal instruments. An open-access viewpoint article in BioScience, written by an international assemblage of wildlife lawyers, conservation biologists and social scientists, highlights the importance of international law in wildlife conservation. The article explores the various ways in which treaties can contribute to conservation, as well as their limitations; and calls for both increased, strategic recourse to international wildlife law as a conservation tool, and further cooperation between lawyers and other conservation professionals. As the 21 authors conclude:

“With their long-term, legally binding commitments on a transboundary scale, international legal instruments can be important, sometimes indispensable implements in the conservation toolbox. Having explored why international wildlife law matters and what can and cannot be expected of it, we are convinced that by joining forces, lawyers and other conservation professionals can improve the contribution of international wildlife law to biodiversity conservation. There is much to be gained, partly by enhancing the legal framework itself but especially by seizing the many opportunities offered for advancing the effective application of the law as it stands. We hope that this article can be a useful step along this path.”

Multidisciplinary cooperation is also a key focus of the 18th International Wildlife Law Conference, which will be held at Tilburg University in the Netherlands on 18-19 April 2018. This is reflected in the scheduled keynote addresses by international wildlife lawyer Michael Bowman (School of Law, University of Nottingham) and conservation biologist David Macdonald (Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, University of Oxford). The Tilburg Environmental Law Team strongly encourages law professionals/students with an interest in wildlife, as well as wildlife professionals/students with an interest in law, to consider participating in this event.

elephant

Arie Trouwborst, Andy Blackmore, Luigi Boitani, Michael Bowman, Richard Caddell, Guillaume Chapron, An Cliquet, Ed Couzens, Yaffa Epstein, Eladio Fernández-Galiano, Floor Fleurke, Roy Gardner, Luke Hunter, Kim Jacobsen, Miha Krofel, Melissa Lewis, José Vicente López-Bao, David Macdonald, Steve Redpath, Geoffrey Wandesforde-Smith & John Linnell, “International wildlife law: Understanding and enhancing its role in conservation“, BioScience 2017, doi:10.1093/biosci/bix086


19/11/2016

Reflections on the Wildlife Justice Commission and its Public Hearing concerning Wildlife Trafficking in Vietnam

By Melissa Lewis

The illegal trade in wildlife is currently the fourth largest global illegal trade (following the illegal trade in narcotics, the trade in counterfeits, and human trafficking) and is resulting in drastic declines in the populations of many species, in addition to being strongly linked to other crimes such as corruption and fraud. While most countries have enacted laws to regulate the trade of wildlife specimens, both the strength and the enforcement of such laws vary considerably from one country to the next. This blog post briefly considers the role of a relatively new innovation – the Wildlife Justice Commission (WJC) – in improving this situation through a combination of investigative techniques, public dialogue, and international pressure.

The WJC is an NGO established in 2015 with the objective of contributing to the disruption of transnational organized crime involving wildlife, timber and fisheries. The Commission seeks to achieve this end, firstly, by sharing intelligence and working with domestic law enforcement agencies, thereby assisting governments to enforce the law. In instances in which governmental cooperation is not forthcoming, the WJC produces a ‘Map of Facts’ (essentially a case file based on the Commission’s on-the-ground investigations, which maps out criminal networks and their illicit activities) and engages in diplomacy in an attempt to convince national authorities to act on the information provided. Where this too yields unsatisfactory results, a Public Hearing may be held with the purpose of allowing experts and the public to consider fact-based evidence and pressuring the relevant government to take legal action.

Although still in its infancy, the WJC has already involved itself in several investigations, one of which has culminated in a Public Hearing, held in The Hague on 14-15 November 2016. The Hearing focused on the trafficking of specimens of various species that are listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Nhi Khe, Vietnam. Whilst not a legal trial, the first portion of the Hearing followed a trial-like format, with an attorney presenting an overview of the case’s Map of Facts through the questioning of witnesses, supported by photographic and video evidence. On its second day, the Hearing involved a series of discussions with, and presentations by, academic experts and representatives of conservation-related NGOs, aiming primarily to suggest means of combating illegal wildlife trade, both in Nhi Khe specifically and as a broader global problem. The Vietnamese government was invited to participate, but elected only to send an observer.

The WJC Accountability Panel (Photo: M. Lewis)

The WJC Accountability Panel (Photo: M. Lewis)

The Hearing was held before an independent ‘Accountability Panel’, comprising an impressive lineup of international experts, including, inter alia, current/former judges from the International Criminal Court, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and East Africa Court of Justice. Throughout the process, members of the Panel were able to question witnesses and other speakers, as was the Director of Proceedings (the position of which was filled by an international broadcast journalist). Questions from the Accountability Panel in particular highlighted the various limitations of the WJC’s approach and what an organization of this nature is able to do from a legal and practical perspective. The WJC has, on several occasions over the past year, sent undercover investigators to Nhi Khe (see further the Al Jazeera documentary ‘The Poacher’s Pipeline’). However, these persons – being representatives of an NGO rather than law enforcement officials – were unable to purchase wildlife products without themselves infringing the law. Thus, although they were able to demonstrate that large amounts of what appeared to be genuine wildlife specimens (as identified by experts on the basis of photographs) were being offered for sale in Nhi Khe, they were unable to prove the actual occurrence of transactions, obtain physical samples, or create opportunities for working their way to other links in the wildlife trafficking chain. They were further unable to investigate private sector involvement in the relevant organized crime networks by, for instance, subpoenaing the bank accounts into which sellers indicated that payments could be made; and did not explore the prevalence of public sector corruption through the direct investigation of government officials.

Despite these constraints, the Panel was ultimately prepared to confirm the conclusions in the WJC’s Map of Facts, finding, inter alia, that Nhi Khe is a major hub for the illegal processing and retail distribution of wildlife; that the various persons of interest identified in the Map of Facts have been actively involved in illegal wildlife trade and ancillary crimes; and that these activities have occurred openly within local and provincial police jurisdiction. While the Panel acknowledged that the Vietnamese government has taken a number of positive actions towards curbing the illegal wildlife trade, it also identified various failures in Vietnam’s approach and enumerated a series of surprisingly detailed recommendations. These included measures to enforce existing laws (for instance, use of the WJC’s Map of Facts to conduct an investigation targeting individuals and networks operating in Vietnam, the pursuit of criminal prosecutions where sufficient evidence is available to support these, and the allocation of resources to detect illegal trade on social media); as well as measures to address inadequacies with the laws themselves (for instance, amending organized crime and corruption statutes to incorporate the maximum number of ancillary crimes, enacting laws to address civil asset forfeitures, and ensuring the prompt entry into force of a new penal code addressing the illegal killing and trafficking of wildlife). The Panel stressed that implementation of the recommended actions would contribute to Vietnam’s compliance with its international commitments under CITES, the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, and the UN Convention against Corruption. It further encouraged the other Parties to these Conventions to take appropriate measures to support Vietnam and called upon the CITES Standing Committee to take note of its recommendations and to consider imposing trade sanctions on Vietnam.

(Photo: M. Lewis)

(Photo: M. Lewis)

Of course, the recommendations of the WJC’s Accountability Panel are in no way legally binding, and the above process was not conducted under the banner of any particular treaty or intergovernmental organization. Nevertheless, the process does appear to offer several advantages. It is considerably quicker and cheaper than bringing a case before an international tribunal, such as the International Court of Justice, and does not hinge upon states’ acceptance of jurisdiction. Unlike the compliance mechanisms that have emerged under various environmental treaties, its recommendations need not be endorsed by a body that is made up of states Parties and thus inherently political (such as a Standing Committee or Conference of the Parties), but are instead issued by a panel of independent and internationally respected experts. Further, while many treaty compliance mechanisms fail to allow NGOs to either trigger non-compliance proceedings or participate in the functioning thereof, WJC Public Hearings are arranged by an NGO and rely heavily upon public participation. Apart from giving NGOs and the broader public the opportunity to inform the Accountability Panel’s case-specific recommendations, this approach enabled the Vietnam Public Hearing to act as a platform for both shining a spotlight on the seriousness of illicit wildlife trafficking (this being an issue which often fails to receive high priority in countries’ law enforcement agendas) and exchanging ideas about how this challenge can be combated. Discussions highlighted not only the need for aggressive enforcement in consumer countries, but also a variety of other necessary measures, such as focusing on demand reduction; working with communities in supplier countries to address human-wildlife conflicts and create alternative sustainable livelihoods; and supporting collaborative, evidence-based investigations between countries in order to build intelligence along the entire trafficking chain. They further emphasized the role that states’ national laws can play in (i) pressuring other countries to address wildlife crime by providing for the imposition of sanctions against countries that undermine the effectiveness of international wildlife treaties (see, e.g., the Pelly Amendment to the US Fishermen’s Protective Act, the use of which played an important role in pressuring Taiwan to control trafficking in rhinoceros horn and tiger bone); and (ii) ‘internationalizing’ the laws of other countries by making it an offence to trade in wildlife taken/possessed/sold in violation of any foreign law, thereby enhancing states’ ability to dismantle transnational organized crime networks (see, e.g., the US Lacey Act).

Vietnam has recently engaged in a flurry of activities aimed at demonstrating its commitment to combating wildlife trafficking (including its hosting this week of the Hanoi Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade). However, it remains to be seen whether these activities will be sustained over time and will extend to include implementation of the recommendations from the WJC’s Public Hearing. It will also be interesting to see how these recommendations are treated (if they are acknowledged at all) by future meetings of the CITES Standing Committee and Conference of the Parties, given that they did not emanate from a procedure agreed to by governments. At the very least, the WJC has demonstrated that it has a useful role to play in collecting and verifying information, as well as encouraging the international community to take a serious interest in efforts to combat illicit wildlife trade. Hopefully, the Commission’s Public Hearing procedure will also prove to be an effective catalyst for action by governments and other stakeholders.

 

 


07/08/2016

The evolving potential of the (non-) compliance mechanisms of the Bern Convention on European Wildlife Conservation

By Jennifer Dubrulle

1. Effectiveness of non-compliance mechanisms: EU nature protection laws topdog – Bern Convention underdog?

In discussions on the protection of wild animals in Europe the Bern Convention’s[1] (non-) compliance mechanisms[2] are easily overlooked and overshadowed by those of the European Union. We all know, right, that the EU is praised for its elevated (non-) compliance mechanisms.[3]

The enforcement powers of the Standing Committee, the body entrusted with the task of monitoring the application of the Bern Convention, exercises its power in an innovate way, in particular through the case-file procedure. In the European Union, the European Commission takes up a similar role via the infringement procedure.[4]

Tag cloud of activities of the Bern Convention's Standing Committee (source: http://www.coe.int/en/web/bern-convention/institutions)

Tag cloud of activities of the Bern Convention’s Standing Committee (source: http://www.coe.int/en/web/bern-convention/institutions)

The enforcement powers of the Standing Committee, if one looks at the final result that can be obtained, are rather underwhelming. The Standing Committee cannot do much more than issue, as the appellation suggests, non-binding recommendations, only able to facilitate, rather than coerce Member States into compliance. In daily practice, however, the procedure stands out in several respects. These recommendations are more flexible than judgments are, not focusing on assessing whether legal provisions were violated, but formulating practical, tailor-made measures to address specific conservation concerns on site. In stark contrast to the EU,[5] the complainant is allowed a generous degree of participation throughout the procedure.[6] The Standing Committee treats the complainant/NGO and the Contracting Party on a more equal footing: both parties are encouraged to respond to each other’s arguments prior to the Standing Committee’s decision whether to take further measures or not. The procedure is also transparent, key documents of the non-compliance procedure are publicly available.[7] Another advantage is that the Standing Committee has extensive powers of investigation.[8]

2. Two protection pillars of which possible violation triggers non-compliance mechanisms

International, European and national wildlife laws’ basic structure is identical in the sense that these laws contain species protection provisions, protecting the animal wherever it goes (e.g. hunting prohibitions), and habitat protection provisions, protecting the areas where these animals live. The Bern Convention is not much different on this point. Once these key provisions[9] of the Bern Convention are (presumed to be) violated non-compliance mechanisms become increasingly relevant, unless a contracting party can successfully rely on an exception ground.[10]

3. The Bern Convention’s non-compliance mechanisms

The compliance tools in the Bern Convention are what one expects to find: the Contracting Parties are obliged to report on their compliance with the Convention. The Convention also provides for a, commonly encountered in MEAs, dispute settlement procedure, allowing contracting parties to designate an arbitrator to settle disputes that arise between them.[11] Rarely applied in practice, Contracting Parties are hesitant to bring each other before an arbitrator.

Interestingly, the most significant compliance tools are not explicitly provided for in the Convention.[12] There is no explicit provision for a compliance-focused procedure within the Bern Convention. The Contracting Parties, through a bold interpretation of existing Convention provisions,[13] determined that these provisions provided a sufficient basis for the development of the case-file procedure.[14]

3.1 Case-file procedure

The whole idea behind the case-file procedure is to encourage Contracting Parties to address concrete conservation problems at particular sites and the means by which to do so. Any party may refer a complaint to the Standing Committee in respect of a Contracting Party’s failure to comply with its obligations under the Bern Convention. The Secretariat, after seeking further information from the parties concerned, decides whether there are grounds for placing the complaint as a ‘file’ on the agenda of the next meeting of the Standing Committee. A threshold to determine this is to decide whether the complaint is sufficiently serious to merit international attention, considering procedures that may already be pending at the (inter) national level as well as the seriousness of the breach. If the Standing Committee chooses to open a file it may adopt specific recommendations designed to bring the state into compliance with its obligations or authorize an on-the-spot appraisal to seek further information. The Standing Committee has a broad mandate to make recommendations to individual parties and these recommendations may be site or activity specific, such as the removal of buildings on a nesting beach or rerouting a road likely to impact on a critical habitat.[15]

The Balkan Lynx Case-file demonstrates how the non-binding case-file procedure succeeds in having significant impacts in practice. The Balkan lynx, the smallest and most threatened native Eurasian lynx subpopulation,[16] consists of about 27-54 independent individuals, mostly distributed along Albania and Macedonia. The only reproductive area left is in Macedonia, in the Mavrovo National Park.  An NGO, Eco-vest, filed a complaint in 2013 because of the government’s plan to build 22 hydropower plants on the territory of the park, 2 of which are large-scale.[17] One of the large-scale plants, Boskov Most Hydro Power Plant (HPP), would be built in prime lynx habitat.[18] The complainant argued that the environmental assessment was insufficient to judge the impact of the project on in particular the lynx.[19] 2011[20] and 2012[21] Bern Convention recommendations already requested Macedonia to assess the impacts of the dams on the lynx population and take measures to maintain the ecological characteristics of the site, further strengthening the argument. The lynx is protected under Appendix III of the Convention, meaning that killing is not prohibited but that the species – at least – must be protected from danger. As the Balkan lynx is, in accordance with the IUCN red list categorization, critically endangered the project is in clear breach of the Bern Convention’s species protection provisions. The Standing Committee found it unwise to put any additional stress on the lynx and issued a tailor-made recommendation requiring that a comprehensive environmental assessment would be carried out before the project could go ahead; that in application of the precautionary principle all construction projects had to be suspended as long as the overall impact had not been fully assessed and that the World Bank (WB) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) should immediately suspend financing.[22] As a result, the EBRD[23] as well as the WB[24] suspended financing.

Balkan Lynx (Photo: Jörg Pukownik)

Balkan Lynx (Photo: Jörg Pukownik)

Over the years, the Standing Committee identified a shortcoming in the case-file procedure: it can only be started by a complaint that presumes that a Contracting Party failed to comply with Convention provisions. Because failing to honor international obligations is a serious matter, most governments refuse to admit they breached international law, making it more difficult to find effective solutions. Over the years, the Standing Committee felt increasingly reluctant to open new case-files, trying to avoid the common perception that opening a case-file means there is a presumption of breach. To circumvent this perception the Standing Committee sometimes decided to not open a case-file but investigate the matter more informally, focusing on the adoption of recommendations to improve wildlife protection in practice.[25] In 2015, so this procedure is fresh meat, the mediation procedure was formalized under the Bern Convention.

3.2. Mediation procedure

The Standing Committee formalized the mediation procedure to avoid ‘lost opportunities’, that is cases where Contracting Parties did not necessarily breach the Convention, but where intervention would be useful to achieve the Convention’s aims. The mediation procedure is meant to foster dialogue between the complainant and the government and find practical solutions, without blaming a Contracting Party.[26]

The mediation procedure is kicked off, by a Standing Committee decision, mostly after submission of a complaint that did not have enough gravitas to justify the opening of a case-file. The mediation procedure is subject to agreement of the Contracting Party involved. An expert is appointed, a so-called ‘honest broker’ who acts as a mediator.[27] All parties join a mediation visit and in the best case scenario a mediation agreement is drafted. The first mediation file, opened in 2015, ended up in a mediation agreement between a complaining Lithuanian NGO, Association Rudamina Community, which argued that the building of an overhead powerline in Lithuania would affect wild species such as high-flying birds and the European pond turtle, and the Lithuanian government.[28]

4. Conclusion

1. Not everything is what it seems

There are arguments to challenge the perception that binding instruments are preferable over non-binding instruments. Although the Bern Convention recommendations are not binding, these are flexible in their application, and, strengthened by the Standing Committee’s ability to gather information from the site in question, allow the Standing Committee to make practical, site-specific recommendations, rather than simply relying on desk studies/reports.

2.  Investors do not want to be associated with breaches of International Environmental Law

All investors in the discussed cases took international environmental law seriously. Both the WB and the EBRD backed out of the Macedonian HPP because these large-scale dams violated the Bern Convention. Large-scale projects are often at least co-financed by institutions that care about their reputation and are not insensitive, not even to, non-binding recommendations.

In short, although the Bern Convention’s added value is most apparent beyond the EU, it arguably plays, because of its practical approach, a distinct role within EU Member States as well.

5. Outstanding questions raised at the conference[29]

-      Are these two cases really indicative of the power of non-binding instruments or just outliners? A comprehensive answer to this question requires an investigation on what happened/is happening on the ground in the, as of 1 February 2016, 161 Bern Convention (possible) case-files;[30]

-      How do the EU and Bern Convention’s non-compliance mechanisms interrelate? My intuition is that the Bern Convention offers adequate relief in cases where a no-nonsense practical solution (answer to the question: ‘what do we actually have to do to improve conservation?’) to address conservation concerns on the ground and the means by which they might do so is sought. Member States that are not tempted to act on the basis of a, non-binding, reminder only might be in need of the European Union’s more coercive non-compliance treatment.

 

 

[1] This Convention, for those unfamiliar with it, is an international wildlife treaty that was adopted within the Council of Europe in 1979. The Convention attracted broad participation, with 51 parties, among which all EU Member States, most members of the Council of Europe (Russia being a notable exception) and a few African countries. For those more familiar with European law, the Bern Convention served as an inspiration for the 1992 Habitats Directive. Key provisions on species protection and habitat protection in the Bern Convention have been, along the same lines, copy-pasted into the Habitats Directive.

[2] I have drawn largely from F. Fleurke’s and A. Trouwborst’s analysis of the EU and Bern Convention’s enforcement mechanisms and Karen N. Scott’s analysis of the Bern Convention’s non-compliance mechanisms (F. Fleurke and A. Trouwborst, ‘European Regional Approaches to the Transboundary Conservation of Biodiversity: The Bern Convention and the EU Birds and Habitats Directives’, in L.J. Kotzé and T. Marauhn (eds.), Transboundary governance of Biodiversity, Brill/Nijhoff, 2014, 128-162; Karen N. Scott, ‘Non-compliance Procedures and the Implementation of Commitments under Wildlife Treaties’, in M.J. Bowman, P.G.G. Davies and E.J. Goodwin (eds.), Research Handbook on Biodiversity and Law, Edward Elgar, 2016, 425-428).

[3] Besides the legal protection offered by the European Court of Justice (CJEU), which has no equivalent in most MEAs, it is, under certain conditions, possible to directly or indirectly invoke EU law and legal instruments (such as Reg./Dir.) before national courts. The same is true for international law, such as the Bern Convention, but only in monist countries, where international law is accepted as a part of the national legal order. Another distinguishing feature of the EU (non-) compliance mechanisms is its preliminary reference procedure. If national courts have questions on the validity or interpretation of EU law they can refer these questions to the CJEU, which via a ruling, provides clarity on EU law, enhancing compliance. The Bern Convention, or most MEAs for that matter, do not have such a system.

[4] The Commission’s enforcement activities are usually triggered by a citizen’s complaint, often NGOs, reasoning that the nature protection directives have been badly applied. The Commission is happy to receive these complaints but requires the complainant to stay out of discussions on whether to look into the case and whether to take the case to the CJEU. The Commission only informs the complainant of the result of the negotiation between the Commission and the Member State. These negotiations are confidential: letters of formal notice or reasoned opinions are not made publicly available. The Commission’s enforcement powers are weakened by its lack of investigative and fact-checking powers. The Commission has no inspectors who could check the application of the nature directives within a Member State. (L. KRÄMER, ‘EU Enforcement of Environmental Laws: From Great Principles to Daily Practice – Improving Citizen Involvement’.)

[5] Ibid.

[6] Scott (n2) at 427.

[7] For the case-file documents in the Balkan Lynx and Lithuanian Powerline Project case (discussed under 3.1 and 3.2), see http://www.coe.int/en/web/bern-convention/-/35th-standing-committee-meeting (both discussed at the Bern Convention’s 35th Standing Committee Meeting, 1-4 December 2015).

[8] Scott (n2) at 246.

[9] The Convention requires the protection of all wildlife species at a level that corresponds to ecological requirements. Parties can also cater for economic needs but in case of conflict between ecological and economic considerations, priority is given to the former. Some animals are on Appendix II, making them strictly protected species. It is for those animals prohibited to be killed, disturbed, damaged etc. These species benefit from a protective shield of armor. Other wild animals are enlisted on Appendix III and do not benefit from the prohibition to be killed or captured. Populations of the latter animals have to be kept out of danger. The Convention also requires parties, in pretty generic terms, to ensure habitat conservation (art. 4). This provision has been further developed through the designation of Areas of Special Conservation Interest under the Emerald Network. In the European Union, the Natura 2000 sites are their contribution to the Emerald Network. (See Fleurke & Trouwborst (n2).)

[10] A topical example concerns the border fences that have been erected throughout Europe to control migrant streams. Although these fences might hinder wildlife, Contracting Parties might, and possibly successfully, argue that this is necessary to maintain public safety, a possible exception ground.

[11] Bern Convention, Article 18(2).

[12] Scott (n2) at 426.

[13] That is the combined reading of Article 18(1) that provides that the Standing Committee endeavors to facilitate the settlement of difficulties and Article 14 that mandates the Standing Committee to make recommendations and arrange meetings.

[14] Scott (n2) at 426.

[15] Ibid. at 425.

[16] This population is morphologically and genetically very distinct from other Eurasian lynx populations in Europe and thus a separate subspecies (a distinct phylogenetic lineage of the Eurasian lynx) to be regarded as a conservation unit. (Bern Convention, T-PVS/Files (2015) 41, Hydro power development within the territory of Mavrovo National Park (“The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”), Observers’ report following the on-the-spot appraisal, Report by Mr, Andràs Demeter, advisor, 35th Meeting, Strasbourg, 1-4 December 2015, 18.)

[17] Boskov Most HPP, mainly funded by the EBRD and Lukovo Pole HPP, mainly funded by the WB.

[18] Bern Convention, T-PVS/Files (2015) 36, Hydro power development within the territory of Mavrovo National Park (“The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”), On-the-spot appraisal, Report by Mr. Pierre Galland.

[19] Bern Convention, T-PVS/Files (2015) 41, Hydro power development within the territory of Mavrovo National Park (“The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”), Report by the Complainant Eko-svest; Also see Observers’ report (n16) at 22; On-the-spot appraisal report (n18) at 11.

[20] Recommendation No. 157 (2011) of the Standing Committee on the status of candidate Emerald sites and guidelines on the criteria for nomination.

[21] Recommendation No. 162 (2012) of the Standing Committee on the conservation of large carnivore populations in Europe requesting special conservation action.

[22] Recommendation No. 184 (2015) on the planned hydropower plants on the territory of the Mavrovo National Park (“The former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia”).

[23] E.g. news item on the Environmental Justice Atlas website confirms the EBRD decided to suspend funding for Boskov Most HPP until the results of the new environmental assessment are made available.

[24] E.g. joint press release by CEE Bankwatch Network, EuroNatur and Riverwatch confirmed that the WB withdrew funding for Lukovo Pole HPP.

[25] Bern Convention, T-PVS (2011) 14, Standing Committee, 31st meeting, Improving the Case-File System of the Bern Convention, document prepared by the Directorate of Culture and Cultural and Natural Heritage, 5-6.

[26] Ibid. at 6.

[27] Ibid. at 6.

[28]  Certain elements of the case pushed for mediation: the complaining NGO touched upon consequences the project would have on bird and animal life but data on species occurrence and the linkage to the conservation status of the species in the region is limited. Also, both the project investor, Nordic Investment Alliance, provided that its sustainability requirements were not breached and the Lithuanian Nature Fond argued the project did not violate environmental laws. Parties signed a Mediation Agreement consisting of 16 bullet points, amongst which practical recommendations: parties for instance agreed to adopt a monitoring plan for the species that are protected under the Bern Convention as well as installing flight diverters to make power lines visible to bird species. (Bern Convention, T-PVS/Files (2015) 51, Standing Committee, 20 October 2015, Mediation Procedure in the frame of complaint number 2013/5: presumed impact of a construction of overhead power lines (OHL) in an environmentally sensitive area in the Lithuanian-Polish borderland, Report of the visit, Document prepared by Mr Michael Usher, p. 14 for the Mediation Agreement.)

[29] I4th Annual Colloquium of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law, at which this research was presented.

[30] For an overview of the (possible) files under the Bern Convention as of 1 February 2016 see:  Bern Convention, T-PVS/Inf (2016) 2, Standing Committee, 36th Meeting, Register of Bern Convention Complaints, 1 February 2016.

 — x —

This post comes down to the written script of a recent conference presentation.  The purpose of the presentation was to lay a foundation that could serve as a basis for discussions (read: this is work in progress) on the value of the Bern Convention non-compliance mechanisms compared to the EU non-compliance mechanisms (J. DUBRULLE, 2016. Not a paper tiger, but a wily lynx: the evolving potential of the (non-) compliance mechanisms of the Bern Convention on European Wildlife Conservation, 14th Annual Colloquium of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Academy of Environmental Law, Oslo (Norway), 23 June 2016). With many thanks to Arie Trouwborst and Floor Fleurke for not only giving me the idea to investigate this but also helping me out, more than one could reasonably expect, on the general outline/direction of this presentation. Credit is due to Melissa Lewis, for her valuable comments, too. Her excellent understanding of how international environmental law works in practice refined my thinking.

 

 

 


12/03/2016

New predator sniffs out the Netherlands: golden jackal adds another chapter to its mysterious range expansion

By Arie Trouwborst (TLS)

In February 2016, Dutch researchers discovered unique footage captured by some of the automatic wildlife cameras – ‘camera traps’ – they had installed in the woods to study deer behaviour. Experts abroad confirmed the initial hunch that the animal in the pictures is a golden jackal (Canis aureus). Golden jackals are canids that howl like wolves but are as omnivorous as foxes, and in size are in between the latter two. The golden jackal is sometimes called the European coyote – and the coyote itself sometimes dubbed the American jackal. The ‘Dutch’ jackal was caught on camera in the extensive woodlands of the Veluwe area, which is part of the European Union’s protected area network Natura 2000.

Photo by Miha Krofel.

Photo by Miha Krofel.

Whereas it cannot be ruled out entirely that the jackal was released by humans or escaped from captivity, there is nothing to indicate this. The assumption, therefore, is that the animal walked into the country by itself. Indeed, the sighting concerned – however spectacular – it did not come as a complete surprise. Biologists have been documenting an impressive expansion of the golden jackal’s range in the last few decades, northward and westward from its traditional distribution in the southeast of Europe. The drivers of this expansion are not yet fully understood. Jackals have already been spotted as far north as the Baltic states and even Finland, as far west as Switzerland, and as far northwest as Denmark. Different sightings in the west of Germany in 2015 suggested it was a matter of time before the first jackal would be spotted in the low countries as well.

The recent camera trap images constitute the first confirmed record of a golden jackal in the Netherlands ever. Although it cannot be ruled out that jackals inhabited the Netherlands (very) long ago, there is no evidence to indicate they did. This makes the jackal’s visit different from the lone wolf (Canis lupus) that made a brief but exciting trip through the Netherlands last year. As discussed in a previous blog, wolves were part of the native fauna of the Netherlands until they were exterminated in the 19th century. The expected colonization of the Dutch countryside by wolves is therefore a proper comeback.

Given that the Netherlands constitute apparent terra incognita for golden jackals, the question arises how the species’ arrival should be appraised, and what government policy regarding the species would be most appropriate. This question has been faced in quite a few countries where jackals turned up beyond the species’ known historic range in recent years. In particular the question whether such animals are to be considered as an ‘alien species’ – whether invasive or not – has been a source of confusion. Such confusion is unnecessary. Widely accepted definitions agreed under international legal instruments (e.g., Convention on Biological Diversity, Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats) make it quite clear that the term ‘alien species’ only encompasses creatures originating from introductions outside their regular range by man. Jackals that have arrived on their own feet should thus not be regarded as such, and are not subject to international commitments concerning the control or eradication of invasive alien species.

The legal status of the golden jackal in the national legislation of the many countries where jackals have been recorded varies considerably. However, current international legal obligations limit the freedom of countries to decide how they wish to deal with golden jackals, including recently arriving ones. In general terms, the Bern Convention requires European states to keep jackal populations out of danger. Moreover, in EU member states like the Netherlands, the Habitats Directive imposes distinct limitations on national policy and management options regarding the golden jackal, including in scenarios where jackals are spreading to areas without historic records of their presence. The species is listed as a ‘species of Community interest’ in Annex V of the Directive. As the jackals venture across the EU, the corresponding legal regime travels along with them. For EU member states, this entails that any killing of golden jackals must be compatible with the maintenance or achievement of a favourable conservation status. To ensure this, the species must be systematically monitored. National policies preventing golden jackals from settling down and aiming for the species’ eradication are incompatible with obligations under EU law.

 Meanwhile, we can take comfort from the notion that our camera-trapped jackal is probably still out there somewhere, trotting along, sniffing for edibles and eventually a mate to settle down with, and blissfully unaware of the legal issues it is raising.

- – - x – - -

For more detailed discussion of the golden jackal’s European range expansion and the associated legal issues, see:

A. Trouwborst, M. Krofel & J.D.C. Linnell. 2015. Legal Implications of Range Expansions in a Terrestrial Carnivore: The Case of the Golden Jackal (Canis aureus) in Europe. 24 Biodiversity and Conservation 2593-2610

 


01/12/2015

Outcomes of the Meeting of the Parties to the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds

By Melissa Lewis
Grey Crowned Crane. Photo by Melissa Lewis.

A Grey Crowned Crane – one of the species for which an International Single Species Action Plan was adopted at AEWA MoP6. (Photo: M. Lewis)

During their annual movements, migratory birds traverse multiple jurisdictions, the conservation laws and policies of which may differ considerably. It is thus unsurprising that, over the past century, a myriad of international instruments have been adopted to facilitate international cooperation in bird conservation. However, a shortfall of many of these instruments is that they have either failed to encompass bird populations’ entire migration routes (‘flyways’) or failed to require that Parties take a flyway approach in implementing their provisions. The first treaty to be explicitly dedicated to flyway conservation was the 1995 Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds[i] (AEWA) – an ancilliary Agreement to the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals[ii] (CMS), which attempts to maintain or restore the favourable conservation status of 254 species of migratory waterbirds. Not only is AEWA’s ‘Agreement Area’ designed to encompass entire migration systems, but the Agreement provides for a flyway approach in respect of both habitat conservation (requiring Parties to maintain networks of suitable habitats throughout species’ entire ranges[iii]) and the conservation and management of waterbird populations themselves (requiring, for instance, that, in implementing the principle of sustainable use, Parties take populations’ full geographic ranges into account[iv]). The Agreement’s other distinguising features include, inter alia, its detailed and legally rigorous provisions and its flexibility to evolve over time – these features being facilitated by AEWA’s use of a legally binding ‘Action Plan’, which applies at the population level (allowing for a very directed and nuanced collection of conservation commitments) and is easier to amend than the Agreement text itself.[v]

This November, the sixth session of the AEWA Meeting of the Parties (MoP6) met in Bonn, Germany. With 2015 marking the 20th anniversary of AEWA’s adoption, the theme of the MoP (‘Making Flyway Conservation Happen’) reflected the Agreement’s leading role in promoting and facilitating flyway conservation, and participants both celebrated AEWA’s successes and considered the challenges facing its future implementation. Parties adopted a total of 22 resolutions, addressing a variety of scientific, technical, budgetary and administrative issues. A brief overview of these developments is provided below.

Amendments to AEWA’s Annexes

AEWA’s three annexes define the Agreement Area (Annex 1), list the species to which the Agreement applies (Annex 2), and contain the Agreement’s Action Plan and a Table of categorized populations to which the Action Plan applies (Annex 3). Although it has been suggested that the AEWA Agreement Area might ultimately be expanded to include the Central Asian Flyway,[vi] no proposal to amend Annex 1 was placed before MoP6. The MoP did, however, adopt a new standard reference for waterbird species taxonomy and nomenclature, making it necessary to amend Annex 2’s order of families and species, as well as various species’ scientific and vernacular names, so as to align these with the new standard reference. The Table in Annex 3 was similarly amended, and changes were made to the categorizations of several populations to reflect changes in their conservation status (and thus the protections to which they are entitled under the AEWA Action Plan). [vii] Unfortunately, the mismatch in timetables for AEWA listings and listings on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species[viii] meant that the recent global Red Listing of several AEWA species is not reflected in the amended categorizations and will only be taken into account at MoP7.[ix] Several Parties have also indicated that they will need to enter reservations in respect of certain changes to AEWA’s categorizations – for instance, some of the species with populations that have been up-listed are currently huntable under the EU Birds Directive, with the result that the EU will need to enter reservations in respect thereof.

Guidance

Since its entry into force, AEWA has facilitated the development of a large body of guidance on the conservation and management of waterbirds and their habitats. Such guidance takes the form of either resolutions or, more detailed, ‘Conservation Guidelines’, both of which are adopted by the MoP and, while not directly binding, inform the interpretation of provisions of the Agreement text and Action Plan. Although MoP6 did not make any amendments to the AEWA Action Plan itself, the MoP did adopt guidance on implementing the Action Plan’s population approach in national legislation, as well as guidance on the meaning of the term ‘disturbance’ (and several terms related thereto) as used in various Action Plan provisions.[x] Resolutions were also adopted regarding waterbird monitoring, sustainable use, control of non-native waterbirds, climate change adaptation, threats in the marine environment, impacts of renewable energy deployment, and the avoidance of additional and unnecessary mortality (such as that resulting from collision with, or electrocution by, power generation infrastructure; poisoning; illegal killing; incidental killing; and pollution).[xi] Rather than competing with existing guidance documents, several of these resolutions encourage AEWA Parties to utilize guidance developed under other fora, such as the CMS, Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance,[xii] and various Regional Fisheries Management Organizations. MoP6 further adopted Conservation Guidelines on renewable energy technologies and migratory species (this guidance also having been adopted by the CMS Conference of the Parties[xiii]), and national legislation for AEWA’s implementation; as well as revised Guidelines on sustainable harvest,[xiv] which revisions represent a significant improvement insofar as they attempt to address all of the motivations for harvesting waterbirds within the AEWA region rather than only harvest for recreational purposes. Finally, the MoP adopted a new AEWA Communication Strategy to guide communication efforts in support of the Agreement’s implementation.[xv]

Guidance on the Agreement’s strategic priorities is currently found in the AEWA Strategic Plan[xvi] and Plan of Action for Africa.[xvii] While both of these documents were initially to expire in 2017, the MoP has extended their lifespans until its next session (which will take place in 2018[xviii]) and instructed that revised versions for the period 2019-2027 be presented to MoP7.[xix] Unfortunately, while some progress has been made towards meeting the various objectives identified by AEWA’s current Strategic Plan, Parties are still far from achieving the Plan’s central goal of maintaining migratory waterbird species and their populations at, or restoring them to, a favourable conservation status throughout their flyways.[xx] The Secretariat’s ability to assess progress towards meeting the Strategic Plan’s objectives has also been frustrated by the failure of many Parties to submit national reports on their AEWA-implementation efforts (as is required by Art. V(c) of the Agreement). MoP6 experienced a decline in the submission rate of national reports, with only 55 per cent of the reports due being received.[xxi]

International species action and management plans

A central feature of AEWA’s work is the development and implementation of International Single Species Action and Management Plans (ISSAPs and ISMPs). Although species action and management planning per se aren’t unique to the Agreement, AEWA and the CMS are uniquely positioned to develop plans at the flyway level and, in this way, add value to the planning processes of smaller instruments, such as the EU Birds Directive. AEWA’s plans also fill a significant gap in the frameworks provided by other legal instruments insofar as they have begun (starting with the ISMP for the Svalbard population of Pink-footed Goose, which was adopted at MoP5) to implement internationally coordinated harvest management – something which has not been attempted under any other instrument operating within the Agreement Area. MoP6 adopted five new ISSAPs (adding to the 19 that had previously been adopted under the Agreement) and one revised ISSAP.[xxii] Two of these address intra-African migrants (the Grey Crowned Crane and the Shoebill), helping to dilute the largely European focus of AEWA’s earlier plans; while a further two (those for the Taiga Bean Goose and Eurasian Curlew) envisage the development of adaptive harvest management processes, but differ from the ISMP for the Pink-footed Goose insofar as they address populations which need to be restored to a favourable conservation status. The MoP also adopted AEWA’s first International Multi-species Action Plan (for Benguela upwelling system coastal seabirds), as well as a decision-making process for the revision and retirement of ISSAPs.[xxiii] In addition to instructing the AEWA Secretariat to convene AEWA International Species Working Groups to coordinate the implementation of various species action plans,[xxiv] the MoP requested the Secretariat to ‘facilitate, subject to the availability of financial resources, the establishment of a European multispecies goose management platform and process to address sustainable use of goose populations and to provide for the resolution of human-goose conflicts’, targeting not only goose populations for which ISSAPs/ISMPs are already in place, but also populations of Barnacle and Greylag Geese (for which international management plans have not yet been developed).[xxv]

Resource constraints, prioritization of AEWA’s activities, and enhancing efficiency through synergies

As is the case for many contemporary environmental treaties, resource constraints present one of the most significant hurdles to AEWA’s effectiveness. Although the core budget that MoP6 adopted for the upcoming triennium (which provides for zero nominal growth from the MoP5 budget) allocates some funding for implementing AEWA’s ‘African Initiative’, the budget is dedicated primarily to the Agreement’s administration.[xxvi] As in previous triennia, implementation activities will therefore rely predominantly upon voluntary contributions and external support. In light of this challenge, it is noteworthy that MoP6 adopted a resolution on resource mobilization for AEWA’s implementation.[xxvii]

Given the resource constraints faced by AEWA, prioritization of activities is obviously desirable. This was, to some extent, recognized at MoP6, at which Parties agreed that future lists of International Implementation Tasks (which are adopted at each MoP to guide prospective donors in their allocation of funds) be ‘more limited in extent’, and adopted a shorter list than those adopted at previous MoPs.[xxviii] For the first time, the MoP also adopted a prioritized and costed work plan summarizing the scientific and technical tasks for the AEWA Technical Committee.[xxix] In the future – and especially when the AEWA Strategic Plan is undergoing revision during this triennium – there is arguably a strong need to identify both areas in which AEWA is able to work through other instruments and organizations and areas in which the Agreement is able to make a unique contribution and should be concentrating its efforts. While some of AEWA’s ‘niche’ areas are obvious (such as the promotion of the flyway approach, the development of flyway-level species action and management plans, and sustainable use), there are other areas in which the Agreement’s role and its relationship with other instruments need to be more clearly defined – an example being the conservation of seabirds.[xxx]

In recent years, the desire to improve AEWA’s efficiency and thereby allow resources to be diverted from the Agreement’s administration towards its implementation has also resulted in various suggestions for enhancing synergies between AEWA and the CMS. Although there is a long history of cooperative efforts between AEWA and its parent Convention, the desirability of establishing more formalized synergies has been a point of controversy. Following the establishment of a pilot joint communication and outreach unit in 2014,[xxxi] MoP6 decided to take a ‘stepwise approach’ (under the control of the AEWA and CMS Standing Committees) to strengthening synergies in common service areas, but has taken note that this is not aimed at a merger of Secretariats and confirmed that the appointment of a joint Executive Secretary is not a desired option.[xxxii] This, of course, is a separate issue from whether AEWA itself should be merged with other bird-related instruments in the CMS Family – a question which has yet to be considered by the AEWA MoP, but which might arise in the future in the context of the CMS Future Shape Process.[xxxiii]

 

This post was written on the basis of the author’s participation at AEWA MoP6, in the capacity of Environmental Law Expert on the Agreement’s Technical Committee. A detailed analysis of AEWA’s evolution, unique features, and challenges is provided in: Melissa Lewis ‘AEWA at Twenty: An Appraisal of the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement and its Unique Place in International Environmental Law’ 19:1 Journal of International Wildlife Law & Policy (2016) 22-61


[i] http://www.unep-aewa.org/.

[ii] http://www.cms.int/.

[iii] AEWA Art. III(2)(d).

[iv] AEWA Action Plan para. 4.1.1.

[v] AEWA Art. X.

[vi] See Doc. UNEP/CMS/CAF3/REPORT, Annex 2.

[vii] AEWA Resolution 6.1.

[viii] http://www.iucnredlist.org/.

[ix] The need to consider these species at MoP7 is, however, is recognized in a preambular paragraph of Resolution 6.1.

[x] AEWA Resolution 6.7.

[xi] AEWA Resolutions 6.3, 6.4, 6.6, 6.9, 6.11 and 6.12.

[xii] http://www.ramsar.org/.

[xiii] CMS Resolution 11.27.

[xiv] AEWA Resolution 6.5.

[xv] AEWA Resolution 6.10.

[xvi] http://www.unep-aewa.org/en/documents/strategic-plan.

[xvii] http://www.unep-aewa.org/en/node/1984.

[xviii] AEWA Resolution 6.19.

[xix] AEWA Resolution 6.14.

[xx] See further Doc. UNEP/AEWA/MOP6.12.

[xxi] See Doc. UNEP/AEWA/MOP6.13.

[xxii] AEWA Resolution 6.8.

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] Ibid.

[xxv] AEWA Resolution 6.4.

[xxvi] AEWA Resolution 6.18.

[xxvii] AEWA Resolution 6.21.

[xxviii] AEWA Resolution 6.13.

[xxix] AEWA Resolution 6.17.

[xxx] See AEWA Resolution 6.9.

[xxxi] See Doc. UNEP/AEWA/MOP6.10Rev.1.

[xxxii] AEWA Resolution 6.22.

[xxxiii] CMS Resolution 10.9, Annex 1, action 15, read with CMS Resolution 11.14, Annex 1, action 19.


08/09/2015

Legal Efforts to Achieve Optimal Transboundary Population Level Management for European Large Carnivores

By Jennifer Dubrulle

Europe experiences a large carnivore comeback: the European Union hosts 12,000 grey wolves (Canis lupus), 17,000 brown bears (Ursus arctos) and 10,000 Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx). Most of these populations (8/10 wolf populations; 8/10 for bear; 10/11 for lynx) do not live within the boundaries of one country and are shared by two or more countries.[1] It is widely accepted that conservation planning for these species should be adjusted to the biological unit of each population, rather than to international frontiers. As EU Member States provide different levels of protection for large carnivores legal fragmentation arises.[2] It becomes then increasingly difficult, taking population sink effects [3] into account, to maintain viable large carnivore populations without a neighbour’s help.

Detailed criteria for optimal transboundary population level management (TPLM) are set out in the Guidelines for Population Level Management Plans for Large Carnivores (Carnivore Guidelines).[4][5] I analyse the role of the applicable international legal framework as regards the implementation of TPLM. Key instruments are the Bern Convention on European Wildlife Conservation and the EU Habitats Directive. For two sets of large carnivore populations, the Alpine and Carpathian ones, additional legal instruments are in place, that is the Alpine and Carpathian Conventions with their Protocols on biodiversity.

The first criterion of the Carnivore Guidelines requires a shift of focus from the management of transboundary populations at the national level to the population level. The drafters of the Bern Convention and the Habitats Directive focused obligations principally at the national level. Gradually measures were taken under both instruments to overcome this potential shortcoming by respectively adopting Recommendations (Bern Convention) and guidance (Habitats Directive) calling for TPLM. These instruments are not legally binding and therefore uncertainty remains whether population management must be carried out at the population level/and or at the national level.[6] Achieving management at the population level is further complicated by the scope of the Bern Convention and the Habitats Directive. Their scope coincides with the country’s border of the Contracting Parties, respectively Member States. In other words, these countries commit each individually to only protect large carnivores present within their own borders. In contrast, the Alpine Convention and the Carpathian Convention require large carnivore management to be conducted at the population level, through a combination of legally binding provisions and non-binding guidance and the fact that the scope of these mountain regimes coincides with the biological unit (that is the Alpine and Carpathian mountain ranges), which coincides approximately with the contours of the large carnivore populations concerned. By way of explanation, the Contracting Parties of the Alpine and Carpathian Convention commit collectively to protect large carnivores wherever present throughout the mountain range, going beyond strict adherence to country borders.

A second criterion requires the operationalization of TPLM through the development of management plans at the population level. The commitments to draw up TPLM plans enshrined in the Bern Convention’s Recommendations are not legally binding. Whereas the Habitats Directive guidance requires TPLM plans to be drawn up this obligation is not binding either. It cannot be considered an obligation of result as a Member State cannot be held responsible for the failure to develop a management plan if one (or more) of its neighbours does not agree to develop such a plan. It is solely an obligation of effort.[7]Conversely, for Contracting Parties of the mountain regimes stronger commitments apply regarding the development of transboundary management plans.

Legal fragmentation under the Bern Convention and Habitats directive

Legal fragmentation under the Bern Convention and Habitats directive

A third criterion of the Carnivore Guidelines requires that best management practices are developed and applied. The four international and European legal instruments under discussion set up structures to ensure actual implementation of TPLM. The Bern Convention’s Group of Experts on the Conservation of Large Carnivores in Europe facilitates TPLM by monitoring Contracting Parties’ implementation of this obligation. The 2014 terms of reference of the EU Platform on Coexistence between People and Large Carnivores provide that the Platform facilitates TPLM and the implementation of the LIFE program, although this program so far [8] primarily attacks threats at a local scale, contributes to the population’s viability too. Under the mountain regimes significant progress has been made towards achieving common monitoring and management measures for large carnivores throughout the mountain ranges. The Carpathian Working Group on Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biological and Landscape Diversity develops common monitoring standards and BioREGIO Carpathians developed common management measures in transboundary pilot areas. The Alpine Working Group Large Carnivores, Wild Ungulates and Society Platform develops common monitoring standards and is expected to propose common management standards for the Alpine region by 2016.

In the end, even if full-fledged transboundary population level management has not yet been achieved for any population (no transboundary management plans have been adopted yet for Europe’s large carnivore populations)[9] the two mountain regimes have distinct features that make them better equipped for achieving actual implementation of TPLM than the Bern Convention and Habitats Directive.

This blog post is the result of discussions at the Environmental Law Lunch of June 8 @ Tilburg University and a poster presentation [8MB PDF] at the International Congress for Conservation Biology and European Congress for Conservation Biology (3-7 August 2015, Montpellier).


[1] G. Chapron et al, Recovery of large carnivores in Europe’s modern human-dominated landscapes, Science 346, 2014, 1517-1519.

[2] E.g. while a wolf is strictly protected in the Czech Republic (Habitats Directive Annex IV) it is culled in neighbouring Slovakia (Habitats Directive Annex V).

[3] The theory of source-sink dynamics applied to large carnivores in a transboundary context goes as follows: a source subpopulation in country B, where reproduction exceeds mortality, becomes a sink subpopulation because of intensive culling, where reproduction fails to compensate for mortality. This sink subpopulation can then no longer subsidize another sink population (for instance, because of low habitat quality) in country A causing the decline of the metapopulation; Carnivore Guidelines, 19, fn 10; R.W. Howe and G.J. Davis, The demographic significance of ‘sink’ populations, Biological Conservation, 57, 1991, 239.

[4]J.D.C. Linnell, V. Salvatori and L. Boitani, Guidelines for Population Level Management Plans for Large Carnivores in Europe, European Commission, Brussels, 2008,  http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/conservation/species/
carnivores/pdf/guidelines_for_population_level_management.pdf
.

[5] One of the criteria that is ‘operationalizing favorable conservation status for large carnivores’ is not discussed here. This criterion goes deep into science, Carnivore Guidelines, 14-25. The interdisciplinary research project Claws & Laws of the Department of Ecology of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and the Faculty of Law of Uppsala University aims to clarify the concept of Favourable Conservation Status by linking law and ecology (the project runs from January 2014 to December 2016), http://www.clawsandlaws.eu/.

[6] A. Trouwborst, Living with Success – and with Wolves: Addressing the Legal Issues Raised by the Unexpected Homecoming of a Controversial Carnivore, European Energy and Environmental Law Review, 23(3), 2014, 96-97.

[7] A. Trouwborst, Living with Success – and with Wolves: Addressing the Legal Issues Raised by the Unexpected Homecoming of a Controversial Carnivore, European Energy and Environmental Law Review, 23(3), 2014, 100.

[8] The publication ‘LIFE and human coexistence with large carnivores’ by J.P. Silva et al, 2013 provides its time for LIFE to move from the local to the population level, 68-69, http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/conservation/species/carnivores/
pdf/life_and_human_coexistence_with_large_carnivores.pdf
.

[9] J.C. Blanco, Towards a population level approach for the management of large carnivores in Europe. Challenges and opportunities, European Commission, Brussels, 2013, http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/conservation/species/carnivores/
pdf/task_3_transboundary_coop.pdf
, 5.

Category: Europe, Wildlife

26/04/2015

Monitoring and conservation of large carnivores in Europe

By Jennifer Dubrulle

Jennifer Dubrulle, junior member of the Ius Carnivoris project, a Tilburg University research project on the role of law in conserving and restoring wolves, bears and other European large carnivores, participated in a Large Carnivore Monitoring project in the Beskedy mountains in Slovakia. The project aims to track large carnivores and accurately map their presence in numbers. It is essential to correctly estimate the population numbers as hunting quotas are based on these estimations. Overestimations mean higher quotas, more carnivores shot, which might endanger the population’s viability. Underestimations mean lower quotas, less carnivores shot, which might negatively impact economic/recreational interests of hunters.

Lynx caught on camera

Lynx caught on camera

The high of our trip was the capture of a (well-known to be shy) lynx on our camera trap. We also were lucky enough to see quite some fresh tracks of bears, wolves, lynx, fox and hazel grouse and see wild animals (wood mouse, three-toed woodpecker), their remains (roe deer prey) and scats (wolves and lynx). All of this is well-documented in the photo-album .

The low of the trip was feeling the reality of living where large carnivores live. Shy from human presence, they often live in remote, difficult accessible, areas. The transformation from a domesticated office cat to a wild lynx was physically challenging.

Category: Europe, Wildlife

02/05/2011

Connectivity

By Jonathan Verschuuren (TLS)

26 April, 2011

Scientists are seeing the first effects of climate change primarily in natural phenomena. Migratory birds are returning earlier or they do not migrate at all. Butterflies are being seen in completely new habitats. Plants are growing at higher altitudes. Biologists investigating these phenomena conclude that many species will die out simply because there is a limit to their ability to adapt. A bird may return from its migration early, but if the caterpillar which is its main food source does not appear as expected, then the bird will not survive. And mountains are only so tall: plants cannot grow beyond the summit! Scientists are impressing upon policymakers the need for large, interlinked nature reserves. This will give plants and animals space to migrate to new, suitable habitats.

‘Connectivity’ is a hot topic in Australia, as it is in many other countries. Several initiatives have been put forward to create natural corridors between current nature preserves crossing through agricultural areas and towns and cities. By developing clever projects with the close involvement of private parties and local communities, natural corridors stretching for thousands of kilometers can be created, such as the ‘great eastern ranges corridor’ that stretches along the entire eastern Australian coast. Despite the call for greater connectivity, the current cabinet in the Netherlands is phasing out the ‘ecological main structure’, mainly to save money and because of opposition from the agricultural sector. The ‘great eastern ranges project’ does not have many financial resources. Rather, a local, project-based approach is used that offers small financial incentives to emphasize the ecological and economic benefits and to encourage landowners to get on board. The way in which the Netherlands’ policy on ecology is currently being communicated and implemented pales into insignificance when one compares it with the enthusiasm and passion displayed by Australian politicians who are active in this policy area at the state and local levels.

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