Archive for September, 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,

[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),

[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,

[9] J.C. Blanco, Towards a population level approach for the management of large carnivores in Europe. Challenges and opportunities, European Commission, Brussels, 2013,
, 5.

Category: Europe, Wildlife

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