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Wolf-free zone? Anti-predator initiative finds strong support

Many people in Valais would prefer that the wolves not come forth and multiply.

Many people in Valais would prefer that the wolves not come forth and multiply.

(Keystone)

Thousands of people are calling for canton Valais in south-western Switzerland to be a predator-free zone. Their initiative specifically targets the wolf, the lynx and the bear. 

The people’s initiative, launched by the Christian Democratic Partyexternal link and the Upper Valais Christian-Social People’s Partyexternal link, is supposed to build on the cantonal constitution, which calls for the local government to defend Valais from large predators and to keep their numbers down. Specifically, it bans their import into and release within the canton, along with any activity promoting large populations. 

The initiative is designed to regulate the local populations more precisely, and it would allow Valais to decide just how many wolves and lynx it wants to tolerate. 

Over the years, farmers have often complained about predators killing their livestock. Last autumn, wildlife authorities confirmed the presence of a wolf pack – two parents and at least three cubs – in Upper Valais for the first time. Some 9,500 people signed the initiative; at this level, it takes just 6,000 valid signatures to bring such an initiative to vote. 

Livestock-guarding dogs 

However, the initiative contradicts the Bern Conventionexternal link, a European treaty for conserving wildlife. Canton Valais would not be allowed to terminate its obligation to adhere to the convention. 

At a media conference in Sion on Monday evening, national parliamentarian Roberto Schmidt said he would exert pressure on the Swiss government. 

“For WWF, the initiative is not an important political issue. Even if it goes through, it won’t change anything,” Laura Schmid, head of WWF Switzerlandexternal link’s Upper Valais branch, told swissinfo.ch. “There are already measures in place to regulate numbers and protect local livestock.” 

For example, a federal programme promotes the use of livestock-guarding dogs to deter predators. Wolf attacks are rare when the herd is protected sufficiently, Schmid noted. 

According to WWF, Switzerland is home to about 160 lynx and 30-35 wolves. Some 40-50 bears live in the Alps, but not in Switzerland, where they are considered extinct.

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