tiistai 15. lokakuuta 2013

Success in Finnish wolf policy

When thinking about Finnish wolf policy, success is not the first thing that comes to mind. This is because the number of wolves barely exceeds 125 individuals, the modern peak being some 250 wolves (25 breeding pairs) in the spring of 2006. In 1996, one year after Finland joined the EU, the number was higher than it is today. In terms of population trends, the wolf policy has not been a success story. If, however, one looks at governmental wolf-related actions in more detail, many events, processes and decisions have been pushing human-wolf co-existence towards more sustainable pathways. In what follows, we explicate some features of this success through the policy cycle.

Problem identification

Policy design begins with a problem, a need to adjust the institutional setup or administrative procedures. One of the successful features in Finnish wolf policy has been the on-going, pertinent dialogue between the Finnish government and the European Commission about wolves in Finland. Because an initial informal dialogue did not produce the desired outcomes, the Commission initiated an Infringement Procedure on Finnish wolf policy in 2001. During the process, alleged policy problems were examined and reasoned. As a consequence, Finland was called to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in 2005 and, two years later, was found guilty of the unselective hunting of wolves. In response to the ECJ judgment, Finland started a process of renewing the administrative procedures and mechanisms for enforcing the strict protection of the wolf. The problem-orientated informal dialogue is still on-going between Finland and the Commission, the focus being placed on the illegal hunting of wolves. As dialogue is a two-way process, the Commission has become better informed about the social and cultural conditions and consequences of the wolf’s presence on densely populated human areas.

Policy design

In the face of declining wolf populations and the pressure imposed by the Commission, the wolf protection rules in Finland have become tighter and tougher. There have been four major institutional adjustments over a rather short period of time. First, the nominal values of some endangered large carnivores were multiplied by more than five times (2010). Second, the severe hunting crime category was introduced into the Finnish Criminal Code (2011).Third, a new Wildlife and Game Administration Act (2011) was enacted, which recentralised decision-making on derogation from the strict protection of the wolf. Forth, the so-called ‘yard wolf decree’ was introduced in 2013. With the decree, the government re-articulated and hence created a new category according to which derogation from the strict protection of the wolf can happen: a yard wolf is a wolf that repeatedly visits human settlements – i.e. the wolf does not necessarily cause damage or an acute threat to human safety, but the repetitive and continuous presence of the species creates a risk and may potentially be of danger to human safety. These four adjustments show that the Finnish government and wildlife administration are capable of acting and have the capacity to adjust the rules of the game when facing sufficient pressure either from the European Union or from civil society.

Policy implementation

The wolf is a game animal in Finnish legislation. Paradoxically, it is a strictly protected game animal. Wolf policy is a conservation policy lead by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the ministry whose main purpose is to erect institutional and policy scaffoldings for the utilisation of natural resources and game species. It comes as no surprise that the implementation of wolf policy has involved policing for derogation from the strict protection. The processes of applying and deciding on the licences to derogate have become the key procedure of wolf protection. In the spirit of good governance required in the Administrative Law, along a sequence of applications, the regional wildlife agencies have helped candidates to improve the quality of their applications. Consequently, the process of asking for and giving reasons to derogate has developed considerably. In addition, the environmental NGOs have a say in the process, since they are entitled to submit their set of reasons for or against the applied licence. In this respect, the administrative rules, procedures and practices have become more evidence-based, participatory and transparent. The fact that the derogation policy is now exercised strictly according to the rules and spirit of the Habitats Directive and Finnish Hunting Act may indeed be considered as a policy success.

Policy evaluation

One of the criteria for a successful policy is policy makers’ sensitivity to feedback. In Finland, after almost twenty years of formal EU-driven wolf policing, the government and wildlife administration have acknowledged the existence of critical civil society voices and the fact that it is worth the effort to take their concerns, desires and hopes into consideration. The mechanism for hearing these voices has hitherto been missing, however. Now, the updating process of the management plan for the wolf, which will begin in autumn 2013, will provide such an arena. The wildlife administration has already started to frame the process as ‘wolf territory politics’. What this means in detail is still an open question. But as tentatively articulated, the purpose of territory politics is to anchor the managerial activities on territory level and collaboratively design voluntary economic incentives to live with the wolves. This may well become a policy success. The government and the wildlife administration are now taking the first steps towards dialogue with civil society and its citizens and interest groups.


Even though the jurisdiction and the government have their important roles in policy design, implementation and enforcement, the practical dimension, i.e. the managerial task of identifying the real-life constraints, enabling structures and incentives for coping with the presence of the wolf, belongs to the Finnish Wildlife Agency and Regional Wildlife Councils. This is because according to the Wildlife and Game Administration Act, the latter leads and coordinates regional wildlife policy and the former administrates the regional managerial wildlife activities. Perhaps, indeed, the recognition of the multitude of motivated voices from civil society, the necessity to exercise collaborative ‘territory politics’ and the administrative obligation to make wolf policy reasonable will become the key features of future wolf policy. The future will show where the more nuanced elements of success and obstacles will emerge.

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