Oslo (AFP) - Norway's government on Friday paved the way to widen the culling of wolves, a policy move that incensed green campaigners seeking to protect the endangered species.
Pressured by farmers and parliament, Climate and Environment Minister Vidar Helgesen presented a draft amendment expanding the legal possibilities for killing wolves, even in areas where their presence is officially tolerated.
Until now, only predators that represent a "potential nuisance", by attacking sheep and other livestock, have been allowed to be killed.
The draft amendment widens this to allow culling when wolves interfere with specific human activities. Under certain conditions, wolves may be killed "for recreational and cultural considerations, among others".
The legal text gives an example of this: if wolves prove to be detrimental to moose, which are hunted in Norway, local wildlife managers could be authorised to reduce the number of predators.
Last winter, Rovdata, a Norwegian agency which monitors predators, recorded between 65 and 68 wolves in the country, where they are classified as critically endangered, and at least 25 others in regions bordering Sweden.
Helgesen said it was impossible to say exactly how many wolves were likely to be killed.
"It's a decision that makes it possible to take out a small number. What is a small number? This is arbitrary," he told a news conference in Oslo.
The wolf issue is thorny in the Scandinavian country where breeders, hunters and forest owners are often hostile to the predators, unlike nature conservationists and a large part of the population.
"Changing the law to shoot more endangered animals is outrageous, especially in the so-called eco nation Norway," WWF-Norway head Nina Jensen said in a statement.
Norway is home to nine breeding wolf packs, including seven purely Norwegian ones. This is more than the target set by the parliament which aims for four to six packs, including at least three solely Norwegian ones.
In December, the rightwing government slashed the number of wolves to be killed to 15 from 47, which the regional wildlife management authorities wanted to allow.
But the parliament instructed the government to review this decision, leading to the minority government's announcement on Friday.
The new proposal is likely to enjoy a parliamentary majority with the notable exception of the small Liberal party, a traditional ally of the centre-right.