Wolves are protected in the Alps under Annex II of the Habitats Directive and the Alpine wolf population is recognised as a unique entity under EU guidelines for large carnivores. Since the 1990s the wolf has naturally recovered in the western Alps of Italy and France, and in 2012 also spread into the Central Alps from the Italian and Dinaric populations. Since 2018, the wolf population has been increasing in density in the Western Alps and expanding further into the Central-Eastern Alps.
A network to coordinate wolf population management was set up in Italy and Slovenia under the LIFE WOLFALPS project. But because its institutions are fragmented, an overall conservation approach has never been implemented. Wolves continue to suffer from poisoning, public controversy and conflicts with livestock husbandry and hunters. Habitat fragmentation is increasing, partly due to growing tourism, and optimal reproductive sites are diminishing. In addition, interbreeding with dogs has been recorded as another threat.
The goal of the LIFE WOLFALPS EU project is to improve wolf human coexistence at the Alpine wolf population level by implementing coordinated actions over the entire Alpine ecosystem. This will cover both the areas of longer-term presence (Western Alps) and recent re-colonisation (Central-Eastern Alps), based on identified threats to the species.
The main objectives are: overcome current fragmented management practices at both local and national level and apply an overall coordination approach for the first time in Europe by: - developing and strengthening a wolf alpine network at technical and institutional level; - estimating the entire Alpine wolf population and threat impacts; - detecting and responding to wolf-dog cross-breeding events and injured wolves; - reducing poisoning and poaching; explore the sources of conflict hotspots and develop best practice solutions by: - implementing new preventative approaches which decrease the impact on livestock husbandry; - increasing knowledge on wolves and countering mass-media disinformation; - working with hunters to evaluate the role of wolves in predator-prey hunting dynamics and developing economically-sustainable ecotourism.
The project will contribute to the Habitats Directive by improving the coexistence between humans and wolves. It will also support the restoration of ecosystems and their services and address the global biodiversity crisis, focusing on the EU 2020 Biodiversity strategy.
Expected results: establish five international Alpine working groups (technical, scientific, communication, administrative and policy); agree common methodologies and criteria on efficient transboundary wolf surveillance and conservation at population level; establish around 25 Wolf prevention intervention units - WPIU which conduct over 800 WPIU interventions across the Alps; provide around 90 training workshops for at least 2 000 wardens and other technicians on wolf surveillance techniques, and over 25 training sessions for WPIU on anti-poaching, livestock damage assessment and prevention; remove at least two detected hybrid individuals and recover at least three injured wolves; wolf damage reduced by 70% where attacks occur in wolf presence areas with preventive measures implemented by WPIU; at least 80% of involved farmers use damage prevention methods; establish at least seven new anti-poisoning dog units and maintain another five;reduce wolf mortality rate by poisoning in identified hot spot areas by at least 20%; produce new wolf eco-tourism and guidelines, including around 65 wolf-friendly ecotourism events; at least 5 000 children involved in the Life Alpine Young Ranger Programme, 3 000 in education activities, 300 project ambassadors trained and an international network of around 30 Alpine protected areas set up; four local predator-prey-hunter evaluations conducted with at least one wolf and 10 prey radio-collared under each; at least a 15% increase in knowledge and attitude scores among hunters, local inhabitants, public opinion and schools, and at least a 10% increase in positive media reporting on wolves; stakeholder conflict hotspots reduced by at least 30%; spatial requirements of wolves are taken into account in environmental impact assessment studies in around 30 Natura 2000 sites; wolf mortality by traffic decreased by at least 50% on identified routes.