Ecologists in Action and the wildlife association Lobo Marley (‘Marley Wolf’) are among those who call the new rules ‘indecent and criminal’.
“They’re hiding behind the excuse of controlling the population, whereas what they actually want to do is wipe out the species altogether,” complains Lobo Marley manager Luis Miguel Domínguez.
The annual total of 143 would indeed clear the entire centre-northern region of wolves – in the provinces to the north of the river Duero, only 113 are on record: 53 in the province of León, 40 in that of Zamora, 15 in Burgos, five in Valladolid and none at all in Soria.
This means that, in practice, well over half of those killed by hunters will be from Portugal, a country which enjoys huge sums in European Union conservation funds for controlled breeding programmes to increase its wolf population.
“A wolf can wander 100 kilometres in one night without tiring,” Domínguez explains.
“And this new rule has nothing to do with protecting livestock from them. In the province of Zamora [which borders onto north-eastern Portugal], which has more wolves and sheep than anywhere else in Spain, the incidence of attacks by the former on the latter is the lowest in the country – 0.7% of all livestock, not even one in 100.”
Despite no official census for wolves being held, even though conservationists have been pushing for it, the regional government of Castilla y León has ‘unilaterally decided’ there are more than 2,000 in their part of Spain, one of the country’s largest autonomous communities in terms of land mass.
But Domínguez believes fewer than 1,500 are still alive.
And Jorge Echegaray, a graduate in environmental science who has worked with organisations such as Ecologists in Action, the ‘arbitrary’ number cited by the regional government is ‘neither objective nor verifiable from outside’, and is ‘not subject to international or scientific standards’.
“The government of Castilla y León is not taking into account the environmental role of the wolf – large carnivores should not be a target for hunters, because their very existence has a positive effect on the health of nature, and consequently, on rural public assets,” Echegaray explains.
Laws covering population control north of the Duero have been ‘widely legalised through the courts’ thanks to battles by ecological associations, says the ‘green graduate’.
Also, the 143 wolves which can be hunted are in addition to those killed by forestry agents or by farmers shooting them to protect their livestock, which account for at least another 50.
“For every wolf legally killed, another six will be slaughtered without permission,” warns Echegaray.
Between 2008 and 2014, a total of 944 wolves were killed, according to environmentalists’ records, but only 333 were shot by licenced hunters in the first six seasons.
Echegaray concludes: “In the last 26 years, we have only detected three new litters, so we should be looking to increase the population, not hunt them down.”
The ‘licence to kill’ goes against Spain’s national laws on conservation and also breaches EU rules, the charities say.