Five jailed for illegal wolf hunt in historic ruling
Five men have been sentenced to jail in Norway for organising an illegal wolf hunt, in a landmark case for the country.
The harshest sentence was handed down to Dennis Roger Nordahl, who was found guilty of killing a wolf on March 14, 2014. He claimed that he had mistaken the animal for a fox.
All five men were also found guilty of hunting and shooting at three other wolves without harming them the next day. Wolves have conservation status in Europe and can only be hunted in special circumstances.
"This is an historic judgement," Nina Jensen, head of the conservation group WWF in Norway told public broadcaster NRK.
"Never before has someone been convicted for illegal hunting," she said, adding that she hoped the ruling would act as a deterrent to other illegal hunters.
The case against the men was backed up with police surveillance of telephone calls.
Prosecutor Tarjei Istad said that although the men received more lenient sentences than what he had requested, they were certainly enough to give wolf hunters "a clear signal that they risked sitting in jail for a long time".
"I hope that the verdict will mean that we get back on the right track so that the wolf population is no longer managed by illegal hunting," he said.
Wolves are protected in Europe under the 1979 Bern Convention as well as the European Union's Habitats Directive. Norway had between 34 and 36 wolves at the last count and a further 39 living between Norway and neighbouring Sweden and Finland.
Since 2010 Norway has included wolves on a list of species in critical danger of extinction and hunting is only allowed in exceptional cases where the predators threaten livestock.
Nonetheless, researchers believe most wolves in Sweden are killed in illegal hunts.
The Norwegian Association of Hunters and Anglers said it "totally distanced" itself from the convicted hunters who have appealed the ruling.
Nordahl, the group’s 48-year-old ringleader, was sentenced to one year and eight months in prison and banned from hunting for five years.
The other four received sentences of between six months and a year, as well as hunting bans of between two and five years. A sixth man was acquitted. Four of the men, including Nordahl, have appealed the ruling.
The wolf was briefly eradicated in Norway in the 1960s, but breeding pairs slowly began coming across the border from Finland and Sweden from the 1980s onwards, rebuilding the population to perhaps 30 today.
Petter Wabakken, a wolf expert at Hedmark University, estimates that roughly half of the wolves killed in Norway every season are killed in illegal hunts.
As well as being charged with a series of environmental crimes and firearms offences, the men were prosecuted under Norway’s organised crime laws.