Brown bears (Ursus arctos) in Eastern Europe may be imperiled by a dramatically increased annual kill in the Republic of Slovenia, a relatively new nation that declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. On October 10, 2002, Slovenia's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food (MAFF) issued a permit allowing an extra 34 brown bears to be killed in the 2002/2003 hunt season-this, in addition to the previously approved 70 bears.
The total legal kill of 104 bears represents approximately 25% of the nationwide population of about 450 animals. The new cull numbers signify a considerable jump from previous years, where half as many animals were allowed to be hunted. According to Dr. Boris Kryštufek of the Slovenian Museum of Natural History, Slovenia "hosts one of the most important populations of brown bears in Europe....it is doubtful that the population size is large enough to cope" with the expanded slaughter. Opposition to the expanded kill has come from animal protection organizations including the Animal Welfare Institute, as well as authorities including the International Association for Bear Research and Management, and the Bear Specialist Group (BSC) of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Species Survival Commission. In a letter to the MAFF Minister, Franc But, the BSC notes, "The long term status of bear populations in nations such as Austria, Italy, and Croatia are all significantly influenced by actions in your country." The Chairman of the Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe warns that the European brown bear's current range "is grouped in few dangerously small and highly fragmented populations, representing the remnants of the former range, and is still threatened with extinction." According to the Group of Experts on Conservation of Large Carnivores' 2000 "Action Plan for the Conservation of the Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) in Europe" brown bears in Slovenia are threatened particularly by domestic forestry practices, habitat fragmentation, and traffic kills.
Serious concerns have been raised, however, alleging that the cull numbers were based on inaccurate, inflated bear population data, and some nongovernmental organizations have questioned the government's methodology for counting Slovenia's resident bears. Also at issue is the claim that the additional kill is necessary to alleviate problems associated with increasing human-bear conflicts. Humans are rapidly expanding into bear habitat, even to the point of establishing government-subsidized sheep breeding operations in core areas of brown bear territory. The head of Slovenia's Department for Wildlife in the Slovenia Forest Service has acknowledged that officials there will consider other plans for dealing with bear management issues including habitat improvement, regulating the breeding of small livestock, and cracking down on bear-attracting illegal refuse dumps, but they are unwilling to reduce the cull numbers. Brown bears in Slovenia are considered a "protected" species and have been as early as 1935 when an ordinance prevented the shooting, killing, buying, and selling of bears in certain districts in the country. However, they are also listed as "game" animals, meaning there can be a regulated hunt. Slovenia, one of the first European countries to protect its brown bears, now threatens to decimate its own population.
YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
There is great concern over reports that another overzealously high quota of 80 bears has been approved for the 2003/2004 season. Further, we fear that an additional permit may again be issued for a take as high as 120! Please write objecting to this irrationally and unscientifically large kill:
Minister Franc But
Ministry of Agriculture
Forestry and Food
Ministrstvo za kmetijstvo
gozdarstvo in prehrano
Republic of Slovenia.