Press release 21.04.2023
The court has ruled in Estonia: the national hunting quota of 90 brown bears was illegal
In an official decision made on the 6th of April 2023, the Tallinn Administra-tive Court, Estonia, ruled to annul the order for a hunting quota of the Brown Bear (Ursus arctos)* for the winter 2022/2023. The contested order was issued by the Estonian Environment Board on the 29th of July 2022. The court found that the hunting quota was against the provisions of exist-ing environmental law. “It is an important ruling for preventing similar orders in the future”, stated Eleri Lopp, frontwoman of Estonian Carnivore Associ-ation. “Though these bears were killed already, the officials must not issue such an illegal quota in the future anymore”.
The court ruling should guide the large carnivore policy in direction of sound science and the proper implementation of environmental law. Ac-cording to Ms. Lopp, Estonia has violated the Habitats Directive of the Eu-ropean Union by allowing for many years the large-scale hunting of this strictly protected large carnivore. Lopp also stresses that the beekeepers should fence their hives in order to prevent damages. Brown bear visits to the apiaries are the main driver for issuing the hunting quotas for brown bears. Lopp: “I am a beekeeper myself, and can easily prevent the dam-ages by fencing the hives. It is an easy and cheap preventive method – a feasible alternative for large-scale culling of bears. The fencing costs are actually even compensated by government”.
The Administrative Court, the first instance of the three-level court system in Estonia, also relied in its decision on the preliminary rulings already made by European Court of Justice, including the case C-674/17 (§ 27). The ruling is consistent with previous court decisions on the same legal is-sue. Main points from the court ruling (in Estonian, diary no 3-22-1629):
1. In order to decide whether to authorize the hunting quota for the strictly protected species, the relevant official should validate that all three precon-ditions required by Habitats Directive article 16 have been met, including the assessment and implementation of alternative non-lethal methods.
2. Brown bears can be selectively hunted for preventing severe damage only if the killing actually limits the damage; and only in condition that the
hunting does not undermine the conservation status of the species; causes and effects have to be scientifically proven and controlled.
3. The annulled order did not allocate a hunting quota which was propor-tional to the actual damage to apiary regions and thus the precondition to effectively prevent severe damage was not met. This is against the prelimi-nary ruling of European Court of Justice: the exemption to kill a strictly pro-tected species must be determined clearly and precisely, and only for ac-cepted reasons as stated in the Habitats Directive article 16.
4. The lowering of population size or the preventing of an increase of brown bear population are not acceptable reasons to kill brown bears.
5. The rationale of the annulled order did not prove scientifically that the in-crease of brown bear population is the causal reason for the increase of damages in apiaries (editor’s comment: for example, there may be in actu-ality an increasing trend to place apiaries to the territories of bears; or be-cause under the new national compensation system damages are being re-ported relatively more frequently than before, as there is a financial incen-tive to report the damages).
6. The hunting quota was allocated first and foremost to the regions with higher densities of brown bears – according to Habitats Directive article 16, the density rate alone is not an accepted rationale to approve the killing of brown bears.
7. The authority issuing the annulled order was not able to prove that the observed damage rate was related to the density-dependence rate of brown bears.
8. Keeping up apprehension (shyness) of brown bears is not an accepted rationale of the Habitats Directive to issue a hunting quota for brown bears.
*According to the EU Habitats Directive article 12, brown bear is a strictly protected species (in-cluded in Annex IV).
Estonian Carnivore Association (a non-governmental organization)
Photo: @Eleri Lopp