The Current Status of Populations
Europe's large carnivores are currently distributed among 42 nations, each with unique cultural values for biodiversity and different legal platforms for conservation. This cultural, political, and legal diversity within Europe presents major challenges for the conservation of internationally listed species, which often exist in transboundary populations that fall across several international jurisdictions. Management fragmentation is made worse by the fact that many European countries (e.g. Austria, Spain, Germany) are federal countries where responsibility for nature conservation has been decentralised to many sub-national jurisdictions. Large carnivores have all the characteristics of species that are difficult to manage at the scale of Europe's small administrative units: they live at low densities (typically less than 3/100 km2), have home range size up to 1000 km2 and dispersal distances of more than 1000 km (Linnell and Boitani 2012).
In an attempt to facilitate carnivore management at the appropriate scale of biologically meaningful units instead of administrative compartments, the European Commission approved a set of “Guidelines for population level management plans” (Linnell et al. 2008) and identified the main populations across the continent. The populations were identified based on several criteria such as the discontinuity in distribution, geographic features, the species' dispersal distance and the ecological and management contexts. Out of 30 populations (see below), only four occur within a single country and some span up to eight countries. Kaczensky et al. (2013) recently reviewed the conservation status of the European large carnivores in 2012 using data collected by a network of experts across Europe. The following sections are drawn from their report.
The total number of brown bears in Europe is estimated to be about 17,000 individuals. They occur in 22 countries and 10 main populations (Fig. 4.1): Scandinavian, Karelian, Baltic, Carpathian, DinaricPindos, Eastern Balkan, Alpine, Central Apennine, Cantabrian, and Pyrenean. The largest population is the Carpathian population (> 7000 bears), followed by the Scandinavian and DinaricPindos populations (> 3000 bears). The other populations are much smaller ranging from several hundred (e.g. Karelian c. 850, Baltic c. 700, Cantabrian c. 200) to less than a hundred (e.g. Central Apennine 40–70, Alps 45–50, Pyrenean 22–27). Only two
Fig. 4.1 Distribution of bears and their populations in Europe in 2012. Dark cells permanent occurrence, Grey cells sporadic occurrence. (From Kaczensky et al 2013)
small populations (Alpine and Pyrenean) have been reinforced with animals translocated from Slovenia.
Trends in number and range expansion are generally positive: all populations are either stable in number or show an increase (Scandinavian, Karelian, DinaricPindos, Baltic, Cantabrian, and Pyrenean); their range is also stable or slightly expanding. With the exception of the small populations of the Cantabrian, Central Apennine and Pyrenees, no populations are threatened and most of them are well protected by effective legislation that severely limits human-induced mortality. The Habitats Directive provides full protection for all bears in the European Union under Annex IV, although moderate culling is allowed under article 16 derogations in Sweden, Finland, Romania, Estonia, Bulgaria, Slovenia and Slovakia. Overall, the level of conflict with human activity is surprisingly low for such an opportunistic species that feeds on a large variety of items. With the notable exception of Norway, Spain and Slovenia, all other countries pay small amounts in compensation for bear damages to livestock and other agricultural products. The overall cost of compensation in Europe is in the order of 3 million € per year (Kaczensky et al. 2013). In spite of their size and potential for being dangerous to human lives, bears in Europe are not a significant threat to humans and injuries or lethal attacks are limited to a few occasional cases.