Environmental Board disputes court ruling to suspend all bear hunting

There are around 1,000 bears in Estonia, with some making their way as far as Latvia.
There are around 1,000 bears in Estonia, with some making their way as far as Latvia. Source: bobjagendorf/Creative Commons

The Environmental Board (Keskonnaamet) is disputing a ruling by the first-tier Tallinn Administrative Court that all bear culling must be suspended forthwith. The NGO Eesti Suurkiskjad, an animal rights lobby group, claims that the board has been violating the law for years.

Bears, excluding mothers with cubs, may be hunted in Estonia from August 1 to October 31, according to the country's hunting regulations.

At the start of this year's season, the Environmental Board issued 90 bear hunting permits.

However, on the basis of a complaint filed by the NGO "Eesti Suurkiskjad," Tallinn Administrative Court suspended the cull in its entirety, effective from August 10.

This restriction stems from a ruling on provisional legal protection, which holds only until the court's final decision takes effect; it does not mean that bear hunting is permanently prohibited in Estonia.

The Environmental Board said that decades of hunting control have resulted to a steady increase in the bear population.

"The board's decisions regarding bear hunting is based on the objectives outlined in the action plan for conservation and management of large carnivores, which takes into account the favorable conservation status (FCS) of bears in Estonia. The approved hunting of 90 bears will help maintain the bear's favorable status, reduce bear-caused property damage, and maintain bears' fear of humans," Leelo Kukk, the environmental board's deputy director general on wildlife, said.

The Environmental Board said that as the bear population has expanded, so has the damage caused by them — the numbers have increased by a factor of seven over the previous decade.

Bears were responsible for the destruction of 800 beehives and 1200 wrapped haybales in 2021, which resulted in compensation payments of almost €220,000 having to be issued.

NGO: Environmental Board has been breaking the law for years

NGO "Eesti Suurkiskjad" filed an appeal with the Tallinn Administrative Court on August 1 to overturn the Environmental Board's July 29 decision. The justification given was that bears should only be hunted on rare occasions and under unique conditions, once all other alternatives had been exhausted.

The NGO argues that the Environmental Board has been in violation of the law for years by issuing general bear hunting permits that are not based on exceptional regulations. The killing of 90 specimens is contrary to the EU Habitats Directive's goals, the NGO says. The rationale for killing of each specimen must be explained, as well as whether or not all other alternatives have been exhausted. Population reduction cannot be the purpose.

In addition, the NGO claims there is evidence that places of previous bear hunting and sites of bear-caused damage do not coincide.

Moreover, the NGO contends that the hunting system was established illegally.

The application also states that the population's favorable status has not been adequately shown and that the precautionary principle has not not been observed.

The Environmental Board responded that their hunting regulation ensures that the bear population retains a strong conservation status, and that the board intends to contest the court's decision.

"The increase in bear population shows that decisions made to date have been based on the most accurate information and have been made responsibly. In Estonia, there were roughly 700 bears a decade ago, whereas in Estonia there were approximately one thousand bears last year.

We cannot agree with the complaint's claims that the precautionary principle is not being followed, that the population's favorable conservation status has not been adequately established, and that both the plan and the hunting system are illegal and in violation of the Directive," Kukk said.

87 bears were hunted in Estonia in 2021, meeting fully the permitted hunting quota.

Adopted in 1992, the Habitats Directive ensures the conservation of a wide range of rare, threatened or endemic animal and plant species. The directive requires EU member states to achieve FCS of natural habitats and species.

A species has a "favorable" conservation status if its population is self-sustaining over the long term, its natural range is not expected to diminish in the foreseeable future, and there is sufficient habitat to sustain its populations over the long term.


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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