Spain protects Iberian wolves, but farmers howl

A wolf looks up in Lobopark in Antequera, southern Spain December 26, 2004.

MADRID (Reuters) - Farmers condemned Spain’s move to declare the Iberian wolf a protected species on Friday, arguing a nationwide hunting ban would lead to more attacks on livestock.

In a nation already used to passionate debate over bull-fighting, the Environment Ministry ruled on Thursday that protections for wolves in the south would extend north of the Douro river, where controlled hunting had still been allowed.

The ministry stressed the cultural and scientific importance of the species, and their value to maintaining ecosystems. Spain is home to an estimated 1,500-2,000 Iberian wolves, with 90% in the northern regions of Castile and Leon, Asturias and Galicia.

But agricultural union UPA said a recent rebound in the wolf population had brought more attacks on cattle, and accused Environment Minister Teresa Ribera of ignoring farmers’ needs.

“It is we livestock farmers who are in danger of extinction,” it said.

Farmers and environmentalists have repeatedly clashed over campaigns to bolster populations of apex predators like the brown bear and the Iberian lynx, particularly in Spain’s mountainous north, which is home to extensive sheep herds.

Conservation group Ecologists in Action praised the new protections and urged authorities to work with farmers on ways to protect cattle without harming wolves.

Reporting by Nathan Allen; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne