Franco-German hunters join forces to save deer

STRASBOURG – The French region Alsace has a surfeit of deer. These animals are a threat to the biodiversity in the forest, states the ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development. Hunters in this region therefore have to shoot thirty percent more. Only-, they don’t want to, as they fear that the population will become extinct. The French do not stand alone in this– German hunters are on their side to strike against Paris. This is probably not enough to win the battle though.

Anouk Mentink

The region Alsace lies at the Franco-German border

French, German and Luxembourgois hunters have showed their indignation about the new shooting norms. They held a demonstration at the 5th February 2011. With the European Hunting Association FACE amongst them, they gathered at Place Kléber in Strasbourg to demand an alternative for shooting more deer.

It was the very first time that German and French hunters have protested together. They have joined forces because they are all fighting for the same cause; by saving the deer, they also save their upcoming hunting seasons.

Hunters do preserve

That might sound contradictory, but it is not. “From every species we need a certain population size,” says Jonathan Fischbach, while driving through the countryside of Strasbourg. He is a technician for the Hunting Association of Bas-Rhin(FDC) and a hunter himself. “If the population is too small, the animals can’t reproduce themselves enough to survive. They are more vulnerable to diseases. When there are enough animals, the size of the population will increase. In that case we can afford to shoot the increased part during the hunting season. It does not make sense for us to kill them all if there are less animals, because we won’t have any hunting next year and no animals left.”

Technician Jonathan Fischbach explains the differences between animals in the Alsace

Green highway to freedom

Apart from their disagreement on the new shooting norms, the  hunters want an ecological route for the deer. This green highway would go through Germany, Switzerland and Austria. The route would connect all living areas of the animals with preserved nature. Thus the deer population will get a chance to spread itself over a larger territory.

German hunting associations are already working on such a route. That is one of the reasons why the Germans are protesting together with the French. “There are very few areas left to conserve between Alsace, Baden and Switzerland,” says Klaus Lachenmaier – biologist at the German Hunting Association of Baden-Württemberg. “It is important for us to cooperate with the region of Alsace to improve the connectivity between these areas.”

Biologist Klaus Lachenmaier works for the Hunting Association of Baden-Württemberg

It is nevertheless unlikely that the hunters will get what they want. The Office National des Forêts – the organisation which preserves the forest under the orders of the ministry – does not believe in this ecological route. “There is too much discontinuity between these territories,” says Jean-Luc Dunoyer, shaking his head.

Dunoyer works at ONF and is the director of the Alsacian territory.  “Areas in which the deer already avoid will prevent that the animals being able to move freely. For instance, in the south of Alsace there are no deer. So why would the animals who come from the north pass through that area in the future? Apart from that, several large highways cross the area that the hunters want to use for the route. These facts make the green highway impossible.”

The deer is not the devil

Whether the hunters get this route or not, either way ‘it is not the deer which causes a threat to the biodiversity.’ That is at least the opinion of Gerard Lang, president of the Hunting Association of Bas-Rhin(FDC).

Gerard Lang, president of the Hunting Association of Bas-Rhin

While he explains passionately why these animals don’t harm the biodiversity in the forest of Vosges, Lang jumps up and down to point to the different deer territories on his map.  “The deer and the wild boars came to the Vosges after the ice age. They had the time to adapt to their surroundings. And the other ecosystems to them. This means that this type of deer can eat the trees in this region, and the tree will grow back again. That proves that the biodiversity has not been reduced because of these animals, but that they live in harmony.”

The bigger the better?

According to Lang and his FDC it is therefore nonsense to shoot more deer. “Viruses have a smaller chance in a larger population. That’s the reason why we are looking for a long term solution. And that is not by shooting more of them.”

Jean-Luc Dunoyer does not agree with that statement. “Our mission is to pass on forest to the next generation.  Last February, a report came out about the impact of deer on the Alsacian forest. It turns out that only thirty percent of the forest can survive on its own in the case we maintain the deer population the way it is now. That means that seventy percent of the forest is going to be destroyed by the deer. That deer are harmless for the biodiversity seems to be a false argument to me.”

Neighbours’ policy

In Germany, the debate goes between the forest owners, the national forest management and the hunters. ‘We are in constant discussion with the forestry about the regulation of shooting norms,” says Klaus Lachenmaier from the German Hunting Association of Baden-Württemberg.  “ The main issues are the allowed amount of deer and whether the occurrence of damage is caused by them. We conduct a damage survey every three years all over the country. Shooting norms are based on the outcome of that survey.”

Hunting dog looking out for animals

The next step might be the last step

Despite the clear refusal of the ONF and the French administration, the hunting associations keep on fighting to get what they want. Such as the FDC, who don’t sit and wait. And just as Gerard Lang’s secretary – she walks many times from his office and back to the photo copying machine, to back up the hunters’ story with countless reports, surveys, magazines and manifestos.

“We knew that this battle was not going to be easy,” says Lang. “Therefore we hired a research institute to set up a sample poll amongst the inhabitants of Alsace. We wanted to make sure that the people in the region would back us up, before we started the protest. It turned out that they favour hunters and the deer, just as much as we do. We won’t stop to fight the new shooting norm.”

The hierarchy

The French ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development creates policy to maintain or increase the biodiversity in the forests. Hunting is one of the important factors in preserving nature. When the national policy is made, the Office National des Forêts will set norms for every issue of the national policy when it comes to the state owned forests. One third of the French forest is managed by the state(ONF), two third is managed by the municipalities. The ONF plays an advisory role in the forest management of the municipalities. Apart from that, every region in France has its own prefect, who decides when the hunting season starts and sets the shooting norm. The region of Alsace has besides this prefect seven subprefects. Three of these subprefects haven’t found a solution to satisfy the hunters in their territory. The other four subprefects have not experienced any trouble. Simply because of the reason that hunters in their areas wanted to shoot more deer than they did the year before.

Will these facts make any difference? According to Jean-Luc Dunoyer it will not change anything. “The region of Alsace has seven subprefects who decide about the final norm. Three of them could not find a solution with the hunters in their territory. If there is no outcome the prefect of the region has to decide what to do. And that decision will be to kill more deer. That means that the debate is over.”

That German and French hunters were demonstrating side to side is an example of the first careful steps of cooperation between German and French hunting associations. There is more. In May, the Hunting Association of Bas-Rhin will open an outdoor shooting centre where it is possible to practise and obtain the German hunting permit in Geudertheim, near Strasbourg. Click HERE to read, hear and see more about this initiative.

About Anouk Mentink