Row over bears in France intensifies after angry farmers 'fire shots' in protest at sheep deaths

Row over bears in France intensifies after angry farmers 'fire shots' in protest at sheep deathsA bitter dispute over bears in France's Pyrenees mountains has intensified after farmers were accused of firing "50 shots" at state experts who came to assess how many sheep the beasts had killed. Prosecutors in the Ariège, south-west France, have launched a judicial investigation into "violence with weapons" after a group of "thirty aggressive people" allegedly unleashed a hail of bullets in the vicinity of four experts from the national hunting and wildlife office, ONCFS. The agents had come to check damage to sheep on August 25 after farmers reported fresh bear attacks on their livestock. The farmers threatened to kill the terrified experts, according to the Ariege authorities. A brown bear Credit: UKRAINE-BEAR/CENTER/REUTERS No-one was hurt but the shots were "manifestly to intimidate them", said Karline Bouisset,the local prosecutor, who denounced a "general climate of hostility". The experts' car tyres were also slashed. They have pressed for charges. Nicolas Hulot, the environment minister, swiftly condemned the incident. Tensions have reached boiling point in the mountain range that straddles the French-Spanish border since July, when more than 200 sheep died after they hurtled over the edge of a cliff in the Pyrenees while being chased by a bear. The sheep belonged to a farmer in the Couflens area on the French side of the border, but their bodies were found at the foot of a cliff just over the border in Spain. Local authorities sent experts to examine the scene and they concluded that the sheep had been running away from a bear. A female brown bear with cubs  Credit: TASS / Barcroft Images Owners are compensated for each animal killed under a deal between the government and farmers when brown bears from Slovenia were introduced in the late 1990s. But local sheep rearers complain that the bears have killed 400 livestock in the past month and say that cohabitation is no longer possible. "Given the situation, it is clear that the bear and pastoralism are incompatible," warned three farmers' unions.   They received the support of a group of local elected representatives who officially requested the French state remove the bear population, estimated at 39. The officials from the Ariège council said that the animals, should be "sent back" to their native Slovenia. France, eastern Pyrenees , aerial view of Villefranche de Conflent, Mont Canigou Credit:  Brigitte MERLE/ Getty Images Alain Servat, mayor of Uvuas, where most of the sheep deaths have occurred, has even unilaterally passed a decree banning bears from "wandering" into the mountainous area around his village. "There will one day be a problem with man – a tourist or inhabitant," he warned. "Bears are no more peaceful here than in Canada where they take precautions," he told La Dépêche du Midi. Local state authorities say that coexistence is possible, pointing out that in return for re-introducing the bears, farmers receive financial compensation for any damage and funding to buy Pyrenean dogs capable of keeping bears at bay. "The state places supportive means to better protect shepherds and their flocks," Marie Lajust, the regional state prefect told AFP.  "But pastoralism must evolve." "I'd rather shoot a bear than see sheep rearer shoot himself in his barn out of despair," replied Bruno Besche-Commenge, spokesman for the anti-bear Association for the Sustainable Development of the Identity of the Pyrenees ADDIP.  He refused to condemn the shooting incident, saying that it was understandable that farmers were starting to "lose the plot" and that they had only fired in the air. He said that it was in practice impossible to implement the recommended protective measures given the "very steep" terrain and the fact that "bears like wolves are intelligent and find ways round them". "Last year the bears attacked and killed two 'patou' sheep dogs supposed to protect the flocks so it doesn't work," he told the Telegraph. If nothing is done, "pastoralism in the central Pyrenees will die out within three years," he predicted. For the pro-bear camp, bears only account for a tiny part of sheep losses in the Pyrenees.  "The amount of sheep killed (by bears) , without playing down the tragedy for rearers, is only a very small part of deaths due to falls, storms, parasites or other animals like stray dogs or wild boar," said Alain Reynes, president of Pays de l'Ours-Adet, a pro-bear association, who put figure of deaths from other causes at up to 30,000 per year. "The bear is a scapegoat." If anything, pro-bear activists warn, the bear population is at risk of dwindling because no new ones have been have been reintroduced to the region since 2006, with successive governments avoiding the issue.



Yahoo News – Latest News & Headlines