Deterring wolves with rubber shot, but not live rounds, has been authorized in Lower Austria, the region outlying Vienna. Wolves are protected in Austria, but their gradual return has led to livestock casualties.
Lower Austria agriculture official Daniel Heindl told Austrian ORF broadcasting that rural residents with hunting licenses would be permitted to fire rubber bullets at wolves in a bid to scare them away from livestock. However, they should refrain from killing the protected animal outright.
Regional experts were now "hoping for the best," said Heindl., following reports that 31 sheep were mauled to death in July in two forested areas near Austria's border with the Czech Republic.
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Earlier, rural town mayors led by Maximilian Igelsböck had told Austria's krönen tabloid newspaper that many residents on their way to the bus stop or walking in the forest felt insecure.
"Do we have to first wait until somebody is hurt?," he asked.
A leading regional hunter Werner Spinka told ORF's Lower Austria team that the compromise regulations, set to apply until the end of the year, allowed shooters to fire rubber-loaded cartridges at wolves near livestock.
That measure, combined with the firing of noisy blank shots, was proving to be "effective," he said.
19th century extermination
Since 2016, wolves have been observed breeding in small numbers in Austria, where reputedly the "last wolf" was exterminated back in 1882, says the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF).
The return in Lower Austria, it says, is the result of larger wolf returns to neighboring countries, such as Switzerland, Italy and Germany, encouraged by wildlife conservation laws and changing attitudes.
In June, at a conference in Lower Austria organized by regional Greens, Max Rossberg of the Austrian branch of the European Wilderness Society said "farmers must be helped on many levels," for example, through compensation for stock losses.
Balancing livestock protection versus wolf returns was a constant exercise of communicating among the various interested parties "which measures work the best," Rossberg said.
The total number of wolves scattered across Europe, including Poland's Carpathian region, the Iberian peninsula and Finland, is put at 10,000 by the WWF.