The Pyrenean capercaillie banned from hunting for five years by the Council of State

Black plumage, red-rimmed eyes, and a white-spotted fan tail. The capercaillie of the Pyrenees can no longer be hunted on metropolitan territory, at least until 2027. The Council of State validated, Wednesday 1er June, a five-year moratorium on the hunting of Europe’s largest land bird. “Finally, a little respite for this species in great difficulty”believes Thierry de Noblens, former president of France Nature Environnement (FNE) Midi-Pyrénées, one of the seven associations behind the procedure.

A year ago, they seized the highest administrative court, after the refusal of the Ministry of Ecological Transition to ban the hunting of the bird. In its decision, the Council of State considered that “capercaillie hunting is not compatible with the maintenance of the species and that it is necessary to suspend it throughout the metropolitan territory of France for a sufficient period of time to allow the reconstitution of the species in the different sites of its distribution area”.

Because, since the 1960s, the Pyrenean capercaillie has become increasingly rare on the edge of the forest, in the blueberry bushes that it appreciates so much. It is now classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in its French red list of threatened species. According to estimates, the numbers of the species have been divided by five in sixty years and continue to decline by 2.1% each year. Four thousand specimens were thus identified in 2021 in the Pyrenean massif, compared to nine thousand in the 1960s.

Adaptive management

However, the species has been protected by a European directive since 1979. Although the text does not prohibit the hunting of the Pyrenean capercaillie, it regulates it. “The capercaillie can be hunted, but there is one condition: not to compromise the conservation efforts of the species”, explains Hervé Hourcade, lawyer for FNE Midi-Pyrénées. The departmental prefects can thus set a maximum number of capercaillie that hunters are authorized to take each year, depending on the demographic development of the species.

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This method is also defended by the Ministry of Ecological Transition under the name of “adaptive management”. In the same way, this strategy consists of annually evaluating the numbers of a species in order to set the harvest ceilings. In April 2021, Bérangère Abba, then Secretary of State for Biodiversity, refused to ban the hunting of capercaillie to favor “implementing adaptive management” for this species.

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