My Department has no plans to reintroduce wolves to Ireland.
Reintroducing a species back into its former range is fraught with difficulties. The reintroduction of a large predator which has been absent for almost 250 years is particularly challenging: the wolf is a large, mobile and adaptable predator. Wolves travel in packs and require vast home ranges.
As the Deputy has noted, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (the IUCN) have developed Guidelines on Reintroductions and Conservation Translocations. These guidelines were developed by conservation experts and practitioners and they provide the benchmark for international best practice in this field.
Before going into the details of what a reintroduction programme might entail, the IUCN document sets out an initial checklist for those considering a reintroduction project. One of the first requirements is that:
“There should …. be strong evidence that the threats that caused any previous extinction have been … removed.”
The National Parks & Wildlife Service of my Department have advised me that any feasibility assessment for the reintroduction of the wolf to Ireland would fall at this first hurdle.
The wolf became extinct in Ireland towards the end of the 18th century. Its demise was brought about by a number of factors including deforestation, the expansion of agriculture, and persecution. There is limited evidence that those causes of its previous extinction have been removed.
While the area under forestry in Ireland has been expanding, at approximately 11% it remains amongst the very lowest in Europe. Meanwhile, the area under agriculture has continued to expand and has also become more intensive and less hospitable to wildlife.
In addition, our urban and suburban areas have expanded significantly since the end of the 18th century. The current challenges faced by the native pine marten, a relatively small and unthreatening predator compared to a wolf, as well as the ongoing poisoning and shooting of reintroduced birds of prey, indicate that the threat of persecution, particularly for a large predator, remains a concern.