A 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.
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.
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.
Alain Servat, mayor of Uvuas, where most of the sheep…