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Could bringing wolves back to Ireland benefit our environment - and boost our economy?

This week on Ireland 2029, we discuss a controversial proposal: the reintroduction of wolves.

A grey wolf and cubs.
A grey wolf and cubs.
Image: Shutterstock

A LOT CAN happen in 10 years. Where is Ireland going, and what will life be like here in the year 2029? Welcome to Ireland 2029: Shaping Our Future, a podcast series from TheJournal.ie.

Over 10 episodes, we’re partnering with Volkswagen to bring you 10 big ideas that could change Ireland for the better. Each week, we talk to someone about an idea they truly believe could work, and find out whether it’s practical, or whether it’s a non-runner.

In the eighth episode of Ireland 2029, we ask: Should Ireland reintroduce wolves?

Back in June, Mick Wallace raised a somewhat unusual topic in a Dáil question: the reintroduction of the grey wolf to Ireland. 

The Wexford TD was seeking a feasibility study to be carried out in view of “potential benefits to ecosystems and endangered species” that could result from the reintroduction of a top predator like the wolf. 

The proposal was met with a negative response – with the minister responsible for national parks, Josepha Madigan, noting that “any feasibility study would fall at the first hurdle” and adding that the government had no plans to reintroduce wolves.

It was a hard ‘no’ at government level, but for rewilding campaigners like Padraic Fogarty of the Irish Wildlife Trust, the campaign to bring back wolves continues.

Predator and prey

Fogarty believes that apex predators like wolves have a vital role to play in balancing out Ireland’s ecosystems, and allowing the natural order of wildlife to flourish.

Ireland’s last native wolf was killed sometime around the late 1700s, most likely hunted down at Mount Leinster.

By that stage, wolves were already a rare sight, with a rise in hunting leading to a sharp decline. But up until the mid-1600s, a healthy population of around 1,000 wolves still roamed the land. 

Speaking on episode eight of Ireland 2029, Fogarty says a reintroduction could have massive ecological benefits for Ireland:

[Predators] are not the only important thing, but they are the most important thing probably in an ecosystem. So if we want to restore ecosystems in Ireland, and if we’re serious about that, we have to be talking about big predators like wolves.

The potential knock-on boost to tourism is also worth noting. In the US, the annual influx of wolf-watchers to Yellowstone National Park is estimated to generate €35 million a year for the local economy. Wolves were reintroduced at Yellowstone in the mid-1990s, following around five decades of campaigning and debate.

But… is it safe?

The obvious question when it comes to wolves is one of safety. Wouldn’t the reintroduction of wolves lead to a rise in attacks on humans and livestock? 

Not necessarily, say campaigners. Dan Lettice, a Cork-based wildlife photographer and one of the interviewees on this week’s Ireland 2029, has written about the evolution of the debate on wolf reintroduction.

In a 2015 piece for Ireland’s Wildlife he addressed the issue of human safety:

“Research and experience worldwide proves that wolves are no more a danger to humans than any other large wild mammal … Two deaths occurred in North America since 2000. One is probable the other one is certain. One was possibly down to wolves that had been habituated to humans through irresponsible feeding. Despite these incidences you are far far more likely to be killed in North America by a moose, elk, bison, or indeed a domestic dog.”  

So could Ireland become a wolf-watching hub by 2029 – or is the argument a complete lone ranger? Tune into the eighth episode of Ireland 2029: Shaping Our Future, to hear us bash out the pros and cons:

Full list of providers here 


Source: Ireland 2029/SoundCloud

Ireland 2029 is a podcast from TheJournal.ie, in partnership with Volkswagen. This episode was put together by presenter Daragh Brophy, producer and series producer Órla Ryan, and executive producer Christine Bohan. Editing by Daragh Brophy and Nicky Ryan. With thanks to Paula Lyne and our contributors.

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