France has released Thursday the first of the two Slovenian bears with which it wants to repopulate an area of the Pyrenees. The release took place in the midst of strong protests from local farmers and herders, who inspected all the cargo vehicles during the night in an attempt to prevent the animal from reaching the Béarn region in the Pyrenees, where reintroduction was planned. .
"A first bear in perfect health has been released this morning, around nine hours," confirmed the Ministry of Ecological Transition, according to the French press. The authorities did not want to confirm if the arrival of the second animal was also scheduled for Thursday or will occur in the coming days. They have limited themselves to point out that "the reintroduction operation will continue in the coming days, with the only priority of guaranteeing the safety of the two bears".
The decision had been announced at the end of September by the Minister of Ecological Transition, François de Rugy, who decided to keep the plans of his predecessor in charge, the popular ecologist Nicolas Hulot, who resigned in August, to introduce two female brown bears. We want to continue the repopulation of this species in the area, very decimated in recent decades. It is the first reintroduction of the species in the French area of the Pyrenees since 2006, which has about 40 specimens.
The measure has provoked the protest of months ago of farmers and shepherds, who denounce that their animals have been victims of attacks of bears, 1,200 only last year, according to their calculations. Some hunters have also joined the protest.
Alerted of the imminent arrival of the animals, the opposition groups were up in arms since Wednesday, according to The Depêche de Midi. During the night, they were located in strategic areas of the valley and searched all the vehicles they suspected could carry a bear. Some promised to "track" the released animals, they told Agence France Presse.
De Rugy condemned on Thursday the "unacceptable attitude" of the demonstrators who "believe they have the right to block roads" or even to "threaten me with rifles," he said. He was referring to a group of people who placed several hunting rifles near where the minister was when he visited the region last September to announce his decision to release the plantigrades. "I understand the discontent and even the anger (…) but that does not justify everything and we will continue," he said in statements to the France Info radio station.
In the past months, the authorities of his ministry initiated a "conciliatory" dialogue with those affected in the region on the Bear Plan presented in May and which foresees a package of 3.4 million euros to guarantee the coexistence of livestock, grazing, tourism or hunting. Among others, aid will be allocated to the "reinforcement" of the protection teams of the shepherds and to follow up on the bears. In addition, indemnities are provided for up to 2,300 euros in case of bears attacks on cattle.
The initiative has provoked criticism from farmers and governments of Aragon and Navarre, because, they say, it has been taken unilaterally and they fear that bears can access their territory and cause damage to their herds.