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Capital Weekly, Bear Blood*: The Hunting Lobby Gets Bear Hunt Back through Changes in Legislation

October 29th, 2010

Hunting has always been a privilege of the powers that be. That had been the case back in 'socialist' times, and remains very much the case today. Being a hunter makes one part of a special caste.  A caste that, only last week, gave itself a precious gift by having the powers to issue licenses for culling brown bears transferred from the Ministry of the Environment to the Ministry of Agriculture. The pretext put forward by the sponsors of the amendment was that the Environmental Ministry did not have enough local offices to authorize the selective shooting of brown bears, which meanwhile (according to the hunters themselves) had become a menace to the community. A delay in the issue of a license, they claimed, could lead to fresh incidents involving bears.

The formal reason why four MPs of the ruling GERB Party, led by Emil Dimitrov, proposed amendments to the Hunting Act were, in fact, two bear attacks recorded in the Smolyan region last August. The original idea had been that bears as well as chamois would be hunted on a license issued by the Ministry of Agriculture. The rationale for the latter proposal was similarly profound: according to the sponsors of the bill, since the alpha male in a herd was responsible for guarding and protecting the females, older specimens were to be culled to make way for younger, and purportedly more virile, males. Thus the chamois population would grow and become stronger.

Needless to say, in either case the supporting arguments for the proposed legislative amendments can best be described as complete and utter nonsense. Hearing such ‘arguments’ from the parliamentary rostrum is, if anything, insulting to people’s basic intelligence. The truth is quite simple: a bear skin or a pair of chamois antlers make a prized trophy. And there is no denying that a high enough percentage of Members of Parliament are avid wildlife killers.

The financial stakes

At second reading of the proposed bill, GERB MP Emil Dimitrov pointed to the considerable financial benefits hunting estates reap from allowing bear hunts. A bear hunt that yields a trophy can cost the hunter between 30 and 50 thousand Euros, Dimitrov said. (In fact, according to the official price list for organized hunting expeditions published by the Executive Forestry Agency, the fee one has to pay for shooting a brown bear weighing 400 kilos or over is just €10,950.) Another argument put forward by the sponsor was that every year, about 50 bears are killed by poachers anyway. If bear hunting became officially allowed, says Dimitrov, these numbers would decrease, because hunting estates would have a material interest in protecting the bear population and guarding it against poachers. About the withdrawal of the proposed amendments regarding chamois, Emil Dimitrov explained that there was little profit in hunting wild goats: only about €1,200 to €1,330 per head, which would have no significant impact on the revenue of hunting estates.

‘No statements for Capital, thank you!’ was Dimitrov’s only reply when this paper approached him for a comment on the proposed amendments. Before becoming a Member of Parliament, Emil Dimitrov had been on the managing boards of two hunting estates. One of those, located near the town of Etropole, had often hosted Dimitrov’s personal friend, former soccer star Hristo Stoichkov, himself an avid hunter.


The strategy of the vote

The amendments to the Hunting Act were passed by a majority of 60 Members of Parliament, with just 66 MPs out of a total of 240 being present in the plenary hall at the time of the vote. The bill was supported by 55 GERB MPs, 2 of the Blue Coalition (one of whom, Yordan Bakalov, is known as a lifelong hunter), and one of the Ataka party. Even two MPs of the opposition Movement for Rights and Freedoms voted in favor of bear hunting: Kamen Kostadinov and Nedjmi Ali. Against were just 4 MPs of the Bulgarian Socialist Party and Lachezar Toshev of the Blue Coalition.

This probably explains the absence of the Left Wing and MRF MPs, as these two parliamentary factions contain amid their ranks a high enough percentage of hunters. Thus, through their non-participation in the vote, the opposition MPs allowed GERB to enact a purely lobbyist law, tailored to serve the interests of the multi-partisan hunting faction in Bulgaria’s Parliament.

In August, Deputy Environment Minister Evdokiya Maneva told Dnevnik Daily that it would be inappropriate for the Agriculture Minister to license bear culling as he was not the official in charge of conserving protected species, and also because his Ministry had a direct financial interest in the proceeds from hunts organized by hunting estates. Nonetheless, the Environment Ministry issued a formal position paper supporting the bill. Asked to comment on such duplicity after the amendments were passed in parliament, Mrs. Maneva said, ‘Personally, I’d rather stay away from that battle. As a representative of the Ministry, though, I should let you know that the bear population is to be regulated by an interdepartmental committee comprising officials from two government Ministries: of Agriculture and of the Environment. The culling quota may be anything between 3 and 8 percent per annum of the total number of bears in the wild,’ Mrs. Maneva told Capital Weekly. Environmentalists were quick to retort that there was no way of knowing exactly how many bears there are in Bulgaria at present. Estimates put the population at about 800-strong, but it would take a systematic head count to know the exact number, which is impossible to accomplish within a single year. Therefore, the number of permits for bear killings issued in the course of 2011 will be totally arbitrary.

Environmentalists also foresee serious problems for Bulgaria in the European Commission, since the brown bear is a protected wildlife species and the Europeans are quite sensitive on that matter.

Until that happens, however, the sponsors of the bill will have an opportunity to make money as hunters satisfy their base instincts. Meanwhile, anyone with a positive attitude to animals who cannot remain indifferent to such barbarity will be reduced to a voiceless sucker who can only write protest letters to Brussels while waiting for justice to come from without.

Source: http://www.capital.bg/politika_i_ikonomika/bulgaria/2010/10/29/984346_mecha_kruv/

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*An allusion to a popular brand of cheap red wine back in communist times

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