COPENHAGEN, Denmark -- Beginning Saturday, Finland is holding a second government-sanctioned trial wolf hunt in what authorities say is an attempt to manage numbers and curb poaching.
Finland's state Wildlife Agency says 46 licenses have been given out for the hunting period that ends Feb. 21. The agency said 17 wolves were killed in 2015, the first year of the trial cull, and it has permitted the killing of 46 wolves across the country this winter.
Wolf hunting was banned between 2007 and 2015 after the European Union accused Finns of breaching EU protection rules on the endangered species, resulting in widespread poaching in Finland. People in remote areas of Finland have been killing wolves considered threats to people and livestock, but there have been no reported wolf attacks on people in recent years.
The Finnish Nature League's Wolf Action Group protested the cull earlier this month and seeks to change local attitudes toward wolves, saying there's "unnecessary fear and hatred."
According to the Natural Resources Institute, Finland had an estimated 245 wolves in January 2015. Most of them are found in the thick forests of eastern and southern Finland, and many roam across the 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) border with Russia. Occasionally the wolves wander onto streets and farms, where they become a nuisance or a threat.
Last year, single wolves were sighted in southern Finland, 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the western city of Turku. Officials said it was the first time in more than 100 years that a wolf had been seen that far south.
Animal rights campaigners are decrying the hull, saying hunting techniques have become increasingly sophisticated, including using helicopters and snowmobiles to track the wolves. Some warn that wolves could disappear altogether from Finnish Lapland, a thinly-populated Arctic region, unless urgent action is taken.
"(The) wolf situation in Lapland right now is severe. We have only three to six wolves in Lapland, not even one single wolf pack," Finnish Nature League manager Sami Saynevirta said. "If we don't take action immediately, then it could be that we don't have wolves in Lapland at all."
Earlier this month, the group protested strongly against the Finland Wildlife Agency's sanctioning of the wolf cull.
Associated Press reporter James Brooks in London, Matti Huuhtanen in Helsinki and Jari Tanner in Tallinn, Estonia, contributed to this report.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing