Georgian Environmentalists Fear Hunting Free-For-All

Georgian Environmentalists Fear Hunting Free-For-All

By Natia Kuprashvili

TBILISI, Georgia, October 12, 2011 (ENS) – The Georgian government is determined to open up hunting as a commercial industry, dismissing concerns about the environmental impact of deregulation.

Parliament’s environment committee has already begun discussing changes to the law to allow licensed hunting of all animal and bird species, even in national parks and nature reserves.

Brown bears in Georgia (Photo courtesy NACRES)

Environmental groups have appealed to parliamentarians to block the changes, which they say will threaten the survival of Georgia’s bears, deer and other fauna.

“We think that the amendments will have an entirely negative result. Specifically, several endangered species listed in the Red Book will be at risk of complete extinction,” said the statement, signed by Green Alternative and the NACRES conservation center.

“Once permission is granted for hunting in national parks, there will be almost nowhere in Georgia where wild animals can breed under natural conditions.”

Environmentalists said the changes would result in short-term financial gain from hunting tourism, and long-term damage with the loss of flagship species like the bezoar ibex, a kind of wild goat, whose numbers have only recovered thanks to investment in conservation.

Bezoar ibex, Capra aegagrus aegagrus (Photo by F. Spangenberg)

“Hunting the wild goat will be legalized when there are just a few individuals left. The species was reintroduced from abroad so that it could breed here,” said Rezo Getiashvili of the Caucasus Environmental NGO Network. “That means a hunter will pay 100 laris to destroy something that’s had millions spent on it.”

Getiashvili said deregulation would endanger the conservation aid funds that Georgia receives from the European Union and the United Nations.

The architects of the bill, parliamentarians Pavle Kublashvili, Kakhaber Anjaparidze and Zviad Kukava, denied that it was in breach of the country’s international commitments.

“The main aim of revising the law is to simplify the procedures for hunting, which will [create revenue and] allow more public services to be provided,” they said in an explanatory note when the bill was submitted.

Lynx in Georgia photographed in a camera trap (Photo courtesy NACRES)

Georgia’s opposition parties have not so far spoken out against the changes, and a number of their members have described it as a step forward.

“Hunting tourism will bring Georgia 10 times more than normal tourism,” said Gogi Topadze, head of the Industry Will Save Georgia party, and the owner of a hunting business. “We have many pointless restrictions, and I am glad that parliament has now realized the need for these amendments.”

But other hunters were not so sure. Gogita Iobidze, a member of the Hunters’ Council, which issues licenses and represents the interests of the hunting community, said he could not understand why the government would allow people to kill protected species in game reserves.

“Even without a law in place, seasoned hunters know that you need to protect species like wild mountain goats. The law has deterred poachers all this time, but what now? Can you do as you like, as long as you pay?” he asked.

Wolves in Georgia photographed in a camera trap (Photo courtesy NACRES)

Another hunter, who gave his first name as Zura, said the current law did need to be amended – but the changes being proposed go too far.

“Wolves can create problems by killing livestock in Georgian villages, but people can’t do anything about it, since hunting them is banned and carries a hefty fine. Of course that needs to change. It would also be good if we were allowed to cull deer,” he said. “But decisions like these should be taken in the interests of environmental protection, and in the public interest, and not to obtain meat or money.”

The Green Alternative group agreed with the hunters, saying the proposal would put a monetary value on the environment. Irakli Macharashvili, a program coordinator for the group, said that could have the positive effect of bringing tough action against poaching.

However, Macharashvili warned that lack of supervision was a more likely outcome. He said the documents submitted alongside the bill made it clear that the changes would not cost extra money, and also that the the environment ministry would be in charge of controlling the hunting of endangered species.

But the environment ministry has been shorn of many of its powers, and its environmental inspectorate was abolished three months ago.

“There will be no real monitoring of hunting,” said Macharashvili. “There’s just no one to do it.”

{Natia Kuprashvili is executive director of the Georgian Association of Regional Broadcasters. This article was originally published on October 20, 2011 by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting}

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.

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