Claws & Laws

Species protection

Following the rise of environmental movements in the 1970s, environmental laws are currently credited with numerous successes in protecting species. Legislation functions to designate and protect habitats, ensure strict protection of vulnerable species populations from a range of threats, and regulate the sustainable use of more robust populations. For biodiversity conservation in Europe, Directive 2009/147/EC on the conservation of wild birds and Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora have had a positive impact on species’ conservation status. In the United States, the Endangered Species Act of 1973 is similarly credited with having been instrumental in the recovery of many listed species. Our research aims to better quantify the conservation effectiveness of laws and understand how they can be improved. We have addressed specific issues of high conservation importance.

Favorable Conservation Status


One of the most important concepts used in EU species conservation law is favorable conservation status (FCS). This term is defined in part in the Habitats Directive as situation where a species population "is maintaining itself on a long-term basis as a viable component of its natural habitats". There are many areas of contention around how to interpret this definition. In a paper published in Conservation Letters, we provided clarifications of some of the most contested aspects from legal and ecological perspectives: at what level FCS should be measured, what it means for a species to be a “viable component of its natural habitat”, how long constitutes a “long‐term basis”, what it means for a species to “maintain itself”, whether FCS should be measured from extinction or carrying capacity, and whether FCS requires that a population approach historical levels.

Epstein, Y., López-Bao, J.-V. & Chapron, G. (2016). A Legal-Ecological Understanding of Favorable Conservation Status for Species in Europe. Conservation Letters 9(2): 81-88.

European Commission. 2015. What is ‘favourable conservation status’ for species? Researchers clear up misinterpretations. Science for Environment Policy: 457

Epstein, Y., López-Bao, J.-V., Trouwborst, A., & Chapron, G. (2019). EU Court: Science must justify future hunting. Science 366(6468): 961.

Exceptions from strict protection


In the European Union, the Habitats Directive bans the killing of strictly protected animal species. The killing of individual animals may nevertheless be allowed when there is no satisfactory alternative and doing so would not be detrimental to the maintenance of species populations at favorable conservation status for one of five enumerated reasons. This exception has been used by national authorities to allow hunting, frequently triggering litigation. In a paper published in Conservation Science and Practice, we examine provisions allowing exceptions from strict protection, particularly those in the controversial Article 16(1)(e), in order to clarify Member States' discretion in allowing hunting. Correctly interpreting these provisions is necessary to ensure species are protected at the level intended by the Habitats Directive, and that their conservation status is improved or maintained. Our review suggests that it would be very difficult for national authorities to allow the hunting of strictly protected species while complying with EU law.

Epstein, Y, Christiernsson, A, López-Bao, J.-V. & Chapron, G. (2019). When is it legal to hunt strictly protected species in the European Union? Conservation Science and Practice. 1:e18

Epstein, Y. & Chapron, G. (2018). The Hunting of Strictly Protected Species: The Tapiola Case and the Limits of Derogation under Article 16 of the Habitats Directive. European Energy and Environmental Law Review 27(3): 78-87.

Tolerance hunting


The claim has sometimes been made that allowing the public to hunt vulnerable species would in fact benefit the species by improving social tolerance. We coined the term “tolerance hunting” to describe hunting based on this premise. Scholarly examination of the effectiveness of tolerance hunting remains scarce. In a series of papers, we model the impact of culling on a population of wolves in the United States and hypothesize that the data implied that killing had a negative impact on social tolerance, examine how legal systems in the United States and European Union have dealt with the legal uncertainty around tolerance hunting.

Epstein, Y. (2017). Killing wolves to save them? Legal responses to ‘tolerance hunting’in the European Union and United States. Review of European, Comparative & International Environmental Law, 26(1), 19-29.

Chapron, G., & Treves, A. (2016). Blood does not buy goodwill: allowing culling increases poaching of a large carnivore. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 283(1830), 20152939.

Obligations to reintroduce species

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The obligations of Member States when a population of species protected by the Habitats Directive nears extinction remains unclear. In a paper published in Biological Conservation, we use the case of the quasi-extinct wolf population in the Sierra Morena region of Spain to provide legal-ecological clarifications on the obligations by Member States. We argue that the Habitats Directive does require Member States to restore declining populations, and the complete extirpation of the species in a Member State does not remove national obligations to conserve the species.

López-Bao, J.V., Fleurke, F., Chapron, G. & Trouwborst, A. (2018). Legal obligations regarding populations on the verge of extinction in Europe: Conservation, Restoration, Recolonization, Reintroduction. Biological Conservation 227: 319-325.

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