PARIS • The bears have cute names — Bubble, Feather, Snowflake and the like — and look so soft and huggable when caught on video by remote cameras that study their habits. But to herders high in the Pyrenees mountains of southwest France, the animals are stone-cold killers, ravaging flocks and undermining farming livelihoods.
Pyrenean livestock farmers who raise sheep for meat and famously pungent cheeses are rejoicing after getting an assurance from President Emmanuel Macron that he won’t authorize the release into the wild of any more of the bears blamed for a surge in deadly attacks.
“He promised that the reinsertions (of bears) are finished, that he won’t release any more,” said Jean-Pierre Pommies, who raises sheep and cows. Pommies wore his broad farmer’s beret to Tuesday’s meeting with the suit-and-tied Macron in Pau, a Pyrenean town with sweeping views of the mountains.
“He was able to understand that it’s a big problem for us,” Pommies added. “We have reached the bottom, and the situation was ridiculous for Pyrenean herders.”
When France’s last pocket of brown bears appeared headed for extinction in the Pyrenees in the 1990s, the country began importing animals from Slovenia, where the population is booming. Eight were freed into the wild in 1996, 1997 and 2006. Another release of two Slovenian female bears — Claverina and Sorita — followed in 2018, the first first full year of Macron’s presidency.
The population is now estimated at about 40 bears, doubling its size since 2010 and roaming over a long and expanding swath of the mountains that form the border between France and Spain, stretching from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic.