Open Access
How to translate text using browser tools
1 January 2017 Challenges of managing a European brown bear population; lessons from Sweden, 1943–2013
Jon E. Swenson, Michael Schneider, Andreas Zedrosser, Arne Söderberg, Robert Franzén, Jonas Kindberg
Author Affiliations +

‘Adaptive management’, which has been defined as the repeated iteration between management action, scientific assessment and revised management action, leading to a strengthened foundation for management, is required by Swedish law to be incorporated into the management of large carnivores. We have evaluated whether the size and/or trend of the brown bear Ursus arctos population in Sweden corresponded to management-decided national objectives during five management regimes during the past 70 years (1943—2013). We found that the objective had been met in only one period, when it had been worded very vaguely. During the last period studied (2008—2013), when management was carried out on the county level and adaptive management was required by the Swedish Government, four of six counties met their trend objectives, but only one of six met the population objectives, although one was close to meeting them. Sociological studies have documented major problems in communication among the members of the county delegations responsible for the management of large carnivores. As adaptive management apparently never has been implemented successfully in brown bear management in Sweden, we recommend that the Delegations for Game Management be mandated to integrate up-to-date, scientifically documented biological information into their decisions. This is not done consistently today. Researchers should be involved in the process to inform about relevant, available information, design testable scientific ‘experiments’ based on the predicted results of management decisions, and evaluate the results in relation to the predictions, perhaps as members of a ‘boundary organization’ consisting of researchers, managers and stakeholders. This would require a new management paradigm, because many in Sweden seem to be skeptical to the idea of involving researchers in management.

Caughley (1977) listed the four general objectives of wildlife management as: 1) make a population increase, 2) make it decrease, 3) harvest it for a continuing yield, or 4) do nothing except monitor the population. Ideally, these objectives should be the result of a planning process, building on a policy-based mission, and resulting in quantifiable objectives that can be evaluated experimentally, usually using a monitoring process, although this ideal situation is rarely met (MacNab 1983, Holechek et al. 2000). It is extremely important for managers to be aware of how wildlife populations have responded to management actions in the past, to better predict how they might respond to new management actions in the future.

The management of wildlife populations is difficult, because of a lack of adequate knowledge of the system and, perhaps more importantly, the uncertainty surrounding knowledge about demographic parameters and hunter behavior, when relevant, in relation to the management actions (Linnell et al. 2010, Bischof et al. 2012, Attelle et al. 2013). In addition, humans show a number of biases when making decisions, including a tendency to overestimate their ability to predict future events, thus highlighting the need for decision-making models that incorporate uncertainty and feedback on the efficacy of the actions (Riley and Gregory 2012, Iftekhar and Pannell 2015). One such approach is adaptive management, which is the repeated iteration between management action, scientific assessment, and revised management action, leading to a strengthened foundation for management (Enck et al. 2006, Theberge et al. 2006). By explicitly recognizing uncertainty and testing a range of management alternatives over time, adaptive management helps identify and rectify ineffective management more quickly than the more traditional normative approach (Robertson and Hull 2001, Iftekhar and Pannell 2015).

Adaptive management can be passive, involving historical data and research literature to develop hypotheses and a model of system performance, with the intent to assess system changes over time to improve our knowledge of wildlife responses to management. It can also be active, which is management by experiment (Riley and Gregory 2012). Perhaps one of the best-known examples of successful active adaptive management is the management of the harvest of mallards Anasplatyrhynchos in midcontinental North America since 1995 (Conn and Kendall 2004). However, there are few cases of successful retrospective examinations of the response of wildlife populations to management (Linnell et al. 2010, Riley and Gregory 2012, Attelle et al. 2013) and few published descriptions of the sustainable harvest of large carnivores (Linnell et al. 2010).

Swedish public policy regarding the brown bear Ursus arctos has changed greatly through the centuries. Early on, the national policy was to exterminate the species and bounties were introduced in 1647 as a measure to help reach that objective. However, changing opinions among academics, hunters, and the public resulted in a paradigm shift at the end of the 1800s, leading to the abolishment of bounties in 1893 (Swenson et al. 1995). Several other measures to protect bears, such as restrictions on where they could be killed and making any dead bear the property of the State, additionally contributed to the subsequent population increase (Swenson et al. 1995).

However, the management paradigm changed in 1943, when hunting seasons were introduced. Here we describe the changes in the brown bear population in Sweden during the 70 years of management with legally defined hunting seasons. Our analysis begins with the first population estimate, made in 1942, and the first hunting season in 1943, and ends with a population estimate for 2013. Whereas accurate population estimates with variance estimates are only available from recent years, more qualitative estimates are available from the entire period. We evaluate how the population responded to five management regimes in relation to five objectives regarding population size or trend during these 70 years. Thus, we evaluate the results in a passive adaptive management perspective, by asking: did the chosen management regime yield the desired objective? We hope that this historical knowledge will be useful for managers charged with managing the Swedish population towards future objectives, particularly because the current political policy states that large carnivore populations shall be managed using an adaptive management approach (Pettersson et al. 2007). However, it should also be useful for managers of large carnivore populations generally, because it is difficult to harvest large carnivores sustainably, even when harvest controls and monitoring data are available (Linnell et al. 2010). Our results should be especially relevant for managers of brown bears in other European countries, because the European populations of brown bear are quite similar regarding body size, reproductive investment, and productivity, being more productive than North American populations (Swenson et al. 2007, Zedrosser et al. 2011).


This is primarily a literature study. We describe the management and management objectives for each of the five management periods as they were communicated by management authorities. We then evaluated the objectives by comparing them with published and unpublished population and trend estimates (Fig. 1). Much of our information came from management reports and reports from the Scandinavian Brown Bear Research Project (available at <>). Data on legal harvest based on ‘hunting year’ from 1911–1966 were obtained from the Swedish Forest Enterprise (Domänstyrelsen) and based on calendar year from 1967 and onwards from the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) and the National Veterinary Institute of Sweden. Data on hunter-killed bears were obtained from successful brown bear hunters, who were required to provide information about the harvested bear to the Swedish Association for Hunting and Wildlife Management (SAHWM) (1986–2001) and the National Veterinary Institute of Sweden (after 2001) (Bischof et al. 2008). The National Veterinary Institute of Sweden also provided information on bears known to have died of causes other than hunting.


Data on the number of hunter-killed bears per county in Sweden during 1856–1927 are available in Lönnberg (1929). To make more recent data more easily accessible, we present supplementary tables at the end of this paper with the number of bears killed in Sweden by county and year during 1911–1980 (Supplementary material Appendix 1 Table Al). For the period 1981–2013, we have summarized the quota size and known kill based on cause of death for each year by county (Supplementary material Appendix 1 Table A2–A8). In the following text, we describe the major events in the management of brown bears in Sweden. To assist the reader, we have summarized these chronologically in Table 1.

Period 1. Before hunting quotas; 1943–1980

The first population estimate of bears in Sweden was carried out by a government-appointed expert commission in 1942, based on interviews with local people within the bear’s area of distribution. The result was an estimate of 294 bears nationally (Table 2), with a reported increasing number in many areas. Due to the methods, the results are uncertain, although the independent Swedish Organization for Nature Protection agreed with the estimate of size and generally increasing trend (Selander and Fries 1943). As a result of the population evaluation in 1942, a hunting season was recommended to start in 1943, with an objective to reduce the population and to decrease the damages that the bears were causing (Selander and Fries 1943). The recommended hunting season was 1 May—15 June and 1 September—15 October.

This recommended hunting season apparently was not followed, as the hunting season during this period only lasted two months in September and October in the four northernmost counties (Fig. 2), although there were a number of restrictions that protected bears (Haglund 1964). In the two northernmost counties, Norrbotten and Vasterbotten (Fig. 2), bears occurred primarily on public lands or above the ‘odlingsgransen’, which was legally defined in 1890 as the western (upper) limit of new habitation in order to secure the higher altitudes for Sámi domestic reindeer Rangifer tarandus herding (Lundmark 2006). In both of these areas, hunters needed a special license issued by the county administration to hunt bears. In Jämtland County, many bears occurred on private lands, where they could be hunted, but many forestry companies protected them on their lands. The indigenous Sámi people had the right to hunt bears above the ‘odlingsgränsen’ to reduce the number of depredating bears where they kept their reindeer. Sámi hunters killed 42% of the legally killed bears during 1951–1963, 25% during the autumn hunting season and 17% outside of it, based on their right to kill depredating bears (Haglund 1964). It appeared that some individual Sámi hunters had killed several bears. Other local hunters killed 55%; 33% were killed by hunters hunting bears and 22% by hunters hunting primarily moose Alces alces.

Figure 1.

An illustration of the management periods for brown bears in Sweden, as defined in this paper, with the brown bear population size estimates (black line), annual number of bears killed (gray columns), type of hunting, organizational level of management, population objective, and whether or not the objective had been reached.


Table 1.

A time line of the Important events In Swedish brown bear management, excluding population estimates, which are summarized In Table 2.


Table 2.

Summary of the available nationwide estimates of the brown bear population in Sweden. ‘Estimate’ means the estimated number of individuals present.


Figure 2.

Areas open to hunting of brown bears in Sweden (shaded) in (A) 1964, (B) 1973, (C) 1981–1993, and (D) 2013.


We have not found references to bear hunting regulations for the period 1963–1973. By 1973, bear hunting had been restricted to two municipalities in Norrbotten County (Jokkmokk and Gällivare) and all of Jämtland County (Bjärvall 2007) (Fig. 2). The hunting season was during September in Norrbotten and during September and October in Jämtland, except for Härjedalen Municipality, where it was 1–15 October. Cubs of the year and their mothers were protected by 1973 (Bjärvall 1980), although it is unclear when this protection had been initiated.

Four population estimates were made between 1942 and 1975–1976 (Table 2), all based primarily on input from local experts who were knowledgeable about bears, i.e. people who worked in the local offices of the SAHWM, Swedish Forest Service, forestry companies, etc. These people were considered to have the best knowledge of the occurrence, numbers, and trends of the bear population in their areas. Even though these methods are inherently inaccurate, in all these surveys, the local experts reported a generally increasing population (Selander and Fries 1943, Haglund 1968, Bjärvall 1980). The estimates suggested that the brown bear population increased slowly, from about 300 in 1942 to 400–600 in 1975–1976 (Table 2). This is an increase of about 67% in 34 years, or 1.6% annually (Table 3), which means that the original objective of reinstating hunting to reduce the population (Selander and Fries 1943) had not been met. Hunters' reports to the SAHWM indicated a perception of a generally stable or slowing increasing population from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s (Swenson and Sandegren 1996). The low number of harvested bears in the early 1970s (Supplementary material Appendix 1 Table A1) lead to the perception that the population was declining, which was the reason why the SEPA initiated the population estimation and survey in 1975–1976 (Bjärvall 1980). One of the findings of this survey was that bears were unevenly distributed within the country.

Table 3.

Summary of national brown bear population objectives and actual results based on management actions In Sweden.


Period 2. The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for bear management; 1981–1990

The SEPA was established in 1967 as a national environmental management agency under the Ministry of the Environment. Based on the 1975–1976 population survey, the SEPA proposed that the general hunting season for bears be replaced by a quota system, with area-specific quotas issued by the SEPA (Bjärvall and Nilsson 1977). The reason for the proposed change was to steer harvest from areas with few bears to areas with higher bear densities and hopefully to reduce the level of illegal hunting, which was suspected to equal the legal harvest (Bjärvall 2007). This proposal was initiated in the autumn of 1981, but without a national objective regarding population size or trend. However, the quota was set at 6% of the population estimate, which was considered to be the level that would keep a constant population, based on North American data (Miller 1990, Bjärvall 2007). We interpret this to mean that the objective therefore was to keep the population constant. This marked the start of modern bear management in Sweden, and it was carried out at the national level by the SEPA.

During this and Period 3, the SEPA made many changes in bear management, often in response to the wishes of the county administrations, local hunters, and the national SAHWM. For example, there was a huge variation in the starting dates for the hunting season during 1981–2001; 24 and 25 August, 1, 2, 4, 7, 11, 16, 17, 19, 24 and 25 September, and 8, 9 and 10 October, often because the bear hunting season started concurrently with the moose hunting season, which varied throughout the country, or to avoid conflicts with other outdoor recreation, such as berry and mushroom picking. In 1986, all members of bear family groups received protection, including young older than cubs of the year, which was a strengthening of the previous regulations that only protected cubs of the year and their mothers (Bjärvall 2007). The quotas were set at various spatial scales during this period, often at the municipal level, or one quota for several municipalities (Swenson et al. 1994, 1998). However, some areas in municipalities that were open for bear hunting were closed due to administrative decisions, landowner decisions, or inclusion of the area within a national park, where all legal bear hunting is forbidden (Swenson et al. 1998).

The objective of population stability was not met, because the population increased from the estimate-based estimate of 400–600 in 1975–1976 (Bjärvall 1980) to about 770 in 1991 (Table 2). The latter estimate is based on a mark—recapture estimate based on bears observed from helicopters in the breeding season and a later finding based on a mark—recapture estimate based on DNA in collected scats, which showed that the helicopter method underestimated the population by about 25% (Swenson et al. 1994, Solberg et al. 2006, Kindberg and Swenson 2010). Thus, the population increased about 54% over 17 years or 2.6% annually (Table 3). Although changes in methods make this estimate of rate of increase uncertain, we are confident that the population was, in fact, increasing during this period.

Period 3. Swedish Environmental Protection Agency's bear management policy; 1991–2001

In 1991, the SEPA issued its first management policy for large carnivores (Frisén and Eriksson 1991). Regarding bears, the SEPA decided that harvest could be maintained at the present level, in order to allow the population to continue to increase slowly in size and distribution. At that time, the population had been estimated to be about 620 bears (Swenson et al. 1994), although this was later adjusted to about 770 bears (Kindberg and Swenson 2010), as stated above (Table 2). The SEPA was not able to set an objective for population viability, but stated the need for more research and monitoring of the population.

The SEPA made other changes in the hunting system during this period. It established female quotas in 1992, where the female quota was based on the desired number of females to be harvested and a total quota that was three times the female quota, in order to allow the hunters to kill more males. It was soon evident that hunters did not distinguish between males and females, which resulted in the ‘extra’ quota rarely being filled and a reduced total harvest, compared with earlier years (Bischof et al. 2008). This was unpopular among the hunters, and the regulation was abandoned after the 1998 hunting season. A zone near the Norwegian border was closed to bear hunting in 1991 in order to promote emigration of bears from Sweden to Norway, but this area was reopened to hunting in 1997, when the Swedish hunters asked to be allowed to hunt bears rather than having them killed as sheep depredators in Norway (Bjärvall 2007). Bear depredation on unguarded, free-ranging sheep is a great problem in Norway, but is not a problem in Sweden, where sheep are not free-ranging (Swenson and Andrén 2005). Starting in 1993, the SEPA set subpopulation quotas, based on the distribution of females, i.e. the four female core areas that were recognized by researchers at that time (Swenson et al. 1998), rather than on political units (counties). Based on the public comments to the season proposals, this subpopulation quota system was unpopular with the county administrations and hunters, who were not used to cooperating over county borders. This system was abandoned following the 1998 hunting season and quotas were again issued based on county borders. Sweden joined the European Union (EU) in 1995. This resulted in the brown bear becoming a protected species. However, hunting continued as previously, using the exceptions (derogations) allowed in the EU Habitats Directive. In 2000, the SEPA published an action plan for the conservation of brown bears in Sweden (Naturvårdsverket 2000).

In 2001, hunting bears using baits was forbidden, primarily because of concerns regarding human safety (Naturvårdsverket 2000). A retrospective analysis concluded that the ban had no immediate effect on the age or sex of hunter-killed bears or the use of the remaining legal hunting methods (Bischof et al. 2008).

During 1991–2001, the management objective had been to continue the harvest rate as before to allow slow population growth and expansion. However, the population increased about 190% in 10 years or 11.2% annually, from ca 770 in 1991 to about 2220 (2006–2465) in the year 2000 (Kindberg and Swenson 2010). Thus, the objective was not met, as the population grew much faster than anticipated (Table 2). In fact, the annual population growth rates in two areas during this period, as determined by a demographic analysis of data from radiomarked bears, rather than comparing population estimates, were the highest ever reported for brown bears; 14 and 16% (Sæther et al. 1998).

Period 4. A national political policy of brown bear management, 2001–2008

In January 2000, a commission appointed by the Swedish Government presented its recommendation for a national policy for large carnivores (Ekström and Ingman 1999). The Government responded by proposing a national policy on large carnivores in 2000 (Regeringen 2000), which was adopted by the Swedish Parliament in 2001. No population estimate was available for bears in 1999, but the expert opinion was that the population consisted of at least 900 bears in Sweden. However, a retrospective analysis based on DNA-based censuses (Bellemain et al. 2005, Solberg et al. 2006) indicated that there really had been about 2220 (2006–2465) bears in 2000 (Kindberg and Swenson 2010). Not knowing this, Ekström and Ingman (1999) recommended a minimum population objective of 1000 bears, which was more than what was considered to be a minimum viable population size in the short term. Ekström and Ingman (1999) recommended that the population be allowed to increase to perhaps 2000–2500 individuals, which they considered to be enough to ensure population viability in the long term, and to increase the distribution. No objective for maximum population size was proposed, except that a maximum level would depend on the amount of damage that bears caused to reindeer owners and summer cattle farmers, in addition to human injuries (Ekström and Ingman 1999). They recommended that hunting should continue. The Parliament set the minimum population objective at 100 reproducing females per year, corresponding to about 1000 individuals, with no upper limit for population size and with an additional objective that the population’s distribution should increase in order to allow low-density areas between the existing high-density core areas to be occupied and that the expansion to the south be allowed to continue. It also concluded that the hunter harvest could be increased as the population increased (Regeringen 2000). Thus, the objective for this period was an unspecified continued population growth.

In 2002, the SEPA set a common start date of 21 August for bear hunting throughout the country and gave the county administrations (Länsstyrelser) the right to issue permits to kill depredating bears under certain circumstances. The areas where bear hunting was banned on private lands or portions of municipalities gradually decreased. Around 2005, the county administrations produced regional management plans for large carnivores, including population objectives for bears in their counties.

During this period, the brown bear population in Sweden increased from about 2220 (2006–2465) in 2000 (Kindberg and Swenson 2010) to 3298 (2968–3667) in 2008 (Kindberg et al. 2011). This was an increase of about 50% in nine years or 4.5% annually. This was consistent with the political objective of a general population increase, although no indication of the desired rate of increase or population size had been given.

Period 5. Brown bear management is delegated to the counties; 2009–2013

Another commission appointed by the Swedish Government to evaluate the management of large carnivores presented its recommendations in 2007 (Pettersson et al. 2007). The Government followed these recommendations and proposed a new management regime, with the SEPA continuing its national role and responsibility for carrying out the national policy and monitoring the counties' management. However, the operative responsibility for large carnivore management, including hunting and issuing kill permits for depredating bears, was proposed to be moved to the regional level, including county administrations and their Delegations for Game Management, which were to be established (Regeringen 2009). No changes in the objectives regarding brown bear population size and distribution were proposed. The Swedish Parliament accepted this change in management paradigm in October 2009, dividing the country into three regions for large carnivore management, within which the county-based delegations were to cooperate.

The Delegations for Game Management were established to be an institution consisting of a mix of governmental and nongovernmental actors within each county administration with the mandate to make overarching decisions regarding the management of game species, especially moose, wild boar Sus scrofa and large carnivores. The delegations consist of 12–16 members with a four-year mandate representing important stakeholders, including hunting, farming, forestry, livestock husbandry, outdoor recreation, nature conservation, tourism, reindeer herding and fisheries in counties where they are present, and, in some counties, the police, which contribute knowledge on issues regarding traffic and illegal hunting. Five politicians appointed by the County Council (Landstinget) represent the general public. The leader of the county administration heads the delegation in that county and county administration provides the secretary functions. The delegation is a forum for interaction and discussion and, as such, a forum for a strong stakeholder involvement in game management (Matti et al. 2014). However, this system has not included transferring formal powers of significance from the central to the regional level, perhaps because of the central authorities’ fear of losing control over natural resources and the outcome of large carnivore management (Sandström et al. 2009).

Among other things, the Delegation for Game Management proposes objectives for numbers and distribution of the brown bear in their county and works to meet these objectives. Proposing a suitable minimum level of brown bear population size for their county to the SEPA was one of the first issues dealt with by the newly established delegations in 2010. The delegations within each large carnivore management region were charged to cooperate to reach the minimum objective for each region, which, however, already had been proposed by the Government in 2009 (Regeringen 2009). Based on these recommendations, the SEPA set minimum objectives in 2011; 75 yearly reproductions (about 750 bears) in the northern large carnivore management region and 32 reproductions (about 320 bears) in the central region (Naturvårdsverket 2011). No objective was set for the southern region, because no bears occur there and no females are expected to arrive there in the foreseeable future (Regeringen 2009). Interestingly, the county administrations and their delegations in the central large carnivore region had recommended increasing the minimum regional objective from 25, which the Government had proposed and the Parliament had accepted, to 32 reproductions per year.

Neither the county administrations, their delegations, the SEPA, nor the Government proposed decreasing the minimum population objectives for bears, and the Government stated clearly that there was no need to reduce the bear population on the national level (Regeringen 2009). However, the Government also had stated that there may be a need to reduce populations in certain areas. Thus, the objective for the period was population stability at the national and regional level, although variation at the local level was permitted. Importantly for this review, both the Government and the Parliament required that adaptive management be used by large carnivore managers (Regeringen 2009, Riksdagen 2009).

In 2011, another commission appointed by the Government to evaluate the management of large carnivores presented its recommendations regarding reference population levels for favorable conservation status for reporting to the EU. The commission determined the reference population level for the brown bear in Sweden to be 1800 bears and, as the current population was believed to exceed this number, it was concluded that the species therefore enjoyed a favorable conservation status (Liljelund et al. 2011). In 2012, the commission presented its evaluation of the management of large carnivores in Sweden (Liljelund et al. 2012). The commission proposed that the overall objective for bears should be to maintain a favorable conservation status. Based on the commission’s two reports and other work, the Government proposed (Regeringen 2013) and the Parliament decided (Riksdagen 2013) 1) that the reference area for distribution for the favorable conservation status of the brown bear in Sweden should be all of Norrbotten, Västerbotten, Jãmtland and Vãsternorrland counties and portions of Dalarna, Gävleborg, and Värmland counties, 2) that the reference population size should be somewhere in between 1100 and 1400 individuals, and 3) that the SEPA should determine the appropriate number within this interval. In December 2013, the SEPA concluded that the reference level regarding population size for favorable conservation status of the brown bear in Sweden was 1400 individuals (Naturvãrdsverket 2013).

During this period, the brown bear population in Sweden decreased from about 3298 (2968–3667) in 2008 (Kindberg et al. 2011) to about 2782 (no confidence intervals calculated) in 2013 (Kindberg and Swenson 2014), or 3.2% annually. This decline was not consistent with the political objective of population stability at the national level, even though local reductions were allowed (Regeringen 2009).

Because population objectives and the management to attain them were set at the county level during this period, we have also evaluated the population size and trend objectives by county during 2008–2013 (Table 4, Kindberg and Swenson 2014). For this evaluation, we compared the county objectives for population size with the point estimate of the population in the county in 2013 and the county objectives for population trend with the trend for that county obtained from the annual ‘large carnivore observations index’ from 2008–2013. Populations were not considered stable if the trend regression line was significantly different from 0. The stated objectives were only met in one of the seven counties (Västerbotten), although it was partially met in another (Jämtland), where the desired declining trend was obtained, but not the desired population size. Also, the objectives were very close to being obtained in Västernorrland, where the population estimate (173) was only slightly below the lower population objective (180) and the trend objective of ‘slight population increase’ was close to the stable result we obtained. Had we used confidence intervals in our evaluations, we would probably have considered one or both of these objectives to have been obtained.

Table 4.

Comparisons of brown bear population objectives by county during the period of regional management In Sweden, 2009–2014, with estimated population size In 2013, based on genetic sampling, and estimated trend during 2008–2013, based on the ‘large carnivore observation Index’ (Kindberg and Swenson 2014).


Present rapid changes in challenges to management

At the end of our study period, rapid changes were occurring in bear hunting, which may make it difficult for managers to reach management objectives using knowledge obtained from earlier periods with different hunting regimes, i.e. limiting the relevance of passive adaptive management. For example, the proportion of bears killed by bear-oriented hunters almost doubled from 1981–2004 (46%, Bischof et al. 2008) to 2005–2012 (71 %) and the proportion of bears killed by hunters using dogs doubled. During 1981– 2004, bears were killed using the following methods; dogs 37%, still hunting 30%, baiting 18%, and stalking 16% (Bischof et al. 2008). During 2005–2012, the methods were dogs 71%, still hunting 21.5%, stalking 7.5%, and baiting 0.3%. The use of baiting probably will increase in the future, because it was allowed again in 2013. Dog hunters may be tempted to obtain fresh tracks of bears at or near baits, because very few bears visit baits during the legal shooting hours (1 h before sunrise to 2 h before sunset), making baiting an ineffective hunting method by itself (Zedrosser et al. 2013).

Another major development was the increase in hunters specializing in bear hunting. Bischof et al. (2008) reported that during 1981–2003, only 2.1% of the successful bear hunters had killed more than one bear during a single hunting season, with a maximum of three. During 2005–2012, this had increased to 9.5%, with a maximum of 10 (Table 5). This change is also evident in the number of bears killed per hunter during the entire period. In 1981–2003, only 3.1% of the successful hunters had killed more than one bear in the period, with a maximum of 17 bears killed by one hunter during this period of 22 years (Bischof et al. 2008). In 2005–2012, however, 16.0% of the successful hunters killed more than one bear during this period of eight years, with a maximum of 33 bears killed by one hunter (Table 5).

Table 5.

Percent of the hunters In Sweden that have killed more than one brown bear during one year or the entire period during 1981–2003 (from Bischof et al. 2008) and during 2005–2012. The samples sizes are the number of hunters that killed bears In each period.


Bischof et al. (2008) stated that financially motivated guided hunts were rare in Sweden during 1981–2004. We evaluated the possibility that this had changed by examining the proportion of bears killed by hunters with foreign addresses. During 1981–2003, 1.7% of the bears (15 of 887) were killed by foreign hunters; 10 killed by hunters from Norway, 3 from Denmark and 2 from Germany. During 2004–2014, this had increased to 5.0% of the bears (120 of 2409; 94 by hunters from Norway, 10 from Finland, 8 from Denmark, 3 from England, 2 from Germany, and 1 each from the Netherlands, Switzerland and USA). The participation of foreign hunters in the Swedish bear hunting seems to be increasing; in 2013 and 2014, 7.2% of the bears were killed by foreign hunters (41 of 573). This strongly suggests that financially motivated guided hunts are increasing rapidly in Sweden.

Another recent change, which started in 2007, was a great increase in the number of bears killed annually by management agencies (Table 6), primarily in Norrbotten and Jãmtland counties (Supplementary material Appendix 1 Table A2–A8). Most of these bears were killed in response to complaints regarding bear depredation on reindeer calves, which can be considerable (Karlsson et al. 2012). On the national level, these management kills increased from an annual average of 1.2 bears (1.9% of all known mortalities) during 1981–2006 to an annual average of 25.6 bears (8.3% of all known mortalities) during 2007–2013 (Table 6, Fig. 3). This mortality is in addition to the greatly increased hunting mortality, which was almost the only legal source of mortality before 2007. This, and the increasing proportion of the harvest that has been taken before the ‘large carnivore observation index’ trend observations have been made in recent years, also may have affected the reliability of the recent trend estimates (Kindberg and Swenson 2014).


Adaptive management and attaining stated objectives

Although our review of 70 years of brown bear management in Sweden documents an impressive example of brown bear management from a conservation perspective (Fig. 1), it raises questions regarding the effectiveness of attaining management objectives. The population trend objectives were only attained in one of the five periods we evaluated at the national level and this objective had been formulated vaguely (Table 3). In addition, when management was carried out on the county level and adaptive management was required by the Government (2008–2013), five of seven counties generally met their trend objectives (counting Vãsternorrland, which had an objective of ‘slight population increase’ and a result of ‘stability’), but only one of six met the population objectives, not counting Vãsternorrland, which almost met its population objective (Table 4). This is in spite of the fact that the trend of the brown bear population is monitored annually at the county level using effort-corrected observations of bears by moose hunters (Kindberg et al. 2009). The size of brown bear populations is estimated at the county level using periodic DNA-based methods (Bellemain et al. 2005, Solberg et al. 2006), and, during our study period, repeat estimates had been conducted in Västerbotten, Dalarna and Gävleborg counties.

The Scandinavian Brown Bear Research Project (SBBRP) — a research project on brown bears ongoing in Sweden since 1984 — has designed and evaluated the current methods used for estimating population size and trend and carried out these estimates. The SBBRP makes these results publically available and responds to all requests for information from the national and county management authorities. There is presently no requirement that the Delegations for Game Management solicit or incorporate scientific information in their management decisions. However, the Delegations or their secretaries from the county administrations do sometimes ask for information or presentations. This is not done systematically, as some ask for information, recommendations, or evaluations of proposed quotas much more often than others, and some rarely do.

Table 6.

The quotas and known number of human-killed bears and the cause of death in Sweden, during the period of quota hunting, 1981–2013.


From this, we can only conclude that adaptive management, at least as we have defined it here from the population management perspective, has not worked, nor has it been implemented systematically in bear management in Sweden. This is surprising, given the availability of scientific knowledge and data on which an adaptive management could be based and the Government requirement that brown bear management be based on adaptive management principles (Regeringen 2009). This is also troubling, given the fact that the character of bear hunting is changing rapidly in Sweden and that the manager-caused mortality has increased greatly. This means that predicting the effects of hunting on future population trends may be more difficult in the future than it was in the past, when hunting methods were more stable and management-caused mortality was uncommon. Nevertheless, our findings are similar to those of Linnell et al. (2010) for Eurasian lynx Lynx lynx in Norway. They explained the overharvest of lynx there through a combination of fragmented management, lack of access to centrally produced monitoring data, time lags in reacting to the monitoring data and in including scientific data into management, and an overoptimistic attitude regarding population status and population growth rates. This seems to be a general pattern for decisions regarding natural resource management (Iftekhar and Pannell 2015).

Figure 3.

Number of bears known to have died annually in Sweden due to various human causes during 1981–2013.


It is important to point out that adaptive management is not as easy as it may sound. As Theberge et al. (2006) have pointed out, most adaptive management plans operate on short time scales (3–5 years), due to social considerations, whereas population biology and scientific assessment, especially with the wide variances commonly associated with large and long-lived carnivores, requires substantially more time, typically> 10 years, assuming that no major changes are occurring in the species’ population dynamics or in the management system. In Sweden, estimates of the size of the bear population generally occur every five or more years, which means that the estimates usually are not current, although an annual trend index is generated each year (Kindberg et al. 2009, 2011). Importantly, changes in bear hunting practice and management have been coming progressively more rapidly in Sweden, making it difficult to maintain a long-term management strategy or evaluate the effects of former management policies. In addition, although adaptive management has the potential to keep a population within some bounded limits, fluctuations are inevitable (Linnell et al. 2010). Nevertheless, it is not surprising that adaptive bear management in Sweden has not worked, because it has rarely been implemented.

Recommendations for improving the adaptive management of bears in Sweden

Why has adaptive bear management not been implemented systematically in Sweden, even during the period when it has been mandated by the Government? This is, of course, a difficult question to answer, and the answer is more elusive the farther back in time one wishes to examine. We have therefore decided to focus on the most recent management period. In addition, this period is the most relevant for the future management of large carnivores.

Our evaluation of the effectiveness of adaptive management has been based on biological criteria. Of course, the human dimension is also very important in wildlife management and the management process must be supported by communication that facilitates the exploration, understanding, and coordination of the knowledge contributed by those involved in management (Hallgren and Westberg 2015). Several recent social science studies, including environmental communication, political science, social anthropology and environmental psychology, have examined the functioning of the Swedish game management delegations during the most recent management period. These studies suggest that institutionalized organizational problems within the delegations and public management agencies may be hindering the intended system of adaptive management. Sandström et al. (2009) concluded that the corporatist character of the system ensures that there is no formal upward and only informal downward accountability and that each member of a delegation is accountable to their own organization or authority. Thus, the accountability process is dependent on the internal effectiveness and interests of the organizations within the delegations (Sandström and Lindvall 2006). Internal effectiveness seems to be hindered by the formation of primarily two significantly different advocacy coalitions, based on shared policy beliefs; one for and one against large carnivores (Matti and Sandström 2011, 2013, Lundmark and Matti 2015). In addition, the communication practice of the delegations seems to constrain the coordination of knowledge, which is required by adaptive management (Hallgren and Westberg 2015). Although multiple perspectives are presented at delegation meetings, there is often not enough time for them to be evaluated in a rational way and some delegates try to ‘win’ the debate, with the consequence that the validity and relevance of knowledge included in management decisions often are not assessed adequately, which inhibits adaptive management (Hallgren and Westberg 2015). It is important that both pro- and anticarnivore coalitions are present in the delegations, in order to reduce human conflicts regarding large carnivores and increase management legitimacy. However, Lundmark and Matti (2015) concluded that the delegates should gain a deeper understanding of the opposing views, which could be obtained through reasoned debate, i.e. a respectful and mutual exchange of experiences and arguments. Lundmark and Matti (2015) recommended therefore that the delegates focus more on reasoned debate. These are general conclusions, however, and these studies documented differences in communication and effectiveness among counties. In addition to these specific studies from Sweden, experimental studies have shown that humans generally are not good at systematic learning, which adaptive management was designed to promote (Iftekhar and Pannell 2015).

Thus, large carnivore management consists of a difficult combination of complicated sociopolitical and biological challenges (Sjölander-Lindqvist et al. 2015). In order to incorporate adaptiveness into bear management, as is required by Swedish law, it appears that the present management system should be changed. From a biological perspective, our results suggest that the delegations generally are not fulfilling the requirements of adaptive management, as the Swedish Parliament apparently assumed they would do when it required adaptive management. Obviously, a delegation cannot manage in an adaptive manner without integrating up-to-date, scientifically documented and relevant biological information into their decisions more than they do today. This is not always easy, because decision makers generally tend to ignore scientifically tested relevant information (Iftekhar and Pannell 2015) and, in Sweden, Hallgren and Westberg (2015) reported that delegation chairpersons often closed discourses asking for needed, relevant information before making a decision. We suggest a mandate that researchers participate in the process in a more systematic manner than they do today, in order to inform about the relevant information that is available, design testable scientific ‘experiments’ based on the predicted results of management decisions, and evaluate the results of the decisions in relation to the predictions. This would help increase the delegations' skill development, which also has been mandated by the Parliament, and is the only way to evaluate the ability of the management decisions to meet a quantitative objective with scientific rigor. Our proposal would require a new management paradigm, involving researchers in bear management in Sweden more than is the case today. We are aware that this involves risks of conflicts of interest. Researchers risk losing their independence if they become too involved in management and managers risk losing acceptance of their management decisions if they accept and implement measures based on scientific research without considering the policy process (Lynch et al. 2008).

Obviously, there are many ways that the brown bear management regime could be revised to make it more adaptive. Lynch et al. (2008) described one possibility; boundary management, which is an interface between researchers, decision makers and interest groups that can facilitate the communication, translation, and mediation necessary to successfully resolve management issues. Often, boundary management is performed in a boundary organization, which is a neutral institution that facilitates knowledge exchange between different parties. Lynch et al. (2008) described the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team in the Yellowstone Ecosystem in the United States as a successful example of a boundary organization. This team is composed of researchers that have a mandate to study grizzly bear Ursus arctos population trends, determine their use of habitats, and examine land management policies in relation to preserving the grizzly bear in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, and representatives of the relevant federal and state agencies that have the management responsibility. In Sweden, a possible boundary organization could be a cooperation between the delegations and, for example, the SBBRP, which could be given a role to assist the managers in implementing the mandated adaptive management of brown bears. If successful, this model might be useful to introduce adaptive management to the entire multispecies system of large carnivores and their hunted prey.


We appreciate helpful comments on this manuscript from Camilla Sandström and help from Mark Haroldson. We acknowledge the support of the Center for Advanced Study in Oslo, Norway, that funded and hosted our research project “Climate effects on harvested large mammal populations” during the academic year of 2015–2016 and funding from the Polish-Norwegian Research Program operated by the National Center for Research and Development under the Norwegian Financial Mechanism 2009–2014 in the frame of Project Contract No POL-NOR/198352/85/2013. This is paper no. 225 from the Scandinavian Brown Bear Research Project.

Funding — This study was conducted within the Scandinavian Brown Bear Research Project, which was funded by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, the Norwegian Environmental Agency, the Swedish Association for Hunting and Wildlife Management, the Research Council of Norway and the Austrian Science Fund.



Artelle, K. A. et al. 2013. Confronting uncertainty in wildlife management: performance of grizzly bear management. — PLoS ONE 8: e78041. Google Scholar


Bellemain, E. et al. 2005. Estimating population size of elusive animals using DNA from hunter-collected feces: comparing four methods for brown bears. — Conserv. Biol. 19: 150–161. Google Scholar


Bischof, R. et al. 2008. Hunting patterns, the ban on baiting, and harvest demographics of brown bears in Sweden. — J. Wildl. Manage. 72: 79–88. Google Scholar


Bischof, R. et al. 2012. Implementing uncertainty when using recreational hunting to manage carnivores. — J. Appl. Ecol. 49: 824–832. Google Scholar


Bjärvall, A. 1980. The brown bear in Sweden — distribution, abundance and management. — Proc. Int. Conf. Bear Res. Manage. 3: 255–258. Google Scholar


Bjärvall, A. 2007. Trettio år med rovdjur — och människor. — Gidlunds Bokförlag. Google Scholar


Bjärvall, A. and Nilsson, E. 1977. Licensjakt istället för allmän jakt pa björn? — Sv. Jakt 1977: 210–212. Google Scholar


Caughley, G. 1977. Analysis of vertebrate populations. — Wiley. Google Scholar


Conn, P. B. and Kendall, W. L. 2004. Evaluating mallard adaptive management models with time series. — J. Wildl. Manage. 68: 1065–1081. Google Scholar


Ekström, S. and Ingman, A. 1999. Sammenhållen rovdjurspolitik, slutbetänkande av Rovdjursutredningen. — Statens offentliga utredningar 1999:146. Google Scholar


Enck, J. W. et al. 2006. Integrating ecological and human dimensions in adaptive management of wildlife-related impacts. — Wildl. Soc. Bull. 34: 698–705. Google Scholar


Frisén, R. and Eriksson, M. 1991. Policy om björn, järv, varg och lodur. — Statens Naturvårdsverk, Promemoria, diarienummer 405-6335-91 Nj, 12 December 1991. Google Scholar


Haglund, B. 1964. Björn och lo. — P. A. Nordstedt and Söners Förlag. Google Scholar


Haglund, B. 1968. Winter habits of the bear (Ursus arctos L.) and the wolf (Cants lupus L.) as revealed by tracking in the snow. — Viltrevy 6: 213–361, in Swedish with English summary. Google Scholar


Hallgren, L. and Westberg, L. 2015. Adaptive management? Observations of knowledge coordination in the communication practice of Swedish game management. — Wildl. Biol. 21: 165–174. Google Scholar


Holechek, J. L. et al. 2000. Natural resources; ecology, economics and policy. — Prentice Hall. Google Scholar


Iftekhar, M. S. and Pannell, D. J. 2015. Biases» in adaptive natural resource management. — Conserv. Lett. 8: 388–396. Google Scholar


Karlsson, J. et al. 2012. Björnpredation på ren och potentiella effekter av tre förebyggande åtgärder. — Report from Viltskadecenter 2012:6. Google Scholar


Kindberg, J. and Swenson, J. 2006. Populationsberäkning av björnstammen i Sverige 2005. — Report no. 2006–2 from the Scandinavian Brown Bear Research Project. Google Scholar


Kindberg, J. and Swenson, J. E. 2010. Skattning av björnstammens storlek i Sverige åren 1994 och 2000. — Report no. 2010–5 from the Scandinavian Brown Bear Research Project. Google Scholar


Kindberg, J. and Swenson, J. E. 2014. Björnstammens storlek i Sverige 2013 — länsvisa skattningar och trender. — Report no. 2014–2 from the Scandinavian Brown Bear Research Project. Google Scholar


Kindberg, J. et al. 2009. Monitoring rare or elusive large mammals using effort- corrected voluntary observers. — Biol. Conserv. 142: 159–165. Google Scholar


Kindberg, J. et al. 2011. Estimating population size and trends of the Swedish brown bear (Ursus arctos) population. — Wildl. Biol. 17: 114–123. Google Scholar


Liljelund, L.-E. et al. 2011. Rovdjurens bevarandestatus. — Statens offentliga utredningar 2011:37. Google Scholar


Liljelund, L.-E. et al. 2012. Mal för rovdjuren. — Statens offentliga utredningar 2012:22. Google Scholar


Linnell, J. D. C. et al. 2010. Sustainably harvesting a large carnivore? Development of Eurasian lynx populations in Norway during 160 years of shifting policy. — Environ. Manage. 45: 1142–1154. Google Scholar


Lönnberg, E. 1929. Björnen i Sverige 1856–1928. — Almqvist och Wiksells Bodtryckeri. Google Scholar


Lundmark, L. 2006. Samernas skatteland i Norr- och Våsterbotten under 300 ar. — Rättshistoriska skrifter 3:1650–2299. Google Scholar


Lundmark, C. and Matti, S. 2015. Exploring the prospects for deliberative practices as a conflict-reducing and legitimacyenhancing tool: the case of Swedish carnivore management. — Wildl. Biol. 21: 147–156. Google Scholar


Lynch, H. J. et al. 2008. The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem: challenges for regional ecosystem management. — Environ. Manage. 41: 820–833. Google Scholar


Matti, S. and Sandström, A. 2011. The rationale determining advocacy coalitions: examining coordination networks and corresponding beliefs. — Policy Study J. 39: 385–410. Google Scholar


Matti, S. and Sandström, A. 2013. The defining elements of advocacy coalitions: continuing the search for explanations for coordination and coalition structures. — Rev. Policy Res. 30: 240–257. Google Scholar


Matti S. et al. 2014. Institutioner för en legitim rovdjursförvaltning. En studie av lärande och legitimitet i tre viltförvaltningsdelegationer 2011–2013. — Report to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency. Dnr 802-0154-10 < land-FILE_REF=6745>. Google Scholar


MacNab, J. 1983. Wildlife management as scientific experimentation. — Wildl. Soc. Bull. 11: 397–401. Google Scholar


Miller, S. D. 1990. Population management of bears in North America. Proc. — Int. Conf. Bear Res. Manage. 8: 357–373. Google Scholar


Naturvårdsverket 2000. Åtgärdsprogram för bevarande av björn (Ursus arctos). — Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, Stockholm, Sweden. Google Scholar


Naturvårdsverket 2011. Faststäl lande av regio nal a miniminivåer för förekomst av björn för rovdjursförvaltningsområden och län. — Beslut av den 5 maj 2011, ärendenummer NV-03874-11. Google Scholar


Naturvårdsverket 2013. Ställningstagande om kompletterande rapportering angående rovdjur. — Promemoria av den 16 december 2013, ärendenummer NV-09661-12. Google Scholar


Pettersson, Å. et al. 2007. Rovdjuren och deras förvaltning, betänkande av utredningen om de sto ra rovdj uren. — Statens offentliga utredningar 2007:89. Google Scholar


Regeringen 2000. Rege rings proposition; sammanhållen rovdjurspolitik. — Prop. 2000/01:57. Google Scholar


Regeringen 2009. Regerings proposition; en ny rovdjursförvaltning. — Prop. 2008/09:210. Google Scholar


Regeringen 2013. Regerings proposition; en hållbar rovdjurspolitikg. — Prop. 2012/13:191. Google Scholar


Riksdagen 2009. Miljö- och jordbruksutskottets betänkande 2009/10:MJU8. — Riksdagens protokoll 2009/10:18; Riksdagsskrivelse 2009/10:7. Google Scholar


Riksdagen 2013. Miljö- och jordbruksutskottets betänkande 2013/14:MJU7. — Riksdagens protokoll 2013/14:40; Riksdagens protokoll 2013/14:43; Riksdagsskrivelse 2013/14:99. Google Scholar


Riley, S. J. and Gregory, R. S. 2012. Decision making in wildlife management. — In: Decker, D. J. et al. (eds), Human dimensions of wildlife management, 2nd edn. John Hopkins Univ. Press, pp. 101–111. Google Scholar


Robertson, D. P. and Hull, R. B. 2001. Beyond biology: towards a more public ecology for conservation. — Conserv. Biol. 15: 970–979. Google Scholar


Sandström, C. and Lindvall, A. 2006. Regional förvaltning av rovdj ur i Västerbotten och Norrbotten — om likheter och skill nader ur ett samförvaltningsperspektiv. — FjällMistrarapport nr. 18, FjällMistra, Umeå, Sweden. Google Scholar


Sandström, C. et al. 2009. Management of large canivores in Fennoscandia: new patterns of regional participation. — Human Dimen. Wildl. 14: 37–50. Google Scholar


Sæther, B. E. et al. 1998. Assessing the viability of Scandinavian brown bear, Ursus arctos, populations: the effects of uncertain parameter estimates. — Oikos 83: 403–416. Google Scholar


Selander, S. and Fries, C. 1943. 1942 års björnutredning. — Sveriges Natur 1943(1): 1–10. Google Scholar


Solberg, K. H. et al. 2006. An evaluation of field and non-invasive genetic methods to estimate brown bear (Ursus arctos) population size. — Biol. Conserv. 128: 158–168. Google Scholar


Sjölander-Lindqvist, A. et al. 2015. Individual and collective responses to large carnivore management: the roles of trust, representation, knowledge spheres, communication and leadership. — Wildl. Biol. 21: 175–185. Google Scholar


Swenson, J. E. and Andrén, H. 2005. A tale of two countries: large carnivore depredations and compensation schemes in Sweden and Norway. — In: Woodroffe, R. et al. (eds), People and wildlife: conflict or co-existence? Cambridge Univ. Press, pp. 323–339. Google Scholar


Swenson, J. E. and Sandegren, F. 1996. Sustainable brown bear harvest in Sweden estimated from hunter-provided information. — J. Wildl. Res. 1: 228–231. Google Scholar


Swenson, J. E. et al. 1994. Size, trend, distribution and conservation of the brown bear Ursus arctos population in Sweden. — Biol. Conserv. 70: 9–17. Google Scholar


Swenson, J. E. et al. 1995. The near extinction and recovery of brown bears in Scandinavia in relation to the bear management policies of Norway and Sweden. — Wildl. Biol. 1: 11–25. Google Scholar


Swenson, J. E. et al. 1998. Geographic expansion of an increasing brown bear population: evidence for presaturation dispersal. — J. Anim. Ecol. 67: 819–826. Google Scholar


Swenson, J. E. et al. 2007. Brown bear body mass and growth in northern and southern Europe. — Oecologia 153: 37–47. Google Scholar


Theberge, J. B. et al. 2006. Pitfalls of applying adaptive management to a wolf population in Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario. — Environ. Manage. 37: 451–460. Google Scholar


Zedrosser, A. et al. 2011. Brown bear conservation and the ghost of persecution past. — Biol. Conserv. 144: 2163–2170. Google Scholar


Zedrosser, A. et al. 2013. The effects of baiting for hunting purposes on brown bears and their behavior. — Report no. 2013:3 from the Scandinavian Brown Bear Research Project. Google Scholar


[1] Supplementary material (available online as Appendix wlb-00251 at <>). Appendix 1.

© 2017 The Authors.
Jon E. Swenson, Michael Schneider, Andreas Zedrosser, Arne Söderberg, Robert Franzén, and Jonas Kindberg "Challenges of managing a European brown bear population; lessons from Sweden, 1943–2013," Wildlife Biology 2017(1), (1 January 2017).
Accepted: 23 November 2016; Published: 1 January 2017
Back to Top