The capercaillie is disillusioned

The capercaillie is disillusioned

At a time when this emblematic gallinaceae of the Vosges is about to be reintroduced, certain ecologists and naturalists denounce an operation which comes at the wrong time.

Cock-a-doodle Doo ! On April 16, the prefect of the Vosges, Valérie Michel-Moreaux, finally authorized the annual introduction of nearly two hundred capercaillies in five years into the Grand Ventron massif. Wild birds taken in Norway where, unlike France, the population is doing well, with more than 200,000 individuals. Since 2021, a “Vosges grouse” committee has been set up, in agreement with those responsible for the Ballons des Vosges regional natural park, to set the conditions of this rescue plan. But the recent public consultation, carried out by the prefectures of Vosges and Haut-Rhin, led to contrasting results: of the 957 contributions collected, 811 expressed an unfavorable opinion on this plan. Particularly because of its cost, more than a million euros just for the first two years.

A tourist asset

The affair, however, resembles a last chance operation. Over the last fifty years, the Vosges population of this large gallinaceous has collapsed by nearly 93% following changes in its environment. There would therefore be only a few individuals left at large. The “reinforcement plan” validated by the prefecture appears to be justified. It is, after all, the brand image of the Grand Est region, proud of its six natural parks. The bird of the Vosges massif symbolizes its natural and wild character. A strong argument to attract hikers and tourists. But the example of the lynx, another species typical of the region, calls for caution: reintroduced in the 1980s in the south of the Vosges, the feline was quickly decimated by poaching. There are only around ten survivors left in the massif, the species being threatened with rapid extinction. Are we going to repeat the same mistakes with the capercaillie?

Ecological nonsense

In fact, only two nature protection associations – the League for the Protection of Birds (LPO) and Alsace Nature – say they are in favor, but requesting greater preservation of the natural spaces which will welcome Norwegian birds. Many other associations, conversely, criticize the state's decision. Two appeals have been filed, in France and Norway, to stop the current operation. “The Vosges no longer seem suitable for the capercaillie,” lament Michel Munier* and his son, the nature photographer Vincent Munier. They recall that “similar operations in the Massif Central have failed”. The animal needs dense, uncrowded forest areas and a boreal-type climate. Conditions which have disappeared in this mid-mountain today. “We are going to condemn these birds to die slowly,” they conclude. The capercaillie affair illustrates our illusory claim to save the last truly wild areas of French territory. Like our difficulty in coping with the transformations taking place in ecosystems due to climate change.

* The forest bird, Ed. Kobalann, 256 pp. ; €35.

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