Bridges for migrating wolves and moose will be built over Germany's no-speed limit Autobahn highways near Berlin as part of a wildlife corridor to Poland, officials said today.

Brandenburg, the state surrounding the German capital, wants the 200-kilometer (90-mile) corridor to help re-establish large mammals and provide them with a safe route between nature reserves, Dietmar Woidke, the state's Rural Development and Environment Minister, said at a conference in Potsdam.

The spread of wolves and moose from Poland into eastern German forests of Brandenburg and Saxony is causing a stir in a country that killed off many of its large wild animals a century ago. About 40 wolves that now live in eastern Germany are forcing a debate that pits farmers, forest-owners and hunters against conservationists.

"Official support for the wolf population is morally and economically an imposition on private property," said Christian Schwinner-Strachwitz, 66, who owns a forest in Saxony and fears the wolves will prey on the red deer on his property that he hunts. "That's why I'm against it."

With farmers and hunters concerned about livestock and wild game, and conservationists promoting biodiversity, Germany is learning to live with animals that have been absent since at least the early 1900s. About half of the country favors animals like wolves making a home again in Europe's most populous nation, the conservation group World Wildlife Fund said.

"We've trying to reach an understanding with farmers and hunters on this," Woidke said in an interview.

Stealthy Predator

Wolves once roamed freely over most of central Europe until they were largely killed off in the late 19th century. A decade ago a pair of wolves moved into Germany from Poland and re- established the stealthy predator, the World Wildlife Fund said.

Before that, wolves and moose were shot by hunters under communist East Germany's forest-management policy. Protected since the 1990 reunification of the two Germanys, the animals now move freely from Poland which has more wilderness.

"People in Germany think they have a democratic right to choose whether wolves and other animals are allowed here," said WWF program officer Izabela Skawinska. "Most people don't realize that wolves are protected by international and EU law."

Smaller animals also are causing concern. The beaver population has grown and on Feb. 23 one felled a tree that landed on train tracks north of Berlin, causing more than an hour-long delay for commuters.

People Leave

Wildlife is expanding in eastern Germany after the number of people in the region declined 10 percent over past two decades.

The region suffers from low birthrates and aging communities as well as a flow of people moving for jobs to more prosperous cities in the west, said Wilfried Endlicher, a geography professor at Berlin's Humboldt University.

Moose, the largest living member of the deer family, have established themselves in eastern Germany after gradually migrating westward from Poland across the Neisse and Oder Rivers. So far most of the moose are single animals, said Jens- Uwe Schade, a spokesman for Brandenburg's Rural Development and Environment Ministry. "It's not yet a stable, breeding population but we know they're coming."

Wisent, or European Bison, are being reintroduced at several sites near Berlin. Schade said one idea is to release Wisent on 85,000 hectares (210,000 acres) of former Soviet and East German troop training areas contaminated with unexploded munitions that make farming or forestry too dangerous. "They'd keep down the brush and help prevent forest fires," he said.


Opposition to wolves and moose is most vocal among farmers and foresters. Sheep herders want a monitoring program to watch over predators as well as financial compensation for losses.

"When a wolf kills a lamb, that is an economic loss for the shepherd," said Stefan Voell, a spokesman for the German Farmers' Association.

Schwinner-Strachwitz, the forest owner, says he fears moose may damage his trees. "They need a lot of forage and require a huge acreage to feed," he said.

Having wildlife nearby will be an adjustment for many people in Germany, said WWF's Skawinska. Unlike parts of Canada and the U.S., where coyotes and cougars make appearances in or near cities, most Germans aren't used to close encounters with large fauna, and about half say large carnivores don't belong in the country, she added.

The wolf will likely remain the most controversial animal for people in Saxony and Brandenburg.

"I fear that the wolves could get out of control -- their population is growing fast," said Willi Kuhlmann, a retired chief forester in Tauer, Germany. "There are already at least four packs in eastern Germany."