Brown bears (Ursus arctos) are present in France in the Pyrenean massif. After having been hunted a lot, just like wolves and lynxes, the population found itself reduced to a few individuals confined in the West and the centre of the mountain range in the 1940s.
The very worrying state of the species urged the international authorities to pass protection texts in the 1970s; their French adaptation dates back to the 1980s. Nevertheless, the French population kept deteriorating until the extinction of the central core in the 1990s. From then on, only 7 or 8 individuals remained in the Western part of the Pyrenees, far too small a number for it to be perennial.
Under the impulse of local actors, the national authorities then launched into a policy of protection of the species, supported by the European financing programme LIFE. This policy planned a reinforcement of the residual population: three bears of Slovenian origin were released in the Pyrenees in 1998, followed by five other individuals in 2005/2006.
This introduction of new individuals does not have unanimous support, notably among breeders who see in bears a direct threat to their activity. Indeed, the brown Bear is an omnivore and sometimes attacks the domestic herds. In order to protect the livestock, as it happened for the wolves, European and national plans urged breeders and shepherds to adopt protective measures. These measures are roughly the same as for the wolves, that is: protection dogs, herding and night paddocking.
The transmission of this know-how certainly was easier in the Pyrenees than in the Alps because bears never completely disappeared from some breeding zones. Thus, in the "bear territories", the breeding practices aiming at protecting the herds from the predator never completely disappeared. This is notably the case for the use of protection dogs among the herds. This continuous presence allowed retaining lineages of dogs corresponding to the sought-after criteria of efficiency and the necessary knowledge for their breeding.
Despite the protective measures, the brown Bear remains a sensitive subject at the origin of an opposition, both on the scale of the territory and of the rest of France, between those who see it as a strong element of the heritage, of local identity and as an important asset for tourism and those who see it as a threat for the human activities and the security of people.
For more information, please browse the website of the Bear National Policy of the Ministry in charge of Ecology and Sustainable Development.