By Madeline Chambers
BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's Agriculture Minister wants to loosen restrictions on shooting wolves to reduce a growing population that threatens sheep and goats.
Wolves disappeared from Germany a century ago after many were killed, in part because they are symbols of cunning and wickedness in German folklore but also because they attack farm animals and even humans.
They have made a comeback across Germany and the ministry says more than 600 now roam a northern belt from the border with Poland and the Czech Republic to the Dutch frontier.
Wolves killed more than 1,000 farm animals in 2016, said the ministry. Farmers say their animals are being ravaged and hunters say wolves eat game they want to shoot and even damage trees.
But their legal protection is viewed as sacrosanct by animal welfare and biodiversity groups.
The wolf population will likely rise by an annual 30 percent, the ministry said on its website. "This excellent success in terms of species protection is a challenge for those keeping grazing animals," it said.
Agriculture Minister Julia Kloecker wrote last month to her counterpart in the environment ministry, Svenja Schulze, to lobby for a change in the rules to allow more wolves to be shot as part of a moderate regulation of the wolf population.
It was unclear who would be licenced do to do the shooting.
She said an earlier suggestion by Schulze to allow the removal of individual wolves that pose a danger was a step in the right direction but was insufficient.
Wolf management is a political issue and there was even a clause on the need to come up with a strategy on wolves in last year's coalition deal between the conservatives of Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Social Democrats.
Currently, farmers can get compensation for farm animals that fall prey to wolves and subsidies for electric fences are available to help keep them out.
The latest data from the Federal Office for the Protection of Nature shows Germany has 73 packs of wolves, 13 more than a year earlier, and for the first time, the southern state of Bavaria has its own pack.
(Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)