While on holiday in Norway in August, Erwin van Maanen of ALF took the opportunity to spent a week finding out more about the large carnivore community in Hedmark County, in southestern Norway near the border with Sweden.
I stayed at a campsite on a lakeside in Osen near Rena (west) and the larger town of Elverum (south). The area consists of glowing hills and mountains covered with Taiga forest interspersed with mires en streams in the valleys. As elsewhere in Norway, the region is sparsely populated, but human presence and activity is notable everywhere through recreation and forest exploitations.
Immediately upon arrival I asked the Dutch owner (Edwin Jobing) of the campsite (Vannsport og Camping) about wildlife in the neighborhood. This produced exciting stories of brown bear, wolf, lynx en wolverine in the surrounding forests and encounters with these animals around villages and isolated homes. There is also anxiety, as some villagers fear that large carnivores are coming closer to the villages and homes, and are losing their fear of humans. There were stories of wolves circling people or their dogs in winter in the woods, predation of deer and livestock close to houses, and a stories of recent fatal bear attacks on hunters near Trysil and in another area at the Norwegian-Swedish border. I heard similar stories about lynx and bear drawing near to local people in Geilo, just west of the Hardangervidda Highlands.
So I excitingly took a set of trail cameras (three Scoutguards and two Bushnell’s) for a pilot into the woods to camera capture large carnivores. It was an opportunity to try my new Bushnell Trophy Cam’s (the 2011 standard “brown” and a black LED model). For lure I brought a combination of peanut butter (for bear, wolverine and pine marten) and Turkish valerian paste (for lynx). Edwin Jobing directed me to a quiet and long trail into the forested hills, running along the east site of a military shooting range. On the trail I found many tracks and signs of mesocarnivores including fox, pine marten, stoat and weasel; an obvious “predator highway”. Moose are common in the area, and there were many signs of this large horse-sized, but very stealthy deer (typical oval-shaped droppings from spring, pads in late summer and browsed foliage). Curiously though, the coniferous forests were overall very quiet, with only the occasional black grouse flushed disturbing the peace when I was walking off the trail.
The cameras were set for six days with about 500 meter intervals, close to the trail. Checking the films was rather disappointing, as the three Scoutguards had failed to operate despite the lures having been (obviously) touched by some animal. The Black LED Trophy cam recorded a pine marten in HD-format and the standard Trophy cam recorded a black grouse, red squirrel, snow hare, red fox and a moose.
The occasional glitch occurs with these camera’s and this time it may have been due to the extreme cold that week (just sub-zero at night), when AA batteries are known to malfunction (better to use Lithium-batteries). Alas, better luck next time!
I did however manage to establish recently lynx presence at just 300 meter west of the Vannsport og Camping, with a clear paw print in recently dried mud. Telemetry studies by ScandLynx have shown that several lynx frequent the area. I found possible wolf tracks, but no any signs of bear or wolverine presence. Jiska van Dijk, a wolverine researcher from the University of Trondheim, corresponded that wolverines are known to visit carcasses of moose in the region and that a wolverine was recently seen on the military shooting range. Bears occur locally in low densities in Norway. They occasionally enter the current area, but at the time of visit would possibly be higher up in the mountains. Wolves are on the increase in the region, but also threathened by poaching or persecution by hunters. Lynx are seasonally hunted by permit in Norway. Other animals I actually observed in the area were black-throated loon, osprey, capercaillie, common crane, short-eared owl, wood lemming, mountain lemming, red squirrel, snow hare, beaver, weasel and roe deer.
The very informative national Forest or Norsk Skog Museum in Elverum revealed much about the relationship between people and carnivores in the region from the old days onwards. Carnivores were intensely hunted by the Norwegians in the old days. But even today there is a lot of animosity toward carnivores, despite the respect of many Norwegians toward nature and living with nature.
One of the main reasons for a rise in human-carnivore conflict is the fact that plenty of sheep roam freely in many of the Norwegian forests, potentially targetted by an increasing number in carnivores.