Staffan Widstrand / Rewilding Europe

Rewilding setting

Rewilding Lapland, Rewilding Europe’s local partner organisation in Sweden, is a new player in the area, so there is a need to carefully identify how to best add value to the on-going work. This part of Sweden already has received a lot of conservation attention, for instance, with the largest protected areas system in the whole country and unrivalled by any other part of Europe.

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The Sami community is a key player and uses the entire land with modern management tools but anchored in old traditions where intact nature serves as the baseline. Although they lost ownership to land and many user rights, they still have some influence on other economic activities affecting their livelihood. For instance, the Laponia World Heritage Area involves the Sami community in the direct management of national parks and the other nature reserves in the area, and through this organization they receive support in tourism development and marketing their cultural values.

Along the main rivers, people have created new alliances of landowners, municipalities and the forestry industry, supported by the Norrbotten County Board and other government agencies, to enable the comeback of different fish species, like grayling, trout and Atlantic salmon, and to restore larger sections of the rivers affected by past river timber transport. Many skillful local tourism entrepreneurs are already established, providing services for clients from both Sweden and abroad, and Swedish Lapland provides as a region-wide marketing facility.

In the planning phase 2012–2015, Rewilding Europe has therefore spent considerable time to better understand the local needs and opportunities, foster good relationships, and to develop activities in partnerships with local actors interested in combining rewilding/conservation with entrepreneurship not undertaken by anybody else.

The mountains and the upper part of the taiga forests are basically state-owned land with very few enclaves private properties. The Swedish Government is therefore a key stakeholder. Closer to the coast, private landowners dominate, with a mixture of farmlands along the rivers and forestry company owned land at higher elevations. In this mix of different ownerships, the Sami community – Sápmi – tries to fit in.

Sami tents in Kalvmark

Sami tents in Kalvmark
Carl-Johan Utsi

The Sami are the only indigenous people of Scandinavia recognized under the international conventions of Indigenous peoples, and hence the northernmost indigenous people of Europe. Sami ancestral lands span an area of approximately 388,350 km2 in the Nordic countries. Their best-known means of livelihood is semi-nomadic reindeer herding, with which about 10% of the Sami are connected and 2,800 actively involved on a full-time basis. The reindeer herding is seen by the Sami as one of the four very core elements of their culture (together with their language, joik-singing and handicraft). For traditional, environmental, cultural and political reasons, reindeer herding is legally reserved only for individuals of Sami origin, and only in certain regions of Sweden. The “Sametingslag” law was established together with the Swedish Sami Parliament in January 1993. According to the Swedish Sami Parliament, the Sami population of Sweden is about 20,000. Sweden recognised the existence of the “Sami nation” in 1989 but the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (ILO), has not been adopted. All indigenous rights are currently very restricted, but the Sami community still plays an important role for any kind of work in the region – land use, wildlife management, hunting, fishing, tourism, etc.

More than 15 Sami communities are located in the core area for Rewilding Lapland where they still are allowed to practice reindeer herding, although many of their traditional rights, such as on hunting and fishing, have been limited by the Swedish government. Due to a very proactive economic development policy at the county and national level, a number of threats to the existing natural and cultural values have emerged, especially from mineral exploitation, wind farms and forestry.

This is the context in which the Rewilding Lapland aims at demonstrating that tourism, including wildlife watching, wildlife promotion and other concepts, including reindeer herding and river restoration, can serve as important alternatives to negative, resource-extractive developments.