Nat Geo fights Swedish reindeer helicopter ban

National Geographic has appealed a ban on its photographers taking a helicopter into the Sarek national park, which Swedish officials said risked disturbing the indigenous Samis' grazing reindeer in the World Heritage wilderness.

Nat Geo fights Swedish reindeer helicopter ban

Kathy Moran, senior editor at the magazine that has 40 million readers worldwide, in June asked Swedish officials to consider allowing Norwegian photographers Orsolya and Erlend Haarberg to fly into the far northern park with all their equipment.

That does not sit well with the Sami who make their living on the hills, which were classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

“Freelance photographers and filmmakers apply for the right to land all the time, but there is never such a hullabaloo when they are declined, it’s just because it’s National Geographic this time that people are kicking up a fuss,” said Jakob Nygård, chairman of local Sami village council Sirges, whose 500 members together own more than 15,000 reindeer.

IN PICTURES: See views from the Sarek National Park

The Sami were asked their opinion about allowing NatGeo to land in the 1,970 square kilometre park, but have no official power of veto.

“We told them it would disturb the reindeer. Right now, they are down in the forests grazing on mushrooms, but come September they will start moving up towards the feet of the mountains,” Nygård told The Local on the phone from atop a mountain.

“That’s when we decided which ones to slaughter, you have to slaughter them before they go into heat, because then they become inedible. It’s important for us to get them up the mountain.”

The US-based magazine was hoping, however, to get a landing permit as their photographers are lugging heavy equipment.

“In order to both showcase the diversity of landscapes and to access remote areas, the Haarbergs would like permission to land in the Sarek National Park with helicopter,” Senior Editor Kathy Moran wrote in the initial application.

“This would help them to carry all the necessary equipment for a 4-5 weeks long continuous stay in the national park. Travelling by helicopter would also save a great deal of transit time, time better spent on photographing the wild wonders of the area.”

The county administrative board (länsstyrelsen) responded, however, that such a landing would threaten biodiversity, the area’s pristine nature, and violate regulations on noise pollution.

“Our goal is that air traffic within the national park should not disturb reindeer keeping,” the decision added, as Sarek plays host to several thousands of reindeer herded by the indigenous Sami in the area. Some 2,500 people in Sweden make their principal living off reindeer – the meat is a much-appreciated delicacy – and the animals roam over 52 percent of the country.

IN PICTURES: Trekking across Sweden’s Sarek national park

The Haarbergs have now appealed the decision to the Environmental Court (Mark- och miljödomstolen), stating that trekking would add a week to their travel time – “a week we’d put to better use photographing”.

“As we see it, two treks up Sarvesvagge with our packing would disturb the reindeer more than if we are allowed to land at 1,450 metres height on the little plateau between Ryggåsberget and Luottojaure, where we assume there aren’t many reindeer,” the couple wrote in their appeal.

“We are flexible regarding other landing spots if there other alternatives in the area.”

Sirges village chairman Jakob Nygård, however, said the reindeer were the lifeblood of the people in the area – not just financially, but culturally.

“The oldest reindeer herders, they’re in their eighties and nineties,” Nygård told The Local. “They keep at it until they die. If you’ve been herding reindeer since you were ten years old, you don’t stop just because your strength is waning.”

Ann Törnkvist

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Seven events to tick off your Sweden bucket list in 2017

Which are the don't-miss events for a real Swedish experience in 2017? We've listed seven of them.

Seven events to tick off your Sweden bucket list in 2017
The reindeer race at Jokkmokk's winter market. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

1. Jokkmokk Winter Market

This small northern Swedish town has hosted the winter market of its indigenous Sami people every year since 1605. Try dog sledding, buy Sami handicrafts and check out the biggest attraction: the reindeer race. Finding accommodation is the main problem for visitors here, but its friendly residents often open their homes to strangers during the bustling market week. You may be too late to get a place to stay this year, but it is high time to start looking for one for 2018.

When: February 2nd-4th

Where: Jokkmokk

Sami representatives at Jokkmokk's winter market. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

2. Melodifestivalen

For most nations participating, the Eurovision Song Contest is something that crops up at some point in spring, but in Sweden it is pretty much a year-round event (well, almost). It takes Sweden six weeks and several competitions to select their Eurovision entry, a process known as Melodifestivalen. It is a touring event, meaning that fans from all over the country get to see the hopefuls strut their stuff, and also attracts international visitors travelling to Sweden specifically to witness the entire spectacle in the flesh. Join them at your peril.

This year it kicks off in Gothenburg and will then travel to Malmö, Växjö, Skellefteå and Linköping before the Melodifestivalen final at Friends Arena in Solna, Stockholm.

When/where: Gothenburg, February 4th; Malmö, February 11th; Växjö, February 18th; Skellefteå, February 25th; Linköping, March 4th: Solna, March 11th.

Sweden's Frans Jeppsson Wall at Eurovision Song Contest 2016. Photo: AP Photo/Martin Meissner

3. Swedish Classic Circuit

The Swedish Classic Circuit (en svensk klassiker) is a diploma awarded to those who complete a certain number of various kinds of races. To qualify you have to ski the iconic 90 kilometre Vasaloppet race (alternatively Engelbrektsloppet at 60 kilometres, but Vasaloppet is more famous), cycle the Vätternrundan bike race around Lake Vättern, swim three kilometres at the Vansbro swim, and run the 30 kilometre Lidingö cross-country race. You have to complete them within 12 months. Or you could just enjoy that cinnamon roll instead, that's fine too.

When: Vasaloppet, February 26th; Engelbrektsloppet, February 12th; Vätternrundan, June 16th-17th; Vansbro swim, July 7th/8th; Lidingö race, September 23rd.

The Vansbro swim. Photo: Ulf Palm/TT

4. Nordenskiöldsloppet

Inspired by a race organized by polar explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld in 1884, Nordenskiöldsloppet (the Nordenskiöld race) is the world's longest, and probably toughest, classic ski race: 220 kilometres of gruelling cross-country exercise in northern Sweden, starting and finishing in Jokkmokk, north of the polar circle. Last year 335 contestants from more than 17 countries competed for the top spot, but a word of warning: this is not for first-time skiiers.

When: April 15th

Where: Jokkmokk

The Nordenskiöld race. Photo: Magnus Östh/Red Bull Content Pool

5. Symposium Stockholm

Symposium Stockholm was launched by Spotify founder Daniel Ek and Avicii's manager Ash Pournouri in 2015. Now in its third year running, the creative tech festival culminates in the Brilliant Minds conference, where tech gurus, music stars and entrepreneurs get on stage to share ideas. Its CEO Natalia Brzezinski told The Local ahead of the 2016 festival that she wants it to be the startup event of the year and as much of a Swedish trademark as the Nobel Awards.

When: June 7th-16th

Where: Stockholm

6. Håkan Hellström

Sweden's indie darling is touring this summer. Hellström's out-of-tune voice may be an acquired taste for many, but ask a Swede for their opinion and you're bound to get a strong response. His fans adore the Gothenburger's lyrics and his understanding of love and, aged 42, he keeps helping them relive their heart-wrenching teenage years. The tour kicks off in Stockholm and will see him visiting Gävle, Umeå, Örebro, Karlstad, Borgholm, Malmö and Gothenburg. Find out why your Swedish friends love (or hate) him so much.

When/where: Starts on June 9th at Stockholm Stadium

7. Stockholm Pride Festival

There are plenty of Pride festivals held across Sweden every year, but the biggest one in the Nordics is the one in the capital. Almost half a million spectators turn out on the streets of Stockholm for the festival's crowning glory, the Pride Parade, every year, on top of the people actually marching in the parade (this in a country with a population just shy of ten million). It takes over the city, with Pride flags flying from every single public bus, from the City Hall and from many foreign embassies – it's pretty amazing.

When: July 31st-August 6th

Where: Stockholm

Stockholm Pride in 2016. Photo: Erik Nylander/TT



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