Two New Sites Added to the ICCA Registry – A Sámi Forest Area and Onkamo lakes in North Karelia


In May 2024, the ICCA Registry approved the first forest area protected by the Sámi, or the so-called ICCA area in Nordic countries. The Altto-oja forest, located by the Ivalojoki, is a 72-hectare entity. At the same time, the Onkamo lakes in the Province of North Karelia were accepted into the register as an example of important natural areas for local Finnish communities. These decisions represent a vanguard of conservation methods in the region.

The Altto-oja forest, a 72-hectare complex, located by the Ivalojoki river, is the traditional area of a Sámi family, where Sámi reindeer husbandry continues. The area has significant natural values. The families of the area wanted the Altto-oja to be protected, in a way where the Sámi traditional knowledge, land use, history and nature knowledge are also included as part of the whole. In 2023 the Landscape Rewilding Programme and the Sámi community of Altto-oja started a collaboration.

In the fall of 2023, after the inventories and the collection of Indigenous knowledge an application was submitted for the Altto-oja to the UN Environment  and ICCA Registry. The goal was to get the site a status of a public ICCA (Indigenous and Community-Conserved Areas) area – ICCA areas are a relatively new, international protection status for areas where Indigenous peoples or local communities are able to demonstrate an undeniable ability to protect their areas, manage their rights and maintain biodiversity.

In May 2024, Altto-oja was accepted into the ICCA Registry maintained by the UN. In the justifications, nature values and the Sámi tradition are emphasized. There are several endangered habitats on the site.

The Alttokangas area is characterized by a sand plateau accumulated by the ice flows of the end of the ice age. Through the plateau, the ice flow has eaten a steep canyon, where the bed of the current river meanders strongly towards larger Ivalojoki River. The soil is water-washed and layered sand, and there is a large erosion bump on the east bank where the layering of the sand can be seen. 

The southern and southeastern slopes of the plateau are light slopes of ridge forests, and the area also includes two low, barren ridge ponds. The area has representative natural northern boreal pine forests, the average age of which is more than 200 years, and where there is a lot of groundwood. There are patterns of small logging from the 1990s on the site, which are being restored in cooperation with the Sámi people.

Lake Onkamos

At the same time the North Karelian region of Onkamojärvi was also accepted into the ICCA Registry. Snowchange coordinates the long-standing village-led lake restoration complex. The inclusion states that the Onkamo Lakes are a significant example of lake restoration, where local communities have included almost the entire catchment area in remedial measures.

For example, many wetlands have been established in Onkamo, marshes have been restored and management fishing has been done for more than 15 years. Most of the activities were coordinated by Tuovi Vaaranta from Pro Onkamojärvet Ry until recently. 

In 2023, operations were transferred to Snowchange. The Onkamo example is the first entire lake in the northern regions with its catchment area to enter the UN register, and it can be considered a significant example of the effort to restore Finnish water nature.

These efforts to include these sites into the ICCA Registry were made possible with a grant from the Swedish PostCode Foundation. Their grant also supports the active restoration of these sites and co-creation of a completely new model of conservation in the boreal areas of the Nordic countries.

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