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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May Newsletter – Ryökkylä Village Focus, Pärjänjoki River

A view from Iivananaho, Ryökkylä

Spring arrives. In May traditional Karelian village of Ryökkylä on lake Mekrijärvi is in focus. Additionally a sub-Arctic Pärjänjoki river in the Ii catchment receives support. Management fisheries will commence on Sääperi once the ice leaves.

At the end of April a 8,81 hectare site of Iivananaho, located in the traditional Karelian village of Ryökkylä on lake Mekrijärvi joined Landscape Rewilding Programme. Ryökkylä is one of the rune singing villages of North Karelia that preserved the oral poetry until 1900s. Iivananaho is centrally located and consists of traditional buildings, field biotopes and boreal forests. It is connected to the larger 661 hectare Korvunniemi protected area. Iivananaho will be one of the locations of the Festival of Northern Fishing Traditions in September.

A second important focus area for the Landscape Rewilding Programme in April was located in the Sub-Arctic river of Pärjänjoki. Over 20 hectares of primary boreal forests, including over 100 year old forests and peatlands were added to the programme in this sub-catchment of the Ii basin. Sites are close to the Syöte National Park and constitute examples of exceptional natural value.

As we will have the ice break-up soon the fish trap management fisheries will commence and we will also have the new canning machine to utilize the ide, perch, bream and other delicacies from lake Sääperi! Check back here for news during May!

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Late Winter Thunder, Sharing Circle and New Sites! April Newsletter

Seining in Puruvesi, March 2024

Spring begins. Winter seining season is coming to a close, winter thunder rattles Karelia, we remember Sharing Circle and look ahead to new rewilding season. First information about the 2024 Festival of Northern Fishing Festival available.

Rare winter thunder rattles North Karelia on 1st April. Snow is still deep but the winter seining is coming to a close. Catches have been low but the team, led by Cpt. Lauri and Karoliina, with Henri, Joni and Allegra have succeeded well. In production, Tytti and the team have produced a wealth of products from the catches. A new canning machine is on its way to the HQ.

As we turn towards the spring, rewilding season is upon us soon. We added a new site close to Jumalissärkkä in Suomussalmi to the Landscape Rewilding Programme adjacent to a large protected area. It is 13 hectares but strategically placed.

Peatland – forest complex of Leväpuro, next to and supporting Jumalissärkkä, nationally relevant Nature 2000 site.

The Leväpuro restoration area is located right next to the Jumalsärkä – Hoikansärkä Natura area (FI1200764), which has a total area of 529 hectares. The area is an intact preserved, representative example of the Kainuu longitudinal ridge, its forest nature and the small waters associated with it. The part of the longitudinal ridge forming the Natura boundary is almost 15 km long, and it can be considered as a significant entity both geologically and landscape-wise.

Elsewhere the work on restoration is under way in Valkeasuo, North Karelia as a part of the Koitajoki efforts. Lake erosion project is nearing its end in Sevettijärvi, Sámi area with some final touches expected in Autumn 2024. Louhineva – the largest ptarmigan peatland in Pirkanmaa, Western Finland was formally protected in early March, totaling 86 hectares.

We welcome a new biologist, Cindy Schwenk to lead efforts to support the wild forest reindeer or woodland caribou as it’s known in North America. Cindy has already worked with local communities in Soini and Ähtäri to collect traditional knowledge, ideas and observations from the calving areas close to Matosuo which are novel.

Arctic Passion, the large observations project in the Arctic nears also its completion for Snowchange-related parts. Last October a large body of young scientists and Indigenous leaders gathered in Sevettijärvi and Inari, in the Sámi area to discuss and visit permafrost melt sites, restoration processes and learn from co-management and salmon issues. A new video captures the week and is available here.

In related news, Arctic Passion General Assembly will be held in Inari in June. A large delegation representing Sámi, Gwichin, Finnish and other communities is expected to arrive to discuss the situation of the Arctic environment.

Festival of Northern Fishing Traditions, the fourth of its kind will take place in Ilomantsi and Tohmajärvi, North Karelia, Finland in September 2024. After a few years of hiatus, the Festival is expected to include delegates from Indigenous Taiwanese, Nuu-chah-Nulth, Finnish seining community, Sámi and Greenlandic artisanal and professional fishers. Full programme and news towards summer.

With these news we welcome spring and look to a busy summer ahead!

Karoliina and old man Einari empty the catch from the seine, March 2024.
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Traditional Polar Transportation Seen from Within the Culture

Evald Geust during seal hunt

A new science paper captures two very significant regional cultural practices from Snowchange collaborations. Unassisted seal hunts from the Kvarken area and extended reindeer nomadism from Lower Kolyma, Siberia are captured in the inquiry. The words and knowledge of the people who took part in these significant journey convey messages of the polar regions under change. Included are also reflections on the Maori trips to the Antarctic regions.

This paper explores cultural narratives and oral histories related to two examples of traditional northern transport – long seal hunting journeys in the Baltic region, and nomadic reindeer travel in northeastern Siberia. Ample material has been collected and reviewed regarding means of non-motorised transport in the polar regions. However, scientific literature concerning the experiences and perspectives of the Indigenous and traditional community members who took part in these journeys remains scarce.

This article explores the recorded narratives of two people involved in the journeys described. It assesses how these long distance travels form significance, meaning, observations and belonging to landscapes for these people. This analysis reveals that, rather than inhabiting northern ice and tundra scapes that are often described as barren and devoid of life, seal hunters and reindeer herders live in story-scapes rich in meaning. The sacred places, surrender to ice flow dynamics and ways of living ‘inside’ northern habitats that emerge from these testimonies offer a skeleton key for re-reading the misunderstood homelands of arctic and tundra communities.

The paper is available here.

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March Brings Early Spring

Warmed than expected weather brings a start to the bird migration, changes in fisheries and launch of several operational events of 2024. A second print of oral histories of a Sámi knowledge holder is the first Snowchange book of the year.

Early March opened with very warm temperatures after a long winter so far. Large rewilding site in Sodankylä, new book and start of the rewilding season herald the season.

Aslak Ola Aikio, a knowledge holder from Utsjoki was a Sámi hunter and reindeer herder. Snowchange worked with him and his family to document and curate Aslak’s oral histories in early 2000s. In 2012 the much-sought after book was released and quickly sold out. Now, in 2024 we are happy to announce the release of the second print (in Finnish) of this important publication to support Sámi traditions and memory of this remarkable man.

In fisheries Allegra, a US intern has been working the whole winter along Lauri, Karo and Henri in seining. Originally from New York, she has been immersing in the world of winter fisheries in Puruvesi. Warmer weather has brought migratory birds and hints of arrival of spring soon.

Sodankylä forest and peatland complex in February 2024

Landscape Rewilding Programme received a major boost with a 100 hectare peatland-forest complex from Western Sodankylä in Lapland, Finland in early March. This site is partially logged but contains also over 200-years-old primary forests and intact peatlands. It is located next to NATURE 2000 sites and supports interconnectivity and several wading birds and other species. Check the LRP website for more info.

Restoration of Sevettijärvi lake in Skolt Sámi area is slated for completion this spring. On 18th March community workshop will highlight the progress and status of the erosion control work and next steps. Additionally information about the Arctic Passion project will be shared, including the General Assembly in Inari in June 2024.

Lastly we welcome a new staff member, Miia Tuononen, from Lieksa, North Karelia, a biologist who will assume a key role in the Landscape Rewilding Programme and especially peatland restoration and forest questions. A hunter in her freetime and long time conservationist, Miia is an accomplished expert which is urgently needed due to the expansion of the LRP and several new sites in the pipeline over the next few years.

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