Rewilding rivers in Lapland – a community-based approach

March 1, 2016

In January this year Rewilding Lapland, the local partner of Rewilding Europe in Sweden, signed cooperation agreements with two community based river organizations to work together to rewild large parts of the stunning and largely free-roaming Råne and Pite rivers. The first activities will start in early spring this year. A unique initiative to help recover some of the last wild salmon populations of continental Europe.

Several wildest rivers of Europe and home to some of the last original wild salmon populations of the continent are located in Lapland rewilding area in northern Sweden.
Several wildest rivers of Europe and home to some of the last original wild salmon populations of the continent are located in Lapland rewilding area in northern Sweden.

Lapland (Sápmi), Rewilding Europe’s new area, offers a unique opportunity to rewild two of the most spectacular rivers of Europe in a way that could be leading for other rivers on the European continent.  Rewilding Lapland signed contracts with two community based river organizations to free up parts of the Pite and Råne River from old dams and help the recovery of migratory fish in both rivers. These organisations are the local association for the Råne River (Degerselsbygden Samfällighetsförening) and the local association for the Pite River (Pite Älvs Ekonomiska Förening).

Together with these two organizations and other important stakeholders, like the Norrbotten County Board (Länsstyrelsen Norrbotten) , Rewilding Europe will use its European Rewilding Network (ERN) to promote the innovative bottom-up approach of the Swedish fishing communities throughout Europe.

Rewilding Lapland in cooperation with the local association for the Pite River (Pite Älv Ekonomisk Förening) plans to restore a 9 km long part of the Pite River near the spectacular waterfalls of Trollforsen.
Rewilding Lapland in cooperation with the local association for the Pite River (Pite Älv Ekonomisk Förening) plans to restore a 9 km long part of the Pite River near the spectacular waterfalls of Trollforsen.

Several wildest rivers of Europe and home to some of the last original wild salmon populations of the continent are located in northern Sweden, between the Norwegian border and the Baltic Sea. Stone dams and other infrastructure, built to facilitate the transport of logs from the inland to the coast, strongly affected these rivers in the past. This had very negative impacts on fish populations and the functioning of the entire freshwater system. Important steps for the restoration of these rivers already took place resulting from huge efforts of local communities, supported by the regional and national governments. Rewilding Lapland is now taking further actions on the rewilding of the two rivers together with these local organizations.

For the rewilding of the Råne river Rewilding Lapland teamed up with the local association for the Råne River (Degerselsbygden Samfällighetsförening), a unique group of about 275 landowners that joined forces in protecting their river. The organization rents fishing rights along almost 150 km of the total 210 km long river and introduced a new management system to boost the fish populations and get larger specimens back. The results until now are very encouraging; already in 2014 the count of returning salmon was around 3,700. European otter and the freshwater pearl mussel also benefited from removing redundant timber floating infrastructure. Widening the riverbed not only improves the spawning area for fish, but also makes the river more accessible for migrating reindeer.

Supported by the Swedish Postcode Foundation, the restoration activities will focus on a 20 km long stretch of the Abramsan, a tributary of the Råne. Among other, these efforts will include the release of captive bred brown trout of local origin to speed up the re-colonisation process. Together with the river organization, Rewilding Lapland will explore new nature-based business opportunities and provide support to existing rewilding enterprises like fish and otter watching in the lower part of the Råne river.

A similar approach will start along the Pite River, the biggest river in the Lapland rewilding landscape, with a catchment area of more than 1,1 million hectares. Together with the the local association for the Pite Rive (Pite Älvs Ekonomiska Förening) Rewilding Lapland plans to rewild a 9 km long part of the river near the spectacular waterfalls of Trollforsen. This river association is a cooperation of the four municipalities along the Pite River and some dozens of landowners. Since 2010, the association owns the fishing rights of the river on both sides of Trollforsen, an area recently designated as an EKO Park by Sveaskog, the Swedish Forestry Company that owns and manages the area.

Pictures of the Pite River before (left) and after (right) removal of stone dams.
Pictures of the Pite River before (left) and after (right) removal of stone dams.

The river association has already restored big parts of the main stream and during the coming years, together with Rewilding Lapland, several side arms and smaller tributaries will be rehabilitated together with the recreation of suitable spawning ground for brown trout and grayling. Furthermore, Rewilding Lapland in cooperation with the river association, the Arvidsjaur Municipality and Sveaskog, will explore the possibility of establishing a lodge, offering all-year round tourism products. These include catch & release fishing, watching of large carnivores and birds, guided reindeer migration tours and visiting old growth forests.

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