The discussion about a new administration plan for eastern Svalbard, potentially including closing larger areas for the public, has made a step further. A working group of the Sysselmannen has produced a paper that states that »current or future research in eastern Svalbard is not negatively influenced by other local activity in the area as of today. That East Svalbard is a nature reserve does already strongly regulate traffic in the area.« (Management plan for eastern Svalbard, Report of the working group Research and Education (Norwegian), Sysselmannen). A real definition for the term »reference area« is not produced, a real scientific need for such areas that are closed to any traffic (other than selected scientists) cannot be defined and is not claimed by researches.
Nevertheless it is suggested to close several large areas in eastern Svalbard as »reference areas«, to which only selected scientists that work on research areas with relevance for administration and politics have access. The map below gives an overview of the selected areas.
Closing these areas would have only minor impact on expedition cruising.
As can be expected, is the suggested version of the management plan met with strong critizism by inhabitants and local politicians in Longyearbyen, local tour operators and in the scientific world, such as UNIS:
- »It seems as if authorities want to make people deliberately tired (by means of the long duration of the process). … closing so large areas seems absolutely unnecessary. Within the existing regulations, the Sysselmannen has already far reaching possibilities to limit traffic in the nature reserves in eastern Svalbard.« This is said by Heinrich Eggenfellner, second chairman of Longyearbyen Lokalstyre (the local parliament) to Svalbardposten (39/2011). Eggenfellner assumes that the process is mainly driven by higher administrative levels in Oslo, which strongly influence the working group of the Sysselmannen: »my impression is as if the whole process is controlled by the adminstrative body within the Norwegian Polar Institute and the Directorate for nature administration. They are not in line with the scientists, so the whole things seems rather absurd.«
- The lacking scientific definition of »reference areas« and the lacking reasons for a real need for such areas are criticized, and so is the missing inclusion of fishing activities in the plan, while tourism and large parts of the scientific world are supposed to be kicked out.
- The current suggestion does threaten the foundations for the existance of UNIS, the local university in Longyearbyen, according to its director Gunnar Sand. UNIS does largely work with primary research and education, both at a first glance not necessarily relevant for administration and politics. Sand also questions the Sysselmannens competence to determine what kind of research is relevant, on the long term, also (but not only) for administration.
- The owner of this website and author of this arcticle agrees that areas, especially larger ones, should not be closed unless there is reason to do so such as real scientific or environmental needs.
The process is ongoing, a final decision and following legislation will need further time, possibly until late 2012.
Suggested so-called »reference areas« in eastern Svalbard.
Map source: Norwegian Polar Institute, modified by Svalbardposten.
Source: Sysselmannen, Svalbardposten