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Home* News and Stories → Ban on moto­ri­sed traf­fic on fjord ice under dis­cus­sion

Ban on moto­ri­sed traf­fic on fjord ice under dis­cus­sion

The solid ice in Spitsbergen’s fjord is an important habi­tat for wild­life as well as a popu­lar desti­na­ti­on for both locals and tou­rists – if it is solid enough. This has not always been the case any­mo­re in recent years. Cli­ma­te chan­ge is hap­pe­ning.

This is whe­re Rin­ged seals give birth to their pups and Polar bears go hun­ting.

In ear­lier times, humans went hun­ting on fjord ice, today they enjoy the stun­ning sce­ne­ry and the wild­life that may be pre­sent. In the past – many, many years ago – the­re was a hand­ful of trap­pers, explo­rers and a few locals who went out for a trip on the ice in the remo­te, lone­so­me fjords. Becau­se of some duty or to enjoy a beau­ti­ful day in the arc­tic.

Habitat for seals and polar bears: fjord ice

Fjord ice: important habi­tat for seals and Polar bears.

Today, some of the fjords are not so remo­te and lone­so­me any­mo­re. Tou­rists have dis­co­ve­r­ed the Arc­tic as a fasci­na­ting desti­na­ti­on deca­des ago, and snow mobi­les make it much easier to cover grea­ter distan­ces. The fjord ice in Tem­pel­fjord and on the east coast of Spits­ber­gen has been a very popu­lar area to visit for both locals and tou­rists, most­ly com­ing with orga­nis­ed groups, for many years.

This might chan­ge radi­cal­ly in the future. Alrea­dy in 2018 the fjord ice in Tem­pel­fjord, Bill­efjord and Rin­ders­buk­ta (near Sveagru­va) was clo­sed in April until the end of sea­son on a rather short noti­ce for moto­ri­sed traf­fic. The same mea­su­re is now dis­cus­sed well in advan­ced. Nobo­dy knows cur­r­ent­ly if the fjord ice will be solid enough in a few weeks from now when the sea­son real­ly starts.

In con­trast to last year’s traf­fic ban, which was impo­sed on a rela­tively short noti­ce, a public hea­ring is now initia­ted by the Sys­sel­man­nen. The idea is to give tho­se who are con­cer­ned a chan­ce to have their word and to make sure ever­y­bo­dy is awa­re of the deve­lo­p­ment. The lat­ter may actual­ly be the more important fac­tor: the Sys­sel­man­nen has alrea­dy made it clear that traf­fic bans can be impo­sed, if requi­red for any rea­son, at any time without any chan­ges of the legal frame­work.

destination fjord ice

Popu­lar desti­na­ti­on for both locals and tou­rists: Fjord ice.

A lively deba­te about this mea­su­re is now to be expec­ted. Such a mea­su­re would inde­ed be expe­ri­en­ced as drastic by tho­se who have been acti­ve in tou­rism and by many locals. On the other hand, the­re have been occa­si­ons whe­re wild­life was dis­tur­bed by moto­ri­sed traf­fic, and arc­tic tou­rism is a natu­ral tar­get for inter­na­tio­nal envi­ron­men­ta­lists.

Some requi­re more far-reaching rights for locals than for tou­rists, a princip­le that is alrea­dy used in exis­ting regu­la­ti­ons for snow mobi­le traf­fic out in the field in Spits­ber­gen. If this will app­ly in any future chan­ges of legis­la­ti­on is cur­r­ent­ly unclear.

Under dis­cus­sion are the sea­so­nal fjord ice are­as in Tem­pel­fjord, Bill­efjord, Rin­ders­buk­ta and on the east coast bet­ween Mohn­buk­ta and Negri­breen. Cros­sings of the fjord ice in the­se are­as may, at least part­ly, still be per­mit­ted on the shor­test pos­si­ble way in order to enab­le groups to fol­low fre­quent­ly used rou­tes. This con­cerns main­ly the tra­di­tio­nal rou­te bet­ween Lon­gye­ar­by­en and Pyra­mi­den. But dri­ving else­whe­re on the fjord ice would not be pos­si­ble any­mo­re.

The­re is, so far, only men­ti­on of a ban on moto­ri­sed traf­fic (snow mobi­les). Ski­ing and dog sled­ging are not con­cer­ned.

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last modification: 2019-02-02 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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