Wolf pair marking territory in Oslo

Wildlife researchers had some sensational news for Oslo residents this week: They’re almost certain that a pair of wolves have been marking territory this winter in Oslo’s eastern forest known as Østmarka. A litter of pups may result later this spring.

Østmarka is a popular recreational area on Oslo's east side, with lots of marked ski trails that cross frozen lakes like this one at Grinderen. PHOTO: Morten Møst

Østmarka is a popular recreational area on Oslo’s east side, with lots of marked ski trails that cross frozen lakes like this one at Grinderen. PHOTO: Morten Møst

It would be the the first time a pack of wolves has established itself in Østmarka since the 1800s. Since most of Østmarka lies within the city limits of Oslo, it’s an especially noteworthy development for conservationists, but unnerving for others.

That’s because Østmarka is a popular recreational area for Oslo residents year-round, full of marked skiing and hiking trails, forest roads used as bicyle paths and several lakes for swimming and paddling in the summer, skating and skiing in the winter. Skiers, for example, may now need to be mentally prepared to meet a wolf, although the animals that almost became extinct in Norway just a few decades ago are generally seen as rather shy.

Petter Wabakken, a researcher specializing in wolves, doesn’t see any problem with wolves close to the city. “Wolf packs have been tracked close to Berlin for many years, for example,” Wabakken told newspaper Aftenposten on Thursday, without that causing any major threat to the population.

Østmarka is part of Oslo but contains wilderness areas and nature preserves, some of which are in the running to become a national park. Skiers now may need to be on the lookout for wolves. PHOTO: Morten Møst

Østmarka is part of Oslo but contains wilderness areas and nature preserves, some of which are in the running to become a national park. Skiers now may need to be on the lookout for wolves. PHOTO: Morten Møst

Not only does Wabakken fail to view the wolves as a threat, he’s asking for tips from any skiers or hikers who are “lucky” enough to spot the wolves themselves. He leads the Norwegian portion of a Scandinavian wolf project, and works for the College of Hedmark, in the area of Norway along the country’s eastern border to Sweden where wolves have made their biggest comeback in recent years.

Wabakken and his colleagues have been following wolf tracks in the snow less than 15 kilometers from downtown Oslo, in the area between the large Lake Øyeren on the east side of Østmarka and the forest’s border to populated areas in eastern Oslo.

“The wolves are clearly marking their territory,” Wabakken told Aftenposten. “If this is a male and a female, we expect they’ll have puppies in the spring and that they will establish their own flock close to the city.”

DNA testing of wolf excrement and continued tracking should yield answers on whether the wolf pair has pups on the way. The researchers have collected samples in the field but note they may be wrong. It could be a pair of wolves of the same sex, dashing their hopes for a flock.

Wolves were also spotted in Østmarka and as far west as Nesodden last year, but the Østmarka wolf left the area and was later traced to Sør-Trøndelag. It was seen there as late as December.

Sheep-owner protests already
Not everyone is happy about the prospect of wolves in Østmarka. Sheep owners that use the forests around Oslo for Norway’s traditional open summer grazing, or who maintain herds on their own property near Østmarka, were predictably alarmed, and critical.

“Last summer we had a visit from a wolf,” Jon Hamre, a local sheep rancher and former head of the Enebakk Landbrukslag, a farmers’ group south of Østmarka, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “It (the wolf) managed to take five to six sheep with it. We release sheep for open grazing. This will be hopeless.”

Hamre thinks the wolves can also cause problems for skiers, trekkers and not least their dogs. “If these wolves get a flock of pups, and they begin to prowl all over, there will be trouble with so many people in Østmarka on the weekends.” He wants any wolves to be moved out of Østmarka and east of the Glomma River. Oslo and most of Akershus County, however, lie within the area where wolves are protected by an order of Parliament.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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