Reindeer closed key mountain highway

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Wild reindeer have once again forced the closure of one of the key transport arteries connecting eastern and western Norway. State Highway 7 (RV7) over the Hardanger plateau remained closed Friday morning, to allow the reindeer to graze in peace.

Herds of wild reindeer have again forced the closure of a key highway over the mountains of Hardanger. PHOTO: Statens Vegvesen

Herds of wild reindeer have again forced the closure of a key highway over the mountains of Hardanger. PHOTO: Statens Vegvesen

The wild reindeer are protected in Norway and occasionally move in large herds close to roads in otherwise fairly remote areas. On Thursday, several thousand wild reindeer roamed from Lappestein at Ustaoset, west of Geilo, towards Skuleviki in Eidfjord. Their collective wandering brought them so close to RV7 that state highway and wildlife authorities closed it and warned it could remain closed for quite a while.

“We want to give the reindeer time to graze near the road,” Erik Lund, senior adviser in the wildlife division of the state environmental agency Miljodirektoratet, told state broadcaster NRK. They hadn’t moved far enough away from the highway by Friday morning to allow officials to reopen it.

According to regulations, if a herd of more than 500 reindeer comes within three kilometers of a highway, it can be closed to vehicular traffic. The goal is to prevent disturbing the animals and to avoid traffic accidents.

Highway officials said it would take at least four to five hours after the road can be opened to actually do so, because of the need to clear the highway of snow that accumulated during its closure.

RV7, one of the major passes over the mountains of southern Norway, was also closed last year, for several days, because of a large reindeer herd that wouldn’t budge. It was impossible to predict how long the reindeer would stick around this time, before retreating into the wilderness that otherwise characterizes the mountain plateau called Hardangervidda.

Many Norwegian highways are fenced off to prevent moose and other wildlife from wandering into the the roads, but that’s not an option over Hardanger because of efforts to preserve the wild reindeer’s natural grazing patterns. Local officials have lobbied for construction of tunnels or bridges that the animals could use along RV7, to help keep it open and halt the traffic distruption.

“It seems incredible that wild reindeer on Hardanger can force closure of such an important highway as RV 7, both for us in the transport business and not least for the tourism industry,” Jan-Ove Halsøy, county leader in Hordaland for the national trucking association Norges Lastebileierforbund, told NRK last year when the road closed for an extended period. “But as long as there are no tunnels or bridges, that’s the way it has to be.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund