Norway’s capital is surrounded by a fjord on one side and hilly forests on the other. Efforts are rising to protect some of the latter within the borders of a new national park.
“Just think how we could tell tourists that they could take the tram to a national park while in Oslo,” Lars Haltbrekken, leader of environmental organization Naturvernforbundet, mused to newspaper Dagsavisen on Friday. He thinks creation of a national park in Oslo’s eastern hills and forests known as Østmarka would have “enormous advantages” both for Oslo and the other municipalities bordering on it. Not only would it preserve the forested area but it also could attract more visitors, Haltbrekken said.
The idea of a national park in the inner portions of Østmarka, where there currently are few if any roads and not even many marked trails, has been floated for years. The local organization Østmarkas Venner (Friends of Østmarka) drummed up enough support to get the former left-center government’s environmental minister to propose creation of the park, and the proposal won support from leaders of the City of Oslo, which owns roughly half of the land that would make up the park.
The other portions of the park lie in the neighbouring municipalities of Enebakk, Ski, Lørenskog and Rælingen, though, and that’s what halted the project in 2013. Officials of those townships objected to the park plans, claiming they weren’t necessary to protect the area that already falls under a preservation law called markaloven. They expressed concern that conversion to a national park would ultimately forbid recreational and forestry operations in the area.
“We have minimal conflicts between forestry and nature enthusiasts,” the mayor of Rælingen, Øyvind Sand of the Labour Party, told newspaper Nationen. Østmarka is attractive, argued, because it is in active use.
The proposal has since been stuck in the state environmental ministry, which underwent a change of administration after the national election in 2013. Now, with municipal elections looming this fall, advocates of the national park project are launching new efforts to drum up support within the local municipalities. More environmentally minded parties, including the Greens, stand to gain influence and would likely take up the issue again and favour creation of a national park.
Norway currently has 44 national parks, “but most of them today are high in the mountains or way up north,” Sigmund Hågvar, a board member of Østmarkas Venner, told Dagsavisen. “We lack a national park for the forested areas of southeastern Norway. Many think it’s enough with markaloven, and it’s fine that it defines limits to building, but it doesn’t regulate forestry operations.”
He and his colleagues view this fall’s elections as a good time to “bring up the proposal again in the towns where there’s been skepticism.” More positive response could then also prompt Tine Sundtoft, who took over as environmental minister, to take up the issue again, too. Not only does she want local support for a national park but she also wants to wait for the results of a report into what outdoor areas need more protection.
“We don’t think it’s necessary to wait for that,” said Hågvar, but local support is a critical factor. “We must have local political agreement on this,” Jens Frølich Holte, a political adviser in Sundtoft’s ministry, told Dagsavisen. Without support for a preservation plan among all municipalities involved, the park project will remain stalled.