Norway’s resurgent Center Party promotes a “green” image and champions rural interests, but it puts a higher priority on use of the land than preservation of it. That’s how its political control of a small rural area southeast of Oslo succeeded in halting plans to preserve a portion of the capital’s eastern forest known as Østmarka.
A vast majority of all other other municipal jurisdictions bordering on Østmarka favoured creation of an “Østmarka National Park,” to preserve the last undisturbed, low-lying forest in Southeastern Norway. The City of Oslo, which owns most of the land that would have been included in the new park, was the locomotive behind the plan that also won support from the municipalities of Lørenskog, Rælingen, Oppegård and Ski.
The park plan was also strongly supported by the civilian booster group Østmarkas Venner (Østmarka’s Friends) along with many environmental organizations including WWF Norge, Greenpeace, Naturvernforbundet (Friends of the Earth), Natur og Ungdom (Nature and youth), Framtiden i våre hender (The Future in Our Hands) and, perhaps most importantly, Den Norske Turistforeningen (DNT), both nationally and its large Oslo chapter. DNT is the organization that promotes both preservation and recreational use of Norway’s vast and scenic outdoors.
Newspaper Dagsavisen reported that on the Oslo City Council, fully 55 of its members voted in favour of the Østmarka National Park plan, and only four against. In Rælingen, the vote was 30 in favour and five against.
But in the small rural municipality of Enebakk, which borders on Østmarka in the southeast and is home to sheep ranchers and farmers, the vote was 19 against and only eight in favour. Since all municipalities bordering on land proposed for preservation must agree, the vote in Enebakk where Center Party politicians have control was enough to torpedo the plan, at least for now.
“There’s no logic that just 1.5 percent of the affected residents can block the interests of an entire region,” complained Arnodd Håpnes of Naturvernforbund to Dagsavisen. “Enebakk has neither property ownership rights to this land (they lie with Oslo) nor any revenues from this area. Oslo owns it, and an overwhelming majority on the Oslo City Council want to make it a national park.”
Appeals to the Parliament have since fallen as well, after the Center Party won support from the two minority government coalition parties (the Conservatives and Progress Party) to vote against a proposal to let the majority rule on the issue and override the requirement for agreement from all bordering municipalities. A Progress Party spokesman claimed that since most of the land involved lies within Enebakk, it should have veto rights even though the land is owned by Oslo. A spokesman for the Conservatives agreed, claiming that it was “an important principle” that affected municipalities can in fact affect the plan. Both also pointed to other laws and regulations that already protect the area from development.
‘No need for new national parks in Norway’
The Center Party thus won, with its leader in Parliament, former Oil Minister Marit Arnstad, claiming that Norway “already has 44 national parks and nature preserves” and that’s enough, in the party’s opinion. It advocates only voluntary preservation of land as opposed to enforced preservation.
“We don’t seen any great need for new national parks in Norway,” Arnstad told Dagsavisen. As always, her Center Party also promotes local rights, making it only natural and correct, in its opinion, that the Enebakk vote could overrule those in Oslo and all the other bordering municipalities. Current Center Party leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum also advocated developing more of the forests that surround Oslo for housing developments when he served as agriculture minister in the former left-center government.
The Center Party, meanwhile, also strongly opposes wolves in Norway and wants to severely limit the wolf population through hunting, even though wolves are categorized as a protected species. Wolves have been documented as having reappeared in Østmarka in recent years, and even though some have been shot and even poisoned, the ranchers of Enebakk have made it clear they want to get rid of wolves in their area because of the alleged threat they pose to free-grazing sheep. Establishment of a national park in the area would have further limited, if not banned, wolf hunts, and that in turn would endanger the Center Party’s constituents’ economic interests.