Walking
the talk

 
Børge Brende describes the importance of mountains for recreation and refreshment in his country, and the conflicts that can occur

If Finland is known as the ‘land of a thousand lakes’ Norway must be the ‘land of a thousand mountains’. More than half Norway’s area is above the timber line. More surprisingly, perhaps, 27 per cent of the land mass of planet Earth is situated more than 1,000 metres above sea level. The United Nations has now declared the year 2002 to be the International Year of Mountains, because the ecosystems in mountainous areas are vulnerable and need better protection.

The International Year of Mountains has been approved by 54 countries with mountainous areas. Agenda 21, the United Nations’ plan of action for the environment, also deals with the management of vulnerable ecosystems and sustainable development in mountainous regions. One of its purposes is to develop and broaden our knowledge of mountain ecology and of how these areas should be managed and protected.

Agenda 21 will be thoroughly discussed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in September, where our approach to the problems it raises will be considered. This perspective makes the Year of Mountains especially interesting.

Of course, problems in mountainous regions vary strongly in different parts of the world. In Norway, maintaining the balance between utilization and protection is an important challenge. The resources of our mountainous areas are of considerable importance for grazing, hunting and fishing. The mountains also have vital significance for recreation. The Year will give us an opportunity to strengthen general understanding of the mountains – and not least of their special combination of nature and culture.

A walk may give many a pleasant adventure. But most people will agree that a walk in the mountains will give this adventure an entirely new dimension, thanks especially to the peace and quiet and wealth of species to be found there. Those who enjoy walking in them obviously understand their biodiversity and recognize mountains as a resource. Since the 1970s, there has been a marked increase in the numbers of visitors to the mountains in both summer and winter: the number of summer walkers has doubled since 1980.

The good life
A newly published scientific report on the environmental quality of life asked what was essential to the good life. The answer from 19 out of 20 Norwegians was ‘nature’. An active outdoor life is good for both the individual and society, but people do not necessarily choose it for utilitarian reasons. Research shows that peace and quiet, and experiencing unspoiled nature, are the foremost reasons for choosing to walk in the mountains. Giving people these opportunities is one of the main challenges in the politics and management of the outdoors in Norway. The Year will help to bring one of the growing environmental problems in mountain areas – motorized activities in outlying areas – into focus. Different participants have different motives and interests, and sometimes the conflicts between motorized activities on uncultivated land and other uses are quite emotional. Since peace and quiet are the most important reasons for walking in the mountains, there are real possibilities for confrontations with roaring snowmobiles. We must find a balance between those who legally drive motorized vehicles and those who use their legs. The Ministry of Environment has a clear responsibility in this matter and as Minister I am prepared to execute it.
‘A mother cuts enough bread for her children’s needs, and sees that some is left. The same must happen to forests’

Bronislaw, Mountain Voices

Protecting our national parks and other larger areas is an important part of Norway’s effort to fulfil international obligations. In this way, we take care of nature’s precious values and safeguard areas important for specific animal species that are our responsibility. Norway has many species particular to mountainous areas: Arctic fox, wild reindeer, wolverine, different birds of prey and lemmings – the little rodent so characteristic of the Scandinavian mountains. The mountain flora is also unique, with many rare and interesting species. One example is the fungus Tolypocladium inflatum, found at Hardangervidda, which is the basis for production of cyclosporin, a substance vital in transplants as it prevents rejection of tissue. Even a ‘barren’ mountainous landscape may contain organisms of the potential value to humankind that we usually associate with the biodiversity found in lush tropical rain forests.

Doubling up
Norway now has 19 national parks, most of which include large mountain areas with plains and alpine mountain mass. The Government plan for national parks aims to double their number. When it is finalized in 2010, 13-14 per cent of mainland Norway will be preserved, mostly by national parks and mountain areas.

Good information is required to engage the public and stimulate interest in national parks. There are ten centres in connection with major national parks, and they will play an active part in the Year.

The Norwegian Mountain Touring Association is in a class of its own. With 134 years of experience in the Norwegian mountains, it has increased its membership to nearly 200,000 in recent years – partly due to concentrating on children. Its size and traditions make it the most prominent outdoor and environmental protectionist association in the country. It is an important resource in Norwegian society, and will definitely be noticed in the International Year of Mountains.

Promoting debate
The Association’s main goal is to bring ‘everybody’ into the mountains, and – together with other organizations and authorities – to raise the debate on conservation. Important questions are: the protection of mountain areas, biodiversity, sustainable use of wilderness resources, hunting and fishing, and passing on the Norwegian tradition of walking in the mountains to children and young people. Activities and events – like mountain dairy farming, youth festivals, international mountain conferences, walks and exhibitions – are being arranged.

If we are going to succeed with the Year, we need the commitment of different partners: mountain municipalities; organizations and associations which have a main interest in protecting our mountains; trade and business which rely upon them; and the thousands of individuals who gain happiness and inspiration by visiting our unique mountain areas. Together we can arrange for a deserving celebration of the International Year of Mountains in Norway


Børge Brende is Minister of the Environment, Norway

PHOTOGRAPH: Danny Rock/UNEP/Topham


This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Saving the common land | Aiming high | Mighty, but fragile | Walking the talk | Regreening the slopes | For the people | High priorities | Natural beauty | Prospects for WSSD: Towards Johannesburg | Along a steep pathway | The height of trouble | Disneyland or diversity? | Path to discovery | On top of the issue | Peak condition | Swimming upstream | Cloudy future


Complementary articles:
AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment:
Population and landuse: Migration and tourism
AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment:
Population and biodiversity


Complementary report:
Mountain Watch Report