Not everyone needs a visa to cross the heavily guarded northerly border between Norway and Russia. Every winter, dozens of elk cross the Pasvikelva river from east to west, and their numbers seem to be increasing.
In the early 1900s, there was not a single elk in the Pasvikdalen valley. However, a lot has changed since then. At the end of the 1970s, we became aware that in the late fall and winter, significant numbers of elk were migrating across the border from Russia to Norway. The animals migrate south in Pasvikdalen, where the border fences with Finland and Russia form a wedge.
In the spring, the animals migrate north again, before spreading out over a large area. Some of the herds migrate over to the Russian side, where they find good summer grazing between the border and the fence, which in many places sits far back in Russian territory.
There is now a large local elk population, increasing the chances of human contact — elk are often hit by cars in Pasvikdalen, and people frequently encounter the animals when hiking in the countryside. Elks have also become a nuisance to local farmers, grazing on their crops for parts of the year. Sør-Varanger municipality therefore commissioned weekly recordings of cross-border elks in Pasvikdalen every winter between 1981 and 2010. Numbers were also counted in the winter of 2019/20.
We also want to acquire more knowledge about which areas the elk uses at different times of the year. Together with Finnish and Russian researchers, the NIBIO scientists are now planning a new research project to survey the elks' migration pattern in Sør-Varanger. Some of the questions to be answered include: What is the condition of the grazing resources, how big is the total elk population in the municipality, and how is the elk population affected by climatic factors such as snow depth?