This week the Norwegian Nature Inspectorate (Statens naturoppsyn, SNO) with permission of its parent entity the Norwegian Environment Agency (Miljødirektoratet) killed a herd of muskoxen. All 10 members of the herd were females (it’s not clear if some were calves), and all were put down without discrimination.

So what has this herd of muskoxen done? They had crossed the line.

Map showing the commune of Lesja and the muskox management area

The Miljødirektoratet has a management plan for the muskoxen in Dovre. The plan was first suggested in 1988 as a way of ensuring a viable population and to define how the spread of muskoxen would be handled. After much negotiation, the plan was finally approved in 1996, and then updated in 2006. The plan designates an area of 340 square kilometers as the allowable muskox range (kjerneområde). The communes of Oppdal, Dovre and Lesja all have parts of their communes within the range. The goals of the 2006 plan include:

1. The muskox population shall be able to grow as naturally as possible within the defined management area. (Moskusstammen skal få utvikle seg mest mulig naturlig innenfor et definert kjerneområde.)
2. Muskoxen shall not establish themselves on a year-round basis outside of the defined management area. (Moskusen skal ikke etablere seg på helårsbasis utenfor det definerte kjerneområdet.)

In January 2013, this herd moved from the designed management area further west into the commune of Lesja. (It wasn’t the first time a herd had moved that far into Lesja: a news report from 1984 noted a herd had moved into Dalsiden, a long way from the current management area.) In the spring and early summer of 2013, this herd had come down into the valley to graze and then retreated into the mountains for the winter. Now the herd had been spotted again coming down the mountains, so all the animals were killed. SNO does not consider driving the animals on foot or drugging them and relocating them as effective alternatives.

One of a herd of three muskox put down in 2011 in Oppdal commune outside of the designated management area. Photo from http://www.miljodirektoratet.no/no/Nyheter/Nyheter/Nyhetsarkiv/2011/4/Tre-moskuser-felt-i-Oppdal/

One of a herd of three muskox put down in 2011 in Oppdal commune outside of the designated management area. Photo from Miljødirectoratet

In the 1950s to 80s, the typical muskox ‘put down’ was a single individual who has strayed far away from the others. These were seen as troublemaking animals that might attack people or livestock. But since the development of the management plan, whole herds that have moved outside of the area have also been put down, such as a herd of 4 in Sunnsdal (2011) and a herd of 3 between Oppdal town center and Åmotsdalen (2011). In these cases, the animals had not caused any conflicts at the time in which they are killed. Rather, the killing is seen as a precautionary measure to avoid potential conflict with humans.

What’s interesting about this is how the precautionary management tone assumes that people and muskox really can’t live together–that conflict is inevitable. Perhaps the managers are right that people aren’t willing to live with muskox, just like they are unwilling to live with wolves and bears. Or perhaps people would be more patient and understanding if they knew what to expect from muskoxen. I don’t know.

The muskox appetizer served with dinner at Kongvolds fjeldstue, Norway

The muskox appetizer served with dinner that I ate in June 2013 at Kongvold fjeldstue, Norway.

The meat and skins will be sold with the proceeds supporting Norwegian wildlife management activities. The meat is served at Kongsvold fjeldstue in Drivdalen, where muskox is regularly on the menu, and will also be made into muskox sausage. I had a chance to eat some muskox at Kongvold fjeldstue last year and it was tasty, but I don’t think I’ll eat more now. Knowing that it might be made of this herd who crossed the lines would leave a bad taste in my mouth.