beaver

Internal colonisation of Norway

Beavers had survived in a small pocket near Aamli, Norway, longer than any other place in northern Europe. Even though Aamli had this remnant, the rest of the country had lost all of its beaver populations, just like Sweden, Finland, and the Baltic countries. Norwegians, just like the Swedes, would start reintroducing the animals to their lost ranges in the 1920s. Although the beaver population was naturally expanding in the southern counties, reintroduction projects allowed quick starts for northern communities where beavers would not have reached for many decades. Beaver reintroductions to the north would continue through at least the 1960s.

In 1925, three years after beavers had been released in Jämtland, Sweden, six beavers were released in Sørvassdalen in the municipality of Vefsn in northern Norway. The release happened on the property of the lumber processing company Nesbruket, but it is not clear from my sources who instigated the reintroduction. All of the animals had been caught in Aamli by Peder Jensen-Tveit, the beaver whisperer. They included a pair of adults, a pair of young adults, and a pair of kits. Unfortunately, the adults didn’t stay put and in the spring 1926, the female was shot. The younger pair remained in the release area two years but afterward they and/or their offspring moved to new waters — beavers were found in several nearby streams in 1933.

Release of beavers on the Sognli Jaktklubb property, August 1926. Picture was published in Aftenposten newspaper, 9 October 1926. Now in the DigitaltMuseum.
Release of beavers on the Sognli Jaktklubb property, August 1926. Picture was published in Aftenposten newspaper, 9 October 1926. Available in the DigitaltMuseum.

In 1926, another intra-country reintroduction of beavers in Norway took place in Sør-Trøndelag. The Norwegian industrialist Christian Thams, whose family fortune was based in mining, had established a hunting club called Sognli jaktklubb in 1907. Just like the hunters involved in reintroducing beavers in northern Sweden, Thoms and the other hunting club members were interested in wildlife conservation. One pair of beavers was released on the hunting club property in 1926 and another two pairs joined them in 1929. The reintroduced population appears to have built two beaver dens by 1935, but then most of the animals moved on to other nearby water courses according to O. Olstad writing in 1937.

While these beaver reintroduction projects had a conservation element, they should also be placed within the framework of making the countryside productive. Just as muskoxen were envisioned as potential meat and wool sources, beavers were potentially economic assets. This comes across in a newspaper article from October 1926, “De energiske kolonister i avsidesliggende dalfører” (The energetic colonists in remote valleys). The forest manager interviewed in the article was not particularly pleased with the recent spread of beavers because of potential damage to hardwoods, but he admitted that there were many international requests for beavers, especially from Sweden for reintroduction, so increasing the beaver population might pay. The beaver’s potential use as a pelt animal was also mentioned several times by the journalist who wrote the article. The journalist made one additional comment worth considering closer:

Here an experiment is underway with the setting out of beavers in districts where it has not been before — one tries to establish colonies in different places with the same amount of enthusiasm as the Danish government has when they send eskimos to Scoresby Sund and other places.

Two things strike me about this statement. The first is that the journalist doesn’t really know his history, since it is known that the beaver’s range extended through all of Norway in the past. The second is that beavers are being treated like nationalist colonists. They are being put to work, if you will, on behalf of the State as a way of claiming territory and making it productive. This is a reminder that reintroduction is always tangled up with understandings of what nature is for.

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