baumzaehlen - Primeval Forests & Their Trees

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Vätsäri Wilderness Area, Finland


The Wilderness Area (1550 km2) is mostly located between Lake Inari and the Norwegian border, including also most of the enormous number of islands in the eastern part of the lake. Unlike many other large protected areas of Lapland (see Opens internal link in current windowUrho Kekkonen National Park), Vätsäri has no high fells; elevation ranges from about 90 m to 353 m (“Rajapää”).


Vätsäri (68.9–69.6°N) is a part of one of the northernmost forest regions on Earth; in North America no forest grows as far north1, but in Central and East Siberia there are regions where particularly Larix spp. (larches) form forests still further north2. Vätsäri’s forests are formed almost exclusively of only two tree species: Opens internal link in current windowPinus sylvestris (Scots pine) and Opens internal link in current windowBetula pubescens var. pumila (arctic downy birch). The P. sylvestris forest is quite low, the B. pubescens forest being still lower. Undergrowth is mostly subshrubs. The oldest P. sylvestris trees are less than 400 years old 3. The dominant trees of these P. sylvestris forests of today have mostly regenerated in the mid 1700s when there was a long warm period and large forest fires were common3. Wood decomposes slowly in the cold climate: a dead tree may stand 200 years; when it eventually falls the decomposition may take another 200 years if the trunk is raised above the ground supported by its own branches or stones4. Consequently, standing and fallen dead trees are abundant, though on the Lake Inari shores near much-used camping places they have been used for campfires. B. pubescens stands and forests are less abundant. In the 1960s an outbreak of autumnal moth (Epirrita autumnata), aided by cold summers, killed 80% of them3. In addition to the fairly regularly repeating moth outbreaks, reindeer grazing and fire prevention contribute to further decrease of B. pubescens 3. The northeastern portion is almost treeless rocky upland3. Bogs are abundant, too, especially in the southern portion3. Annual precipitation is about 430–480 mm and average annual temperature about -1–1°C.


Most of the Wilderness is unlogged forest but in the southern portion (“Kessi”) the largest P. sylvestris trees were logged in the 1920s, and “natural” logging is still conducted there3. Factors contributing to the remoteness and preservation of the Wilderness are Lake Inari with its long fjords, the borders of Norway and Russia, relatively difficult terrain and the lack of roads3. Vätsäri Wilderness Area is noticeably larger than the adjacent Øvre Pasvik National Park (119 km2), Norway’s largest primeval forest. However, both are small when compared to Russian wildernesses. Although most of Vätsäri is unlogged, man has influenced it. Fire prevention was introduced in the 1920s, since when there have been no wildfires3. Formerly, the fire interval was approx. 100 years 3, though some of the fires were probably caused by man. The Wilderness is used for reindeer grazing but their influence on the lichen cover and vegetation is relatively low3. The level of Lake Inari is regulated3 (but the lake is nevertheless very beautiful). On the shores there are also some private properties with buildings3. Hunting is allowed but practised mostly near the shores of Lake Inari3.


The Wilderness Area is excellent for canoeing and wilderness hiking. The nature lovers usually travel on Lake Inari, hikers being scarce3. On Lake Inari there are also motor boats but not in disturbing numbers. The only marked hiking trail is 35 km long 5. The forests and shores are very stony. Camping is allowed everywhere3.




1       Larsen, J. A. (1980): The Boreal Ecosystem. Academic Press.

2       Hytteborn, H., Maslov, A. A., Nazimova, D. I. & Rysin, L. P. (2005): Boreal Forests of Eurasia. In Andersson, F.: Ecosystems of the World 6: Coniferous Forests. Elsevier.

3       Opens external link in new windowVätsärin erämaan hoito- ja käyttösuunnitelma (2008). Metsähallitus.

4       Vuokko, S. (2016): Latva pilviä piirtää. Maahenki Oy.



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Video clip:


Pinus sylvestris (Scots pine) forest. Lake Inari in the background.
Pinus sylvestris (Scots pine) forest.
Pinus sylvestris (Scots pine) forest.
Pinus sylvestris (Scots pine) forest. Lake Inari in the background.
Koutukinsaari (island) with Pinus sylvestris (Scots pine). In the left background Käräjäsaari (island) mainly covered by Betula pubescens var. pumila (arctic downy birch).
Small unnamed lake with boggy shores. Pinus sylvestris (Scots pine) forest.
Dead Pinus sylvestris (Scots pine).
Pinus sylvestris (Scots pine) and Betula pubescens var. pumila (arctic downy birch).
Wetland foreground, with Pinus sylvestris (Scots pine) forest in background.
Bog with Pinus sylvestris (Scots pine).