Securing the future of forests on World Wildlife Day
According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), we are witnessing the greatest extinction crisis since dinosaurs disappeared from our planet 65 million years ago. On World Wildlife Day 2021, we’re reminded how The Long Run’s mission is to ensure the protection of ecosystems is both financially and socially sustainable.
Just below the Arctic Circle, Basecamp Oulanka uses adventure tourism to fund the protection of a vast wildlife corridor between two national parks. This additional protection for the world’s largest forest — the Taiga — is vital for large carnivores like the wolf, and migratory species like elk. It also provides uplift for the local community — via jobs, lease payments, access to the forest and involvement in conservation efforts.
Over the last thirty years, Long Run members like Basecamp Oulanka have transformed their landscapes and communities via sustainable land use. Basecamp Oulanka’s sustainably-minded lodgings offer visitors a chance to spend the night in Finland’s wild Oulanka National Park. Northern Lights, bears, wolverines, and Artic snowscapes create unforgettable experiences, but it’s Oulanka’s revival of forgotten communities and fragile ecosystems that is remarkable.
In autumn, the snaking Oulankajoki River carves a glistening line between Finnish Lapland in the west and Russia in the east. Golden eagles soar overhead, and the forest turns a fiery orange in the soft morning light. Summer welcomes the eerie midnight sun and blossoming wildflowers, while in winter, snow blankets everything as far as the eye can see. A twinkle of an icy river meanders through the frost, and the silence is palpable beneath the dancing aurora.
Welcome to Europe’s slice of the world’s largest forest — the Taiga, a belt of trees that spans from Norway to Alaska. Oulanka National Park is part of a 130,00-hectare chunk of it that crosses the Finnish and Russian border. Under fierce protection from eco-tourism businesses like Oulanka Basecamp, this is one of the world’s greatest natural playgrounds. White-water rafting, bear treks, canoeing, and snowshoeing adventures unfurl within an epic landscape.
Nature is as abundant as the air is pure and the rivers are potable. It’s a unique melting pot of northern, southern and eastern flora and fauna, and many of the 400 or so species that thrive here are incredibly rare. “If Oulanka National Park hadn’t been established in 1956, there would be logging, damns for hydropower and many protected species would have disappeared forever.”, observes Keijo Salenius, owner of Basecamp Oulanka.
Management is on-going to keep the wilderness wild. Hiking trails keep tourists off the fragile forest floor, and adventure activities are restricted to certain areas. Keijo continues, “We get thousands rather than millions of visitors, like other national parks, but we still need to be mindful of the impact.”
Through its WildOulanka Foundation, Basecamp Oulanka has been fundamental in protecting this ecosystem. It’s paving the way for a new ‘bio-economy’, whereby sustainable forestry and tourism funds the conservation of a critical 1000-hectare corridor between the Oulanka National Park and Russian Paanajärvi National Park.
WildOulanka rents the land from a local cooperative, the Kuusamo Forest Common, through a voluntary contract. Tourist fees gathered from Basecamp Oulanka go towards funding this, and in turn, the local community benefits from improved infrastructure, better forest access, and a revived economy.
Keijo explains, “Together these two parks form an internationally unique wilderness area. A larger area means wider habitats for flora and fauna, helps to support biodiversity and is more attractive for nature tourists.” Thanks to the WildOulanka Foundation working in partnership with Oulanka National Park, the total protected area is now over 136,000-hectares. The scale of this uninterrupted wilderness is particularly beneficial for carnivores like brown bears and wolves and the elk that migrate across these lands for the winter.
Basecamp Oulanka has protected the local population’s interests, too. Besides providing jobs (guides are 100% local) and improved roads to a community suffering from underpopulation, Basecamp prides itself on cultural stewardship. Initiatives include supporting the Sami reindeer herders that pass through, preserving Sami artefacts, and encouraging guests to take part in traditional excursions such as Lappish drum making. Recently, WildOulanka volunteers restored an ancient flood meadow, renovating an old barn and celebrating the cultural heritage of the land.
But perhaps most importantly, Basecamp Oulanka and its WildOulanka Foundation have proved that there’s economic hope beyond logging. If we’re going to protect fragile ecosystems and carbon-guzzling forests like the Taiga, the success of ‘bio-economies’ is paramount: a challenge that all responsible travellers are a fundamental part of.
Find out more at https://www.thelongrun.org/basecamp-oulanka/
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