Grensehistorie Vannkraft Grenseliv

Kingdom of the bear

East of Finland and west of Russia lies the Kingdom of the Bear - Pasvik. Here, where the three countries meet, bears cross the border pretty much as they wish. The Pasvik valley is home to the largest population of bears in Norway and rare species that are not found in the rest of the country.

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The wilderness and predators

Pasvik is only a small part of the vast areas of wilderness that stretch into Finland and Russia, and here one may encounter all of the four big predators: bear, wolf, lynx and wolverine. Although the bear population belong in all three countries, the Pasvik valley has a permanent population of animals, frequently with a number of she-bears breeding here. Lynx prefer the conditions further out towards the coast, while wolves enter the area as dispersal-resident animals from our neighbouring countries. Wolverine were previously threatened by hunting and trapping, but the population has increased in recent years.

Elk and bear

At the beginning of the 1900s, elk were rarely seen in the forests of Pasvik, and it was not until 1924 that the first known elk was shot in Sør-Varanger. Today, there is a large population of elk, and in the spring they provide an important source of food for bears. Particularly when the snow begins melting in spring, and its surface is so hard that the bear “floats” on top of it but the elk goes through, the bear has an important advantage over weak elk calves and pregnant females.

Northern most limit

The elk population in Pasvik is one of the most northerly in the world, and for many species this is the northernmost limit of their habitation. There is a small population of roe-deer here, although Pasvik’s climate is the most extreme in which roe-deer can survive. The area is also home to species which find their westernmost limit here. One such species is the raccoon dog, which is rarely found further west in Norway.

Pasvik’s ancient forest

The ancient forest in Pasvik is the last great ancient forest in Norway, and is the north-westerly offshoot of the world’s largest unbroken belt of evergreen forest, the Siberian taiga. The ancient forest has been allowed to develop freely, and has to a great degree been protected against intervention from humans. Thousands of years of autumn storms and forest fires have created a varied forest with great differences in age among trees, and many trees are several hundred years old.

Birds in the ancient forest

Old and dead trees provide nesting places and food for many of the birds of the ancient forest. The three-toed woodpecker finds its favourite food, the bark beetle, in dead pine trees, and the old pine forest provides the grounds for the male capercaillie’s distinctive mating games. Some owls prefer to make their nests in natural hollows in old trees. The hawk owl is the most common owl in the forest, while the Lapland owl is the most exotic.

The role of small rodents

Small rodents, such as the red-backed vole and the grey-sided vole, are favourite prey for owls and a number of the forest’s animal and bird predators. Small rodents reproduce quickly, and can therefore appear in extremely large numbers. The population density of small rodents fluctuates, and in Pasvik numbers peak about every five years. There is often a large population of ptarmigan in years with many small rodents, because fewer ptarmigan chicks fall victim to animals and birds of prey. In years with few small rodents, the pressure on ptarmigan chicks is much tougher.


Muskrat is a new species in the Pasvik river system. Muskrat were set out in the wild in Finland and Russia in the early 1900s, and during the 1970s they spread further to Sør-Varanger. The muskrat is not actually a rat as its name might indicate, but a small rodent. The North American Indians called it «the beaver’s little brother» and the two animals are not dissimilar, although the muskrat is much smaller and its tail is flattened from the side.

I 2004 bestod bjørnestammen av minst 35 dyr. (Foto: Steinar Wikan, Svanhovd miljøsenter)

In 2004 the bear population numbered at least 35 animals. (Photo: Steinar Wikan, Svanhovd Environmental Centre)

Haukugle på smågnagerfangst. (Foto: Morten Günther, Svanhovd miljøsenter)

Hawk owl hunting small rodents. (Photo: Morten Günther, Svanhovd Environmental Centre)

Frodig natur langs Pasvikelva gir et godt grunnlag for et rikt dyreliv. (Foto: Ingar G Henriksen, Sør-Varanger museum)

Luxuriant vegetation along the Pasvik river provides a rich animal habitat. (Photo: Ingar G Henriksen, Sør-Varanger Museum)

Bisamrotta er en ny art. (Foto: Ragnar Våga Pedersen, Svanhovd miljøsenter)

Muskrat is a new species in the Pasvik watercourse. (Photo: Ragnar Våga Pedersen, Svanhovd Environmental Centre)

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