The deer species found in Norway are the reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), red deer (Cervus elaphus), moose (Alces alces), and roe deer (Capreolus capreolus). During the past 20 - 30 years, deer populations have become important commercial and recreational resources and an important part of the wilderness experience.
Large populations of deer
At the same time the grazing pressure exerted by the growing populations has influenced the vegetation. This affects the landscape and economic interests of landowners, and may also influence biological diversity. Collisions between deer species and vehicles on the road and railroad trains are frequent, causing damage to property, injuries to people and sometimes death.
The last viable populations of the wild European reindeer
Norway manages the last viable populations of the wild European reindeer. This leads to an international responsibility for this species for Norway. Roads, railroads and hydropower reservoirs in combination with other human activities have split up their range, leaving a fragmented habitat for this species. Most fragments are small, compared to the area requirements of reindeer populations, and the balance between summer and winter grazing areas in most of the fragments is poor. In several areas, it has been necessary to cull the population heavily to prevent overgrazing and food shortages.
For some years moose densities has been too high in regard to the available browse, in a number of areas in the southern part of Norway. Many municipalities have responded to this by reducing moose numbers. The moose populations are however, still increasing their range and numbers in Northern and Western Norway.
Red deer populations are increasing their range, but population-monitoring reveal that few populations are larger than their grazing resources can support. The populations are dense in Western Norway and in Trøndelag. Red deer populations are expanding into more and more municipalities in southern and eastern Norway. High densities of red deer in some areas cause damage to farm crops and fruit orchards. The management regime is not sustainable in relation to the damage red deer cause, in the municipalities involved.
Roe deer populations are strongly influenced by the weather, for example heavy snowfalls, and by predators. This means that their numbers vary more widely than those of the other species of deer.
There are approximately 35 000 wild reindeer in Norway, distributed across about 40 000 km2 of mountain plateau and mountain birch forest. The main problem for the wild reindeer is that their habitats are fragmented by human activities. Early in the 20th century the range of the reindeer consisted of two to three large, interconnected areas. Today there are 23 separate management areas, stretching from Setesdal/Ryfylkeheiane north of Hægebostad in the south, to Forellhogna restricted by the Gauldal valley in the north. Read more about wild reindeer
Growing populations, but shrinking habitats
The numbers of moose, red- and roe deer species have risen in response to four factors:
- Clear- cutting of forest and less grazing of livestock in forest areas has improved their food supplies.
- Intended and unintended lower harvest than production of young
- Selective shooting of younger animals and male animals increase the proportion of fertile females in the population
- Mild winters
Excessive hunting of reindeer and loss of habitat
Once modern weapons were available, excessive hunting of reindeer reduced the population in the southern parts of Norway, and by around 1900 only small, scattered populations were left in the areas Snøhetta, Rondane, Setesdal-Ryfylke, Hardangervidda and Nordfjella. All these areas are in the mountains of the Norway south of the Trondheim fjord.
Protection in 1900-1905 and around 1920 allowed the populations to recover slightly. Substantial recovery of wild reindeer numbers was not achieved until after the Second World War. Competing land use, disturbance from humans and use of mountain areas for reindeer husbandry have led to loss of wild reindeer habitat. Roads, railways, hydropower reservoirs and power lines have fragmented the reindeer populations. The management regime for reindeer is generally acceptable today, but the fragmentation of their habitats and increasing human disturbance means constant efforts are needed to prevent wild reindeer numbers from becoming too large in particular areas.
Loss of habitat for moose, red deer and roe deer
Moose, red deer and roe deer also face habitat loss and habitat fragmentation as a result of land use and disturbance. The substantial reduction of carrying capacity of moose in parts of Akershus county being the best documented. This reduction in carrying capacity was caused by the development of the new main airport in Norway, Gardermoen, and the adjacent road and railroad systems.
Deer collisions with vehicles and trains cause damage to property and injuries to people. Some people are killed at an irregular basis in deer vehicle collisions. These collisions also cause an animal welfare problem.
Our goal is to stabilise populations
The moose, red deer and reindeer populations must be stabilized at levels that are considered to be sustainable, on the basis of the quality of the population and activities in other sectors such as forestry and transport.
Municipal responsibility to ensure viable populations
Municipalities in several counties have increased moose and red deer quotas considerably and reduced negative effects on the farm crops and forest and by that given room for more viable moose- and red deer populations. It is now a municipal responsibility to adapt population densities of moose, red deer and roe deer to the local habitat. To ensure that this is done, the municipalities are given responsibility for administrative and economic instruments to control deer numbers. The same is true for wild reindeer management boards.