Reykjavík City Proposes New Fee for Winter Tires

winter tires reykjavík

The Environment Agency of Iceland has introduced a new plan for air quality in the capital region which would advise local authorities to introduce new fees for studded winter tires, reports Fréttablaðið.

According to air quality expert at the Environment Agency, Þorsteinn Jóhannsson, there now exists the political will to push through these new regulations, which would aim to both improve air quality by lessening the particulate matter in the air, and also lessen wear on the capital’s roads.

Some, according to Þorsteinn, have stated that this would amount to a further tax burden on Iceland’s already-struggling rural communities. Because of the conditions during winter, it is practically a requirement for Iceland’s rural population to use studded tires. Þorsteinn, however, has clarified that the fee would apply principally to the capital region, and that visitors with studded tires to the capital would pay a daily fee. In this way, it would function much like a parking fee.

According to Þorsteinn, investigations show that studded tires cause 20 to 40 times as much wear to roads as non-studded. Þorsteinn also notes that although the legal season for winter tires is from November 1 to April 14, there are already many studded tires on the road in Reykjavík.

Alexandra Briem, chairperson of the city council, has also stated her support for such a fee, noting that additional methods to reduce air pollution and wear on roads are needed.

More information on car ownership and regulations can be found at the Icelandic Automobile Association.

Rauðasandur Annual Beach Cleanup Complete

plastic

On Saturday, July 2, volunteers cleaned up the Rauðisandur beach for the seventh time, reports Iceland’s Environmental Agency.

The annual cleanup takes place through the cooperation of the Environmental Agency, landowners, and the local municipalities. This year, 22 volunteers were on hand to help clear the beaches.

Small debris is cleared off of the beach with bags, but larger items must be placed in piles to be taken away to containers for sorting. Notably, this year saw significantly less trash than previous years, perhaps due to the lull in tourism brought on by COVID.

Part of the beach cleaning is carried out in accordance with OSPAR, an international agreement for environmental protection in the North-East Atlantic. This entails demarcating a 100m stretch of beach and then measuring and reporting all debris. This is done to better understand the ways in which pollution, such as plastic, accumulates in the ocean.

Unlike other beaches in Iceland with black, volcanic sand, Rauðasandur, located in the West Fjords, is noteworthy for its red sands. This distinctive feature comes from scallops, which grow in particularly high density in Breiðafjörður.

Reindeer Hunting Quota for 2022 Released

Reindeer hunting Iceland

A total of 1,021 reindeer may be hunted during the 2022 season, 546 cows and 475 bulls, according to the newly released quota from the Minister of the Environment, Energy, and Climate. The decision is based on proposals from the Environment Agency of Iceland. This is 199 fewer reindeer than last year, primarily due to uncertainty about reindeer counts due to weather conditions and the movement of animals between hunting areas during the count.

Bull (male reindeer) hunting season is from August 1 to September 15. Cows (female reindeer) may be hunted between August 1 and September 20. During the first two weeks of the season, hunters are required to avoid killing cows that are suckling, in order to minimise the impact hunting has on calves. Hunting guides are responsible for assisting and guiding hunters in their selection of prey. Icelandic regulations forbid the hunting of calves and bulls under two years of age.

Read More: In Reindeer Country

As in previous years, the quota is divided between nine hunting areas, with the permitted number of animals specified for each area. The Environment Agency advertises and handles the sale of all reindeer hunting licences.

Reindeer are not native to Iceland. They were imported to the country from Norway in the late eighteenth century and are currently to be found in the east of the country. Reindeer have no natural predators in Iceland.

This Season, Ptarmigan Shooting Confined to the Afternoons

Rock ptarmigan

After conferring with scientists and other interested parties, Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, the Minister for the Environment and Natural resources, has decided to forbid ptarmigan hunting before noon during this year’s hunting season, RÚV reports. The head of the Icelandic Hunting and Shooting Association says that he is pleased with the Minister’s decision.

“A wholesome walk in nature”

Last week, the Icelandic Institute of Natural History submitted its annual recommendation to the Environment Agency of Iceland concerning the hunting quota of ptarmigan. The Institute advised a quota of 20,000 birds, which is 5,000 fewer than last year.

In response to the proposed quota, Áki Ármann Jónsson, head of SKOTVÍS (The Icelandic Hunting and Shooting Association), lamented the poor state of the ptarmigan stock, saying that this season’s hunt would merely constitute “a wholesome walk in nature.”

The Environment Agency – having taken into consideration the rationale of the Icelandic Institute of Natural History – submitted its proposal to the Ministry of the Environment a few days later. The agency advised that no changes be made to hunting regulations from the previous two years.

These regulations, which were adopted in the fall of 2019 and are in effect for three years, specify the duration of the ptarmigan hunting season as lasting from November 1 to November 30, excluding Wednesdays and Thursdays (a total of 22 days).

A gap of 12,000 ptarmigan

In light of these two differing recommendations, Guðmundur Ingi acknowledged that without changes to the current hunting regulations, 32,000 ptarmigan would most likely be shot this season. To find an acceptable way to close the gap, the Minister called a meeting with representatives of SKOTVÍS yesterday.

After the meeting, Guðmundur announced that the best way to protect the ptarmigan population would be to forbid the shooting of ptarmigan before noon during this year’s hunting season. The minister also admitted that it was unfortunate how late the decision was being made, citing the fact that the Icelandic Institute of Natural History hadn’t submitted their advisement until October 18.

“I wanted to find ways for us to keep to the quota of 20,000 birds. That’s why, after conferring with institutions and the Icelandic Hunting Association (SKOTVÍS), we made this decision today to change the legislation so that hunters will only be allowed to shoot in the afternoon.”

Guðmundur hopes that this alteration will help reduce the number of ptarmigan hunted this season. “We do, of course, encourage hunters to shoot only three to four ptarmigans or to cease completely so that the ptarmigan may enjoy the benefit of the doubt.”

Hunters pleased with the Minister’s decision

Áki Ármann Jónsson, Director of SKOTVÍS (The Icelandic Hunting and Shooting Association), stated that he is pleased with the Minister’s decision.

“I’m really pleased with this arrangement. I want to compliment the Minister for his consideration of our proposals during his decision-making. He listened to our reasoning and entrusted hunters with the responsibility of keeping with the limits of the quota advisement.”

The hunting season begins on Monday.

Reykjavík Zoo to Acquire Five Pythons

The Environment Agency has granted Reykjavík Zoo a permit to import five ball pythons to the country, Vísir reports. Þorkell Heiðarsson, project manager at the zoo, says the zoo has yet to decide when they will start the process, but importing the snakes will take some time. “We’re not in a hurry but it’s time to restock the reptiles.”

The ball python (Python regius) is a nonvenomous constrictor native to West and Central Africa. It is the smallest of the African pythons, growing to a maximum length of 182cm (71.6in). Ball pythons require a minimum temperature of 21°C (69.8°F) and humidity of at least 50%. It is therefore not surprising that a risk assessment conducted by a foreign expert concluded that if the snakes were to escape, they would not survive in the wild in Iceland.

Þorkell has warm praise for the snakes’ character. “Pythons are widely used in teaching. They are considered agreeable, both calm and good-tempered.”

Off-road Driving Tracks in Fjallabak Nature Reserve

Off-road tracks in the Fjallabak nature reserve

When Environment Agency rangers returned to their posts in Iceland’s mountainous interior this spring, they were met with an ugly sight, off-road driving tracks in the delicate flora of the Fjallabak nature reserve.

Spring has sprung early this year and mountain roads were opened earlier than usual. When Environment Agency’s staff inspected the nature reserve, they saw several tracks in the moss, evidence of illegal off-road driving.

The negative impact of off-road driving is multi-faceted, not only are the tracks starkly visible in the otherwise untouched nature, but the tracks and wounds in the turf can take decades to heal. The tracks also create choice conditions for water erosion, soil erosion caused by running water. Last but not least, the visible effects of careless drivers spoil the experience of the wilderness for other visitors.

The Environment Agency has spent considerable effort to stem the tide of off-road driving and has had some success. The tourism industry, as well as the public, are aware of how serious this is and take part in stopping and alerting authorities to illegal off-road driving . The rangers are only active for 3-4 months over the summer, however, and tourists visit the mountains all year round. Much of the rangers’ time over the summer is spent inspecting and correcting wounds from off-road driving, but few drivers are caught in the act. Off-road driving is illegal and off-road drivers can expect to pay heavy fines.

According to the Environment Agency, it’s important to further strengthen education about the negative impact of off-road driving in order to reach travellers before they set off into Iceland’s nature.

Off-road tracks in the Fjallabak nature reserve.
[/media-credit] Off-road tracks in the Fjallabak nature reserve.

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon to Reopen Next Week

Popular tourist site Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon will reopen next week, RÚV reports. The canyon has been closed to visitors since February 27 in order to protect its flora, which had been damaged by a combination of wet weather and foot traffic.

“There was ankle-deep mud on the path which guests avoided and went increasingly further out of the path which caused damage to wet and sensitive vegetation,” stated Daníel Freyr Jónsson, a specialist at the Environment Agency of Iceland. Daníel says the closure has achieved its purpose and the area is now green and grassy.

This is the second time this year the canyon is closed due to environmental damage. It was also closed last year for the same reason. The number of tourists visiting the canyon nearly doubled from 2016-2017, in part due to Justin Bieber’s video for I’ll Show You, filmed at the location and released in 2015.

Repairs are currently being made to the walking path along the canyon. It is scheduled to reopen next week, no later than June 1.

Cruise Ship Landings in Nature Reserves Still Unregulated

As many as 200 cruise ship passengers disembarked at the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve in the Westfjords in a single day this week, RÚV reports. This is currently legal, as at present, there are no regulations in place regarding cruise ship landfalls in nature reserves.

This is the second time that the Le Boreal cruise ship has landed in Hornstrandir, and not the first time it’s received criticism for doing so. Last year, however, the criticism was largely to do with it neglecting to go through the proper procedure when it entered the country—namely, it did not undergo a customs inspection. This time around, the ship went through customs in Ísafjörður before proceeding on its way.

Regulations are still under development regarding size limits for cruise ships that wish to land in protected natural areas. Until such rules take effect, however, any ship that undergoes a custom inspection is free to land. “We’ve sent requests to all tourism service providers, including providers who offer cruises, requesting certain limits on the number of people [coming ashore],” explained Kristín Ósk Jónasdóttir, a park ranger who works for the Environmental Agency and who witnessed Le Boreal’s landing this week.

It’s recommended, for instance, that after particularly wet periods, groups of no more than 20 people come ashore at a nature preserve. “It’s undeniable that bringing 200 people into such a delicate environment has a significant impact,” Kristín continued. “And I’m worried that while we don’t have the means to stop this, there are just more ships waiting in the wings that want to do this, too.”

Kristín sees this as an issue that effects Iceland as a whole. “We need to set rules regarding cruise ship landfall for the whole country, both in nature reserves and those areas that aren’t protected, so that we can manage this traffic.”

Ten Off-Road Driving Incidents Since June

The Environment Agency of Iceland has reported ten incidents of illegal, off-road driving since the beginning of June, RÚV reports. Division Head Ólafur A. Jónsson says there’s a need to better educate the public—and particularly visiting travelers—about areas in the countryside where people are not permitted to drive as many off-roading violations are, he says, inadvertent.

The ten incidents have taken place in the South and the Southern Highlands: two at Dýrhólaey promontory on the south coast, one at the Kerlingarfjöll mountain range in the highlands, and seven in the Fjallabak nature reserve. The damage done to the landscape was significant enough in these incidents to report them to the police.

Although Ólafur says there was not a cumulative increase in these incidents as of the end of last year, his office is, nevertheless, in almost daily contact with the police about similar issues and says that his office is still working on raising public awareness about the fragility of Iceland’s natural landscapes. To this end, the Environment Agency has begun collaborating with Search and Rescue on matters related to land protection and new educational materials distributed to tourists. They are also preparing a database which will chart all of the roads in Iceland that it is permissible for people to drive on. “In most cases, you want to think these were unintentional acts,” he says, “that people didn’t mean to do any damage, had thought it was permitted [to drive off-road] or something like that.”

Intentional or not, Ólafur believes that fines are important in the event of serious damage being done to the landscape. Only a few days ago, French tourists driving two jeeps were fined ISK 200,000 ($1,900/€1,600) each for off-road driving near Kerlingarfjöll mountain range. The travellers called for help when they got their cars stuck in mud near the mountain Loðmundur. The area has been closed to vehicles due to wet conditions. The individuals’ driving damaged vegetation and soil in the area. The two individuals were questioned at the police station in Selfoss, South Iceland, where they paid the fine.

“I think that everyone who comes [into a protected area] needs to pay a fine to the police,” he said. “When you get up to amounts like that, I think it’s really important.”