No Restrictions Imposed on This Season’s Ptarmigan Hunt

Rock ptarmigan

The ptarmigan hunting season starts today and continues until November 21. Hunting is permitted every day except Wednesdays and Thursdays, with no set limits on the number of ptarmigans hunters can shoot. A ptarmigan hunter from Egilsstaðir told RÚV that weather conditions have been challenging on the first day of hunting.

Ptarmigan hunting season begins

The ptarmigan hunting season starts today and will continue until November 21. Although the ptarmigan population has trended upward since last year, the Environment Agency of Iceland advises hunters to hunt responsibly. The agency’s hunting guidelines remain consistent with past years: hunting is allowed from Friday to Tuesday, from October 20 to November 21.

RÚV reports that this year’s ptarmigan hunting is based on comprehensive scientific data, utilizing a model that incorporates nearly two decades of data. This research suggests that the ptarmigan population can endure 25 hunting days without falling below the average count of these years. Unlike previous seasons where hunters were advised to limit their catch to three to six ptarmigans, no such restrictions have been set this year.

Bjarni Jónasson, the team leader of Wildlife Management at the Environment Agency of Iceland, told RÚV that the population has grown by 33% compared to last year. While there are regional variations, the overall outlook is positive. Nonetheless, he reiterates the importance of hunting with moderation.

Weather conditions not ideal

RÚV also spoke to Þórhallur Borgarsson, a ptarmigan hunter from Egilsstaðir, who begins preparing his Christmas meal in May by collecting birch twigs to season the ptarmigans. He was not in a rush to start hunting this morning, speaking to RÚV from his job at the Egilsstaðir Airport.

“Given the current weather conditions, it’s not ideal for ptarmigan hunting. It’s windy out, so the bird is likely tucked away tightly, probably among the rocks,” Þórhallur stated. He also noted that there was no snowline yet. “So, the birds are dispersed and somewhat challenging to find; they don’t fly until you’re nearly stepping on them. They’re very stubborn in this kind of weather and hard to locate,” he added.

Despite this, Þórhallur maintained that there was an abundance of birds in the area, having observed them during his reindeer guiding and sheep herding activities. Þórhallur expressed moderate satisfaction with the structure of this hunting season. “Yes, people will get their Christmas meal; I’m not particularly concerned about that.” He does believe, however, that it would have been more sensible if the hunting season was continuous, affording hunters more flexibility in choosing the weather conditions for their hunts.

The sale ban on ptarmigans remains in effect, and it is prohibited to export, offer for sale, or sell ptarmigans and ptarmigan products.

Ptarmigan Quota Increased for Upcoming Hunting Season

The Ministry of the Environment, Energy, and Climate has announced that the annual ptarmigan hunting season will begin on November 1 and conclude on December 4. This year’s hunting quota has been set at 26,000 birds, an increase of 6,000 from last year.

Poor recruitment in Northeast and West Iceland

Rock ptarmigan are still hunted in Iceland as they are considered a delicacy, often consumed on Christmas Eve. The Icelandic Institute of Natural History claims the preservation status the ptarmigan gained in 2003 has helped to significantly restore numbers. In May, the institute reported that the ptarmigan population was nearing its zenith in West and Northwest Iceland in the Westfjords while the population was likely declining in Northeast and East Iceland. In August, the institute reported poor recruitment in Northeast and West Iceland. The total ptarmigan population was estimated at just under 300,000 birds.

Yesterday, Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, Minister for the Environment, Energy, and Climate, announced the arrangement of this year’s ptarmigan hunting season. An announcement on the government’s website stated that hunting season shall last from November 1 to December 4, between 12 noon and sunset, from Tuesdays to Fridays. This year’s arrangement is similar to last year’s, with the exception that the quota has been increased to 26,000 birds, an increase of 6,000.

Hunters asked to show moderation

Guðlaugur Þór also asked hunters to show moderation in light of the recruitment failure in Northeast and West Iceland: poor weather conditions this spring and summer are the likely explanation. The minister further encouraged hunters to refrain from hunting in large numbers in Northeast Iceland. Lastly, the announcement iterates the ban on ptarmigan sales, which applies equally to the sale of ptarmigan to resellers and others.

“I’ve emphasised that the Environment Agency of Iceland should expedite the creation of a management and protection plan for the ptarmigan and that the arrangement of hunting season should based on that plan in the future,” the press release reads.

The statement adds that a timeline for the management and protection plan, which involves a high level of cooperation with interested parties, has been established and that the plan would likely be introduced in May of 2023.

Environment Agency: Fox Hunting No Longer Serves Its Purpose

The Environment Agency of Iceland says that fox hunting in Iceland no longer serves its intended purpose—to protect sheep and birdlife—and is costing the state and local municipalities more and more every year. Fréttablaðið reports that 56,000 foxes have been hunted in Iceland in the past decade, with a cost of almost a billion krónur [$7.65 million; €6.65 million] to the state.

A ‘mythological battle’

The arctic fox lives in polar regions around the world and is currently listed as a species of least concern by the World Wildlife Fund. In 1979, there were only 1,200 of the animals in Iceland, but the population grew to just under 9,000 by 2007. Between the years of 2008 and 2010, there was a 30% drop in population, but it has been relatively stable in recent years, even as hunting has increased. As of this summer, it was estimated that there were roughly 9,000 – 10,000 Arctic foxes in Iceland. The species is protected within the confines of the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve in the Westfjords, but outside of these bounds, hunting the animal is allowed, and even encouraged monetarily.

“Icelanders have given the arctic fox many names which could be related to the ‘mythological battle’ between the humans and the foxes since the early decades of the settlement 1100 years ago,” explains the Arctic Fox Centre. “At first, foxes were trapped for the valuable fur but soon the competition for the few resources became too complicated and the foxes were killed to protect lambs and other stock animals. Nowadays the foxes are still hunted throughout the country, where it is believed that protection of livestock or eider farms is needed. Winter hunting is also conducted in all regions of the country and “den-hunting” (killing all the animals at a fox den), one of the oldest paid jobs in Iceland, is still performed. The fur, however, is not used anymore since it became [worthless] with the emergence of fur farms some decades ago.”

Hunters paid for every fox killed

The argument that foxes must be hunted in order to protect livestock and birdlife has also been strengthened by public perception of the fox as a vicious predator. “The fox is said to be cunning and cruel,” noted the 1961 short documentary Refurinn gerir greni í urð (‘The fox makes its den in the scree,’ watch here, in Icelandic). “So it is getting its just desserts. It is killed on sight wherever it is encountered.”

Screenshot from short documentary Refurinn gerir greni í urð (Ósvaldur Knudsen; 1961)

This way of thinking is quickly losing traction among experts and politicians alike, however. “Livestock doesn’t appear to be suffering,” says Steinar Rafn Beck Baldursson, a specialist in hunting management at the Environment Agency. He notes that the agency has put out calls for reports of foxes killing sheep and birds but has only received the occasional notification of foxes getting into eider nests. When asked why foxes don’t pose the same threat they once did to sheep, Steinar Rafn has a very simple supposition: sheep no longer give birth to their young in pastures. “In the past, foxes hunted newborn lambs or went after sheep when they were in labour.”

Last year, 7,227 foxes were hunted, marking a 40-year high. This creates a significant financial burden on the state, as local municipalities are obliged to pay hunters for every fox they kill between the fall and the spring. The annual cost of this has increased dramatically over the years. In 2011, ISK 67 million [$512,742; € 445,349] was paid out to fox hunters. This total ballooned to ISK 134 million [$1.03 million; €890,699] in 2020. The state has been paying a fifth of the cost since 2014, as a way of offsetting the financial burden on large, but sparsely populated municipalities.

See Also: This Season, Ptarmigan Shooting Confined to Afternoons

Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson recently submitted a bill to parliament that would have amended current hunting legislation and established a management and protection plan for the arctic fox in Iceland. The bill did not pass.

Steinar Rafn says that the Environment Agency had hoped the bill would pass but is currently considering similar proposals for changing the legislation on ptarmigan hunting—the fox will come later, he says. “What would make the most sense would be to review this whole system,” he says. “Maybe only winter hunting and no den hunting.”

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.