Riisitunturi - Hanging Bogs and Spruce Forests
Characteristic to Riisitunturi are the hills and the hanging bogs. On the felltops, you can find the most impressive scenery over the Lakes Kitkajärvet, with the hills and fells in the background. Most of the area is 300 metres above the sea level. There are thirteen tops more than 400 metres above the sea level, the highest of which are the both tops of Riisitunturi Fell.
Riisitunturi National Park is part of the large taiga forest zone on the northern edge of Eurasian continent. Most of the park is covered with candle-like spruces and thick moss.
Going upwards, air gets more humid, and in the winter the moisture condensates on trees, turning into "tykky" snow. Most trees cannot carry the weight of snow, and they break down. During the summer, hanging bogs have formed on the slopes because of the humidity. In Finland, Riisitunturi National Park is the most impressive area with hanging bogs, and therefore mire researchers have always been interested in it. The mire vegetation is intricate, consisting of spruce and pine bogs. The highest tops are above the limit of tree growth.
Maaselkä is the watershed between the east and the west, and it runs through Riisitunturi area. The waters of the western part go into Kemijoki River, and in the eastern part they flow into Lakes Kirkajärvet. There are also many small lakes in the area.
Hawk owls and spruce trees laden with crown snow at Riisitunturi
Riisitunturi is famous for its crown snow topped spruce trees. In the winter, crown snow forms when air masses are forced upwards by the fells and moisture condenses as frost and snow on the trees. A full-grown spruce can carry 3-4 tonnes of crown snow! The slender spruce trees in the north can tolerate crown snow better than pines. The snow presses the longer branches on the lower parts of the candle-like spruces into a pyramid shape, which is better able to bear the weight of the snow.
The hawk owl, emblem species of the national park, lives almost entirely on a diet of weasels. As a result, the owl population varies a lot according to variations in the small rodent population. In good years, you can find hawk owls in Riisitunturi all year round and many owl pairs nest in the national park. In poor years, the species may disappear completely from the area. In contrast to several of its relatives, the hawk owl is quite active during the day. This means that you can see it at the top of tall trees keeping a close watch on passing hikers. Nesting birds can defend their chicks aggressively. It’s better to steer clear of an angry, hissing owl in the early summer to avoid becoming the target of its sharp claws.
The most colourful plant during autumn
On the highest tops grow almost no trees, but plant species typical for fells are found there, such as the Alpine Bearberry (Arctostaphylos alpina), the Trailing Azalea (Loiseleuria procumbens), the Alpine Clubmoss (Diphasiastrum alpinum) and the Three-leaved Rush (Juncus trifidus).
Northern birds of the taiga forest live in the area. They are mostly species of coniferous forests. The Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) and the Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) are the most common birds in the forest. The Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava) and the Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) have adapted to live on the bare felltops. The Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus) can be found on the mires, in the middle of flarks and small lakes.
The Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) is the most common of the large mammals living in the area. Also marks of the Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) are found every year.
The history of Riisitunturi
Although Riisitunturi National Park nowadays helps us to protect the wild Koillismaa region, considered one of Finland's natural monuments, the park bears signs of human impact in the past.
There has been human activity in the Riisitunturi area since the prehistoric era. Pieces of quartz have been found on the shores of Lake Noukajärvi in the national park's northern part, and a quartz quarry place used to be located on the western slope of Nuolivaara Hill. The hunting pits in the terrain between Liittolampi Ponds are proof of trap hunting. Hunting with fox traps was carried out on top of Noukavaara Hill.
The mires, brook banks and the shores of the lakes and ponds in the area were extensively utilised in meadow agriculture as late as the 20th century. The remains of this period are visible in the area: barns, lean-to shelters, haystacks and border signs. Most of the wooden structures are decaying.
Reindeer husbandry is gradually changing lichen heaths, with their typically pale shades, into classic heathlands, which from a distance appear brown.
However, the most prominent signs of human activity have resulted from extensive forest harvesting taking place in the Ruokamovaara district during the 1930s. This area was seeded in the early 1940s and thinned a couple of decades later. The present young forests blend in well with the fell landscape.