Elimyssalo is a remote, wilderness-like area located on the border watershed. Due to its size, it cannot really be called a wilderness: the bean goose (Anser fabalis) can fly over the area in five minutes. You can, however, sense the atmosphere of a forest wilderness.

Forest, Mire, Forest, Mire…

The forests of Elimyssalo are old. Selection cuttings have once been carried out to remove individual trees, and there are only a few areas that have not been touched by an axe. Nevertheless, the forests have been allowed to develop naturally for the past 50 years, and they have varied structures nowadays. A typical forest in Elimyssalo is a 150-year-old pine forest containing an increasing number of spruce. The slopes may have areas dominated by spruce, and they also often contain aspen and birch. Large old pines, called ‘aihkis', as well as standing dead trees are rare and mostly found on the margins of mires. Peatland forests and spruce mires are abundant.

Old-growth forest in Elimyssalo. Photo: Ari Meriruoko

The area is rather flat, and mires play an important role in the landscape. Most of the area is covered by extensive and varied mire complexes. With their vast open mires, water bodies, different stages of paludification and transition zones, Roninsuo, Elimyssalo and Hanhipuronkorpi are valuable conservation areas. Elimyssalo features several mire pools. The most notable lakes are Elimysjärvi and Saari-Kiekki.

Mire landscape in Elimyssalo. Photo: Risto Sauso

The mires near Levävaara have been restored in an LIFE-funded project (www.metsa.fi). Walking on a path from Saari-Kiekki to Levävaara, you can clearly see how ditches have been blocked and how stunted trees grown after drainage have been cut to restore the mire to its natural state.

Residents of the Wilderness

Elimyssalo is famous for its abundant fauna. If you move quietly in early summer, you may see a female wild forest reindeer (Rangifer tarandus fennicus) and its fawn feeding on a mire, a sight that you will not forget. Bean geese (Anser fabalis) and common cranes (Grus grus) nest on the mires and a whooper swan couple (Cygnus cygnus) on Lake Elimysjärvi. From the Saunaniemi lean-to shelter, you can see a swimming beaver (Castor canadensis) or a muskrat (Ondatra zibethica) and under the large aspens of the Härkövaara Hill, you can find Siberian flying squirrel (Pteromys volans) droppings.

A beaver. Photo: Eero Korva

Elimyssalo is home to both southern and northern species of shrews and voles. Also common are mountain hares (Lepus timidus), red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris), red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), otters (Lutra lutra) and pine martens (Martes martes). All large carnivores encountered in Finland - brown bears (Ursus arctos), wolverines (Gulo gulo), grey wolves (Canis lupus) and lynxes (Lynx lynx) - have found a place in Elimyssalo.

The birdlife consists of birds of old-growth forests, mires and waters. The proportion of birds of prey is significant. The old tree stand and holes in standing dead trees as well as rotting trees provide good conditions for hole-nesting, insect-eating birds, woodpeckers and titmice. The most common birds are the chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) the brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) the willow warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) and the siskin (Carduelis spinus). Examples of species found in old-growth forests are the capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), the pygmy owl (Glaucidium passerinum), the great grey owl (Strix nebulosa) and the black woodpecker (Dryocopus martius). You may even hear the hooting of the eagle owl (Bubo bubo). The hazel grouse (Bonasa bonasia) and the willow grouse (Lagopus lagopus) also thrive in the area. An inhabitant of the north, the Siberian jay (Perisoreus infaustus) may join a visitor by a campfire. Moreover, you may sometimes encounter the black kite (Milvus migrans) and the red-flanked bluetail (Tarsiger cyanurus). The barn swallow (Hirundo rustica) has not left Levävaara, even though the house was abandoned as early as the 1960s.

Wild Forest Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus fennicus)

The emblem of the Friendship Nature Reserve The emblem of the Finno-Russian Friendship Nature Reserve has two wild forest reindeer, reflecting the cooperation and friendship between the two countries for the benefit of nature conservation. One of the fundamental goals of the Friendship Nature Reserve is to protect the wild forest reindeer and its habitats, which makes the animal a natural choice for the emblem.

Wild forest reindeer. Photo: Ari Meriruoko

Wild forest reindeer were hunted to extinction in Finland during the early 1900s. The first observations about its return were made in Elimyssalo at the end of the 1950s. These days, wild forest reindeer roam in nearly all parts of Kuhmo and a little beyond its borders. In 1970s wild forest reindeer was transferred from Kuhmo to Suomenselkä, where the population is now on a good basis. In Kuhmo area the population numbered some 1,700 reindeer in 2000, but since then the number has lowered again.

It is difficult to tell a wild forest reindeer from a reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus). On average, wild forest reindeer are larger than reindeer, and they have longer legs and more upright horns. To secure the breed purity of the wild forest reindeer, some 90 km of reindeer fence has been built at the municipal border between Kuhmo and Suomussalmi.

Restoration in Elimyssalo

Of the nature reserves belonging to the Friendship Park, Elimyssalo, Lentua, Iso-Palonen - Maariansärkät and Juortanansalo - Lapinsuo are included in the LIFE-funded project "Natural Forests and Mires in the Green Belt of Koillismaa and Kainuu". The purpose of the project is to restore forests and mires in 13 conservation areas in the Kainuu Region, for example. In Elimyssalo, restoration was started in early 2006.

Hunting of wild forest reindeer in the old days

Pit Trap, Spear, and Deer Gun

The first method used for hunting deer was the pit trap. Stakes, the sharpened ends of which were often hardened by charring, were placed in the bottom of each hole dug for the purpose. The pits were covered with branches, spruce twigs, and forest litter so that they would not be seen by the deer. Often the hunters also constructed narrowing fences, which herded the deer towards the traps.

Photo: Risto Sauso

Pit traps were dug along the routes that were frequented by the deer. Nowadays, depressions in the terrain are all that remains of the traps. They are most often found on the peaks of narrow ridges, on narrow isthmuses, and on mineral deposits that pass through mires.

Hunting deer on skis

The oldest weapons that were used in the winter hunting of deer were cross-bow and spear. In later times, a big and heavy deer gun was used.

In Kainuu, deer hunting was a task allotted to a few men and mostly conducted in autumn and winter. In cold weather, it was easy to keep the meat fresh until it was salted and cured. Deer were also hunted in early spring when the snow could support a skier and the wind and the sun of the spring helped to dry the meat quickly.

The basis of the annual cycle in Lappish villages

Until the 17th century, society in northern Finland was largely centred in Lapp villages, the southernmost of which were located in Kuusamo. The whole system of Lapp villages in the eastern areas of Northern Finland and the Kola Peninsula was formed to accommodate the arrangements made for deer hunting. In these areas they carried out joint deer hunting expeditions in the winter season, which took place up to three times over the course of autumn and winter.

As late as in the 17th century, deer hunting determined the annual cycle of the villages. The Sami people, especially the eastern Sami people, spent their winters in villages from where families dispersed to their summer sites to fish, pick berries, and hunt in the spring. The people of the winter village hunted the deer together. Sometimes people from various villages participated in the hunts. The joint hunts lasted as long as there was deer left to hunt.

Autumn, winter, and spring hunting

The first joint deer hunt took place in September before the mating season of the deer. Only male deer were hunted, as they had plenty of abdominal and back fat before mating.

The second hunt took place in late winter, when the snow became able to bear a skier. The hunters skied after the deer that moved in herds. When the weather favoured the skiers, the hunters often returned from their early spring hunt with a load of game.

The third joint hunt was organized in early spring when the deer were hunted on the fells. The meat from deer hunted in the spring was, for the most part, dried. In the fell hunt, the deer that attempted to climb higher to escape the hunters were herded towards the shooters who had stationed themselves on the fells in advance. Reindeer and sleighs were often used to help herd the deer towards the shooters.