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Enjoy Your Meal! Swedish Pine Forests Eaten by Hungry Elk

Despite the fact that the elk is regarded as one of nature-loving Sweden's foremost symbols, perennially found on souvenir mugs, key ring and sweaters, as well as the trademark road sign, it seems that relation between Swedes and elk-kind are far from unclouded.

Grazing elk have been found to inflict enourmous damage to growing Swedish pine forests, which is estimated to result in billions of kronor in losses, a recent study showed. Traces of grazing damage may be seen in pine forests across the whole county, although forests in southern Sweden have been the hardest hit, according to the latest count.

​"The damage is extensive, and in many places it has already gone too far, which renders pine forest care ineffective. This makes planting or rejuvenation efforts virtually meaningless," Jonas Bergqvist, forest specialist at the National Board of Forestry, told Swedish Radio.

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If the adverse trend continues, it risks having an impact on the entire Swedish forest management, Bergqvist pointed out. At present, the National Board of Forestry prefers pine plantations as the most viable planting option. However, the elk-inflicted damage may force the authorities to resort to less favorable options.

For instance, fir plantations risk yielding a more fragile forest, whereas spruce is likely to develop root decay, whereupon the smitten trees are likely to become more susceptible to storms. The storm-affected areas are in turn more vulnerable to the bark beetle, which may further increase damage to the forest environment. Therefore, the authorities hope that forest owners continue planting pines, despite the risk of the plantations becoming elk food.

According to forester Hasse Bengtsson, who works on the "More Pines" project, the choice is not solely between planting more pines or shooting more elk.

"You need to work with many different facets simultaneously to create balance," Hasse Bengtsson pointed out.

​The elk is a herbivore and is capable of consuming many types of plant and fruit. A typical elk, weighing some 400 kilograms, may easily consume 32 kilograms of food per day. Remarkably, elk are commonly denoted as browsers ("concentrate selectors"). Like giraffes, elk carefully select foods with less fiber and more concentrations of nutrients.

Sweden, a sparsely-populated Nordic nation of almost 10 million, has an impressive population of around 300,000 elk, according to the Swedish Hunters Association. In summertime, the population increases to around 400,000, whereupon around 100,000 end up being shot by Sweden's 300,000 hunters. Due to the great differences, a distinction between summer and winter populations of the elk is made. Hunting accounts for 93 percent of elk deaths, whereas other causes of death among the elk include traffic accidents (both by car and train), predators and diseases.

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