Hungry Elks Add to Woes for Sweden's Fire-Ravaged Forestry Firms

(Bloomberg) -- A feeding frenzy by elks in Sweden’s northern forests caused record damage to trees this year, creating further problems for an industry already reeling from logging challenges caused by unusual weather and fires.

Almost all areas in the Norrland region showed damage of more than 10 percent after elks fed on pine trees, according to an annual inventory by the Swedish Forest Agency. In one area in Jamtland County, every second pine tree showed damage, a record, it said. The target is less than 5 percent.

"This is completely dreadful," Christer Kalen, a game specialist at the Swedish Forest Agency, said in a statement on its website. "While the damage doesn’t usually mean that the pine tree dies, it results in slower growth in the forest, a worsening quality and significant losses for the forest owner."

The reasons for the damage is a winter that was rich in snow and an abundant number of elks, the agency said. Deep snow means that the elks’ mobility becomes limited and that they become stationary, which explains why some areas have "extreme levels of damage." The conditions also reduced the amount of ground vegetation available for the animals, the agency said.

This year has been a challenge for Sweden’s forestry industry. First, a mild winter meant that the heavy machinery used in logging couldn’t navigate the muddy forest floors, hampering wood supply. Then one of the warmest summers on record sparked an unprecedented number of forest fires and forced companies to halt logging in large swathes of the country out of fear of sparking new blazes. That also hurt supply for Sweden’s wood and paper-products industry, which accounts for 10 percent of the country’s exports.

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"All parties involved need to realize the seriousness of this situation and make significant and coordinated efforts in most of the surveyed areas," Kalen said.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.