FIVE MINUTES WITH HUNTING ICELAND
We caught up with Hunting Iceland, lead by Gunnar and his wife Alma, about their life and the work they do with Iceland’s environmental agency.
1. Describe Hunting Iceland in a few sentences. We want to portray hunting from an ethical standpoint and educate young hunters about this ancient craft. Humans and animals have lived harmoniously alongside one another in nature for thousands of years and we always try to maintain the balance by respecting the animal and its natural habitat.
2. As hunters, what does sustainability mean to you? How do you incorporate it into your practice? It means everything! If it wasn’t sustainable, we wouldn’t do it. Alma’s interest in hunting first arose due to her interest in sustainable food sources and mine stems from similar ecological concerns. Historically, indigenous Icelanders needed to hunt to eat; meat and fish were key parts of their diets. If they overused the Earth’s resources, they would have nothing to fall back on. Iceland is so isolated, and we can’t really grow crops here without human intervention in the farming process. Most of our fruit and vegetables are imported. Likewise, we don’t have a lot of grassland for animals to graze on, so beef tends to be imported, which is detrimental to the environment. Wildlife is a sustainable food source if you treat it well. It might make people squeamish, but it’s far more sustainable for us to hunt a reindeer and feed our family for a month than it is to buy beef imported from Germany or Denmark. Mass farming and mass-produced meat is unhealthy for the planet, there’s no question about it.
3. Could you tell me more about the work you do with Iceland’s environmental agency?
We humans have taken up so much of the landscape with agriculture and cities, so we became a part of the wildlife equation a long time ago. We need to be active in the chain and control highly adaptive predators. We have been contracted by the Icelandic government to manage arctic fox populations, as well as collecting data for scientists so they can evaluate reindeer health.
For us, hunting and conservation go hand-in-hand as a response to man-made damage. Ideally, we’d leave wildlife untouched but it’s simply not feasible. We’ve encroached on their natural habitat and we need to fix our mistakes. For example, bird populations seek shelter towards humans and with birds come predators. Bird settlements can be decimated if we don’t manage wildlife actively and responsibly. We like to think of ourselves as guardians of the wildlife.
4. Can you talk about your heritage as a hunter? I was raised by my grandfather and, even 80 years ago, he had to hunt to survive. Hunting serves a much more utilitarian purpose in this part of the world. He gave me a great respect for nature and provided me with the tools to harvest my food sustainably. He taught me to respect the Earth and what it gives us.
5. Hunting’s traditional in Iceland and a way of sustaining yourself in the wild. Can you explain why you think it’s important to keep the tradition alive? We Icelanders are proud of a heritage; we’re a people forged in stone, ice and bitter cold. Only the strong survived. The tradition of hunting binds us to our past but it also illuminates a way forward. We can’t continue on the way we, as a species, are going. If we continue down the path of mass consumption, there will be nothing left for generations to come. Hunting has been practiced responsibly by indigenous peoples for thousands of years and I think it’s important that we learn from them how to take care of the planet.
6. I know you taught Alma how to hunt, will you teach your daughter when she’s a bit older? Definitely! She’s only one so we’ve got a few years to wait but I’m so excited for her to learn. She already links animals and is keen to learn more about how you take care of them. Maybe it’s just because I’m her dad, but I see a lot of promise in her!
7. You hunt in some of the most challenging environments on Earth. What do you look for in your gear when you’re preparing? Comfort and endurance. The garments have to be able to withstand the Icelandic weather and landscape - they can’t tear on rocks, scuff as we crawl along the ground or let water seep through in a blizzard. Much of our time is spent crouched in snowy ditches waiting for animals and we need our gear to keep us warm and dry even when to food we’re imobile. Iceland is also the third windiest place on Earth, the other two are not inhabited. It rains from every direction, even upwards. Protection from the elements is absolutely essential.