Safety debate sparked in Arctic Finland after hunter shoots cyclist in national park

Police say they suspect the shooting was not intentional. (Maiju Saijets / Yle)
Metsähallitus said that both the hunter and the biker who was shot were moving around in authorised areas.

Hunters are always responsible for safety when shooting on public land, a representative of Finland’s agency responsible for parks, wildlife and forestry management says.

The comments follow the death of a 30-year-old mountain biking enthusiast in Lapland after he was hit by a hunter’s bullet, sparking heated debate on social media.

“We have such huge areas in and around national parks that if there is no hunting near recreational and tourism areas, they should be able to co-exist. However we should remember that hunters should always ensure safety in all areas,” Lapland regional directorJyrki Tolonen of forestry, parks and wildlife agency Metsähallitus said.

Tolonen added that the cyclist’s death was highly unfortunate and pointed out that local hunters were authorised to operate in the area. However he noted that few of them tend to practice their sport in that location.

“We have no information [to suggest] that something similar has ever happened in any national park. It is therefore still safe to go out hiking,” Metsähallitus said in a statement following the accident.

Tolonen said that since the accident, the agency has been discussing hunting and outdoor safety.

Bike rental firm ponders safety vests

Many people enjoying the outdoors during autumn do not wear high-visibility safety vests worn by hunters. One mountain bike rental firm in Lapland’s Saariselkä region is now considering recommending their use to make cyclists more visible to hunters.

Tanja Ohenoja, CEO of Lapin Luontolomat said that hi-vis vests would also improve safety in areas where bikers and hunters might cross paths.

“Now that evenings are getting darker earlier, a safety vest with reflectors would enhance safety for customers. In the same way that we include a helmet in the rental, it would be very appropriate to also offer customers a safety vest so that they could be seen in traffic as well,” Ohenoja commented.

Meanwhile Sauli Härkönen, administrative services manager with the Finnish Wildlife Agency, said vests are not absolutely necessary, although brightly coloured clothing could help make people easier to detect.

Accident area largely untouched

Located in eastern Lapland, Urho Kekkonen National Park receives about 350,000 visitors annually. Very few of them trek through the area where the mountain biker was shot, Metsähallitus’ Tolonen said.

“In an entire year, about 2,000–3,000 people visit the Kemihaara area. It is not a very popular location and those numbers include all of the people who also go fishing and camping,” he added.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: George River caribou survey shows slight uptick in eastern Canada but hunting ban remains in place, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Elk hunting season increasingly bringing hunters and joggers in same areas in Finland, Yle News

Norway: Grouse declines lead to strict hunting regulations in Arctic Norway, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Hunting a longstanding tradition in Sweden, Radio Sweden

United States: Trump admin pushes for looser rules on predator hunting in Alaska, Alaska Public Media

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