When the first of the people who were to become Icelanders set foot on the shores of this island, they must have been amazed.
The Sagas say that beautiful forests swooped down the mountains almost to the seashore. Huge flocks of birds soared from the cliffs and sat upon the island’s waters. Blueish arctic fox with wonderfully dense coats stalked the fields.
It must have seemed like paradise.
The first to disappear, although gradually, were the forests as new sprouts became the victims of the nibbling of imported flocks of sheep and trees were felled for their wood and to be burnt into charcoal for warming. Arctic fox thrived across the island and provided early settlers with a source of fur hides.
Despite pressure due to hunting and environmental degradation, a recent decline in the fox population was first noted in 2010. Before that time, the population had been on the increase since monitoring first began in 1979. Scientists have concluded that the recent decrease in population is probably due to climate change.
As the fox grows scarcer across the island, sheep proliferate. At some point, Icelanders imported reindeer, probably from Scandinavia. I can practically hear the conversation:
Hey Lars. There’s nothing to eat here except fish and birds. Remember those delicious reindeer steak we used to have?
Yes I do, Erick. Let’s sail back to Vikingland and bring some over. I sure would like a nice thick steak!
Today reindeer roam freely in the eastern part of the country.
But still, the fox remains the only land mammal native to this island.
The treeless countryside remains starkly beautiful but apparently recently the Icelandic government has established a plan to re-vegetate some of the island with trees. My guesthouse owner near Mývatn lake was one of the numerous Icelanders participating in the project.
Like the little boy entrusted with the last seed of a Truffula tree in Dr. Suess’ “The Lorax,” the participating farmers have been entrusted with the future forests of Iceland. The government basically gives the trees and a small salary to participants for the labor of planting and caring for the trees.
Throughout the country, very small groupings of forests are scatted across the mountain slopes. Within these wooded enclaves, the wind softly rustles the birch leaves and pine needles. It is lovely.