Reindeer husbandry and forestry

About 2.5 million semidomesticated reindeer roam throughout northernmost Eurasia along a belt running from Scandinavia to the Beringer Strait. BY Timo Helle and Mikko Hyppönen

Reindeer husbandry is an ancient livelihood common to more than 20 different ethnic or language groups. Most reindeer herders are nomads who migrate with their reindeer between summer pastures on the tundra and winter pastures in the taiga forests. These seasonal migrations frequently take place over hundreds of kilometres.

Despite the scale of these activities, in Siberia, for instance, the whole annual reindeer management cycle takes place north of the area used for commercial forestry. But in northernmost Fennoscandia, reindeer husbandry and forestry overlap, particularly in Finland and Sweden where 75–90 % of the reindeer population live in coniferous forests, at least during the winter. Sharing resources has sometimes created problems. Reindeer grazing is generally thought to hinder the natural regeneration of Scots pine and birch, and destroy birch cultivations if they are not fenced; but in fact there is little damage to young Scots pine stands. There can also be conflicts of interest between reindeer husbandry and other use of land (roads, pipelines etc). In Norway there is considerable debate about an army rocket-testing site that is preventing reindeer herders from using much of their traditional land.

There was a general belief that any damage to reindeer husbandry from forestry would gradually disappear. But it is now clear that final cuttings affect reindeer’s winter pastures:
the animals prefer old forests, which provide an abundance of reindeer lichens, their main winter food. Final cuttings reduce the value of the pasture. The loss of arboreal lichens is even clearer. Reindeer feed on them in mid and late winter, when the deep snow limits access to reindeer lichens.

Discovering new ways to integrate reindeer husbandry and forestry is still a challenge. Planning the shared use of forests can help with technical solutions, especially if all the users have a greater say in making decisions about matters of concern to all.

Timo Helle and Mikko Hyppönen
Rovaniemi Research Station
The Finnish Forest Research Institute

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