The Arctic wildlife and flora are sensitive to development and fragmentation and major development projects are still controversial (NRC, 2003). The fragmentation of Arctic habitats will, at the currently predicted levels of development, seriously threaten biodiversity and ecosystem function (UNEP, 2001). Coastal regions are particularly vulnerable, because they constitute key breeding areas for so many species. In Scandinavia, the main calving and summer ranges of semidomesticated reindeer owned by Saami reindeer herders have suffered greatly due to piecemeal development, most often with only symbolic or no compensation at all. These areas also hold important cultural and historic value, as they represent the summer homes of many semi-nomadic herders. Indeed, Northern Scandinavia has the highest development pressure anywhere in the Arctic today. Development of cabin resorts, bombing ranges, road construction, mining, hydro power, and power wind mill parks threaten the access of Sámi reindeer herders and their reindeer to traditional grazing areas.
Already, perhaps as much as 35% of the ranges may be lost or compromised as a result of disturbance (UNEP, 2001; EEA, 2003).
By 2050, perhaps as much as 78% of the coastal ranges may become unavailable, thereby seriously jeopardizing the future of reindeer herding in the region (EEA, 2004).
Figure 21. Scenarios of development.
Extent of human impacts on biodiversity resulting from piecemeal development of infrastructure by 2032 with continued development rates under a market forces favourable scenario (UNEP, 2001; 2003; Nellemann et al. 2003). Notice that this model-generated scenario currently underestimates the rapid exploration and development activity taking place on the North Slope of Alaska and in the Mackenzie Valley region in Canada (see separate maps). Some estimates (UNEP, 2001) project that perhaps as much as 80 percent of the Arctic land area will become impacted by development by 2050 if current trends continue.
Caribou calving on the coasts: Pressure of industrial development
A large proportion of caribou and reindeer migrate to coastal regions for calving and for the summer. Coastal areas are of major importance for the productivity of these herds. Throughout the Arctic, caribou and reindeer are under pressure from development including pipelines, roads, oil fields, mining operations, tourist resorts, hydro power and power lines, dams and military bombing ranges. Forestry and progressing development appears historically and in recent times to displace or even result in abandonment of areas by both caribou and reindeer (NRC, 2003; Schaefer, 2003; Nellemann et al., 1996, 2003). In Alaska, caribou have been displaced during calving due to infrastructure in the Prudhoe Bay and Kuparuk oilfields (NRC, 2003); hydro power development has displaced caribou in Quebec, logging operations have displaced caribou in various parts of Canada (Chubbs et al., 1993; Smith et al., 2000; Dyer et al., 2001; 2002) and tourist resorts and powerlines are displacing both wild and semi-domesticated reindeer in Scandinavia (Vistnes et al., 2001; 2004; Nellemann et al., 2000; 2001; 2003).
Large-scale and long-term recession may also take place, with impacts on indigenous peoples who depend so strongly on the caribou and reindeer. Patterns of range recession of woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), 1880-1990 Ontario, Canada, indicated that half of historic woodland caribou range had been lost, a rate of disappearance of 34,800 km 2 per decade, and a northward range recession of 34 km per decade. The mean population density was one group per 1,900 km2, suggesting an average loss of 18 caribou wintering areas per decade during this period. There was a strong correlation between the recent southern limits of caribou occupancy and the northern front of forest harvesting and road development, implying an anthropogenic agent of decline (From Schaefer, 2003). The caribou in these areas have now been lost as a strong traditional and cultural source of subsistence hunting for many of the indigenous peoples including the Cree. As development moves north, the same impacts may await caribou and reindeer in the Arctic.