Climate change and reindeer nomadism in Finnmark, Norway

May 7, 2012, 12:34 pm

This is Section 17.4.2 of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. Lead Authors: James J. McCarthy, Marybeth Long Martello; Contributing Authors: Robert Corell, Noelle Eckley Selin, Shari Fox, Grete Hovelsrud-Broda, Svein Disch Mathiesen, Colin Polsky, Henrik Selin, Nicholas J.C. Tyler; Corresponding Authors: Kirsti Strøm Bull, Inger Maria Gaup Eira, Nils Isak Eira, Siri Eriksen, Inger Hanssen-Bauer, Johan Klemet Kalstad, Christian Nellemann, Nils Oskal, Erik S. Reinert, Douglas Siegel-Causey, Paal Vegar Storeheier, Johan Mathis Turi


Reindeer nomadism in Finnmark, Norway (

World reindeer herding

Reindeer herding is today the most extensive form of animal husbandry in the Eurasian Arctic and subarctic (also see Chapter 12). Some 2 million semi-domesticated reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) graze natural, contiguous mountain and tundra pastures covering an area of around 5 million km2, which stretches from the North Sea to the Pacific Ocean (Fig. 17.5, Box 17.1). These reindeer provide the basis of the livelihood of herders belonging to some 28 different indigenous and other local peoples, from the Sámi of northern Fennoscandia (northern Norway, Sweden, and Finland) and the Kola Peninsula in northwest Russia, who herd approximately 500,000 reindeer, to the Chukchi of the Chukotka Peninsula in the far east[6]. The herding and hunting of reindeer has major cultural and economic significance for these people. Moreover, their herding practices, ancient in origin, represent models in the sustainable exploitation and management of northern terrestrial ecosystems that have developed and adapted in situ over hundreds of years to the climatic and administrative vagaries of these remote regions[7].

Box 17.1. Biological adaptations by reindeer to life in the north (parts of this text have been published previously by Tyler and Blix[8])

Reindeer is one of only 13 out of 180 different species of ruminants that has been domesticated. The grazing areas of reindeer, however, cover almost 25% of land surface of the world[9]. Reindeer inhabit a wide range of different biotopes. Like other species resident in the Arctic, reindeer are exposed to large seasonal variations in ambient light and temperature conditions and in the quality and availability of food.

The Arctic is a hostile place in winter, yet the cold, dark “polar wastes” sustain life. The environment is truly marginal and for this reason it might be thought that warm-blooded animals that spend the winter there must endure a truly marginal existence. However, most arctic animals usually neither freeze nor starve and it is therefore selfevident that they are well adapted to the several challenges of the natural environment in which they live.

Several species of monogastric mammals (i.e., those having a stomach with only one compartment) circumvent the problem of cold and the scarcity of food in winter by hibernating. Reindeer, however, are ruminants. Unlike monogastric species they have to remain active to feed continuously throughout winter. Moreover, they are truly homeothermic, requiring maintenance of a constant internal body temperature that is considerably above environmental temperature. For these, like other true homeotherms, the problem of survival becomes one of keeping warm. To do this they need both to reduce heat dissipation and to ensure an adequate supply of fuel, in the form of metabolites from food, for heat production. Therefore, adaptations for survival can be divided between those which help the animals to reduce their energy expenditure and those which help them to make best use of what little food they can find.

Reduction in energy losses

Reindeer and caribou have two principal defenses against cold. First, they are very well insulated by fur[10]; second, they restrict loss of heat and water from the respiratory tract. In humans exposed to low ambient temperature but warmly dressed, the heat lost in exhaled air may account for more that 20% of metabolic heat production. In resting reindeer exposed to cold, by contrast, expired air is cooled and the animals are capable of conserving about 70% of the heat and 80% of the water added to the inspired air in the lungs[11].

Reduction in energy expenditure

Appetite and growth

Reindeer, like several other species of deer, show a pronounced seasonal cycle in appetite and growth which appears to follow an intrinsic rhythm entrained by photoperiod and associated with changes in levels of circulating hormones. In winter their appetite falls by as much as 70% of autumn values[12]. Growth slows or even stops[13] and the animals begin to mobilize their fat reserves even when good quality food is freely available[14]. Intrinsic cycles of growth and fattening appear to be adaptations for survival in seasonal environments in which animals are confronted with long, predictable periods of potential under-nutrition. Slowed rate of growth and, to an even greater extent, actual loss of weight have the effect of reducing an animal’s daily energy requirements[15]. This may be literally vitally important in winter when food is not only scarce and of poor quality but is also energetically expensive to acquire.


Besides minimizing heat loss in winter by means of increased insulation, reindeer and caribou can reduce energy expenditure by adopting appropriate behavior; in particular, by reducing the total daily locomotor activity. The nature of the surface over which animals travel is also very important. The relative net cost of locomotion in a caribou sinking to 60% of brisket height at each step is almost six times greater than the cost of walking on a hard surface[16]. The capacity of snow to support an animal depends on the hardness of the snow and the pressure (foot load) that the animal exerts on it. Thus, if snow hardness consistently exceeds foot loads, animals can walk on top of the snow or will sink to only a fraction of its total depth. The broad, spreading feet of reindeer and caribou, a well-known characteristic of this species, is clearly an adaptation to walking on snow, through minimizing the extent to which they break through the crust and sink in. Reindeer and caribou, with the exception of musk deer (Moschus moschiferus), have the lowest foot load measured in any ungulate[17]. The potential significance of reducing locomotion as a means of saving energy is made clear from Fancy and White’s[18] calculation that the costs of locomotion for a 90 kg caribou breaking the trail at the head of the spring migration will represent an increment to its minimal metabolism of 82%. For the animals following the packed trail in its wake the incremental cost would be equivalent to about 33% of their minimal metabolism, a saving of more than half[19].

Gathering and storing energy

Diet and digestion

Reindeer have an exceptional ability to cope with seasonal changes in the availability and quality of the different species of forage plants that they eat. This, together with the diversity of habitats in which the animals live, provides the basis for the capacity of reindeer to adapt toward climatic variability and change. Reindeer are highly adaptable intermediate mixed feeding types. They fall between true grazers that eat fibrous plants (25% of all species of ruminants) and concentrate selectors (40% of all species) that eat plants with low fiber content[20]. By feeding selectively, they avoid highly fibrous plants and take, instead, the nutritious and easily digestible parts of a variety of different forage types including lichens, grasses, and some woody plants[21].

In some areas, the proportion of lichens in their diet increases in winter[22]. Lichens are unusual as food for ruminants. They are rich in carbohydrate that is easily digestible in reindeer and are therefore also a good source of energy for the animals. However, they are deficient in nitrogen and minerals[23]. Reindeer cannot, therefore, survive on lichens as their sole food supply. Ruminal fermentation of lichens has an important effect on ruminal absorption of energy rich volatile fatty acids in winter[24] and reindeer that eat lichens are better able to extract nitrogen from dietary vascular plants in winter[25].

The consequences of increased temperatures over arctic ranges include an increase in the abundance of shrubs[26] and a decrease in the abundance of lichens[27]. Reindeer herders report that the abundance and distribution of mountain birch (Betula pubescens) have increased and the abundance and distribution of mat-forming lichens have decreased in Finnmark over the last three to four decades. There are undoubtedly multiple causes underlying these changes. Thus, it is important to understand how reindeer can regulate their forage consumption to meet energy requirements under changing conditions. Though reindeer are able to survive without lichens in winter[28] little is known about the level of production and the economy – and therefore, also, the vulnerability – of herding in lichen-free areas.


Many animals that live in highly seasonal environments store large amounts of energy as fat during summer and autumn in anticipation of food shortage during winter. In hibernating species, fat deposits may constitute up to 35% of the animals’ total body weight. Ungulates, by contrast, usually store relatively little fat. The fat deposits of temperate and subarctic deer, for example, represent usually only between 4 and 10% of their total body weight in autumn[29]. Such low values cast doubt over the widely held view that fat is likely to be a major source of energy for deer and other ungulates in winter. Even using the most conservative models of energy expenditure it seems that the fat reserves of female Svalbard reindeer, the fattest of all reindeer, could contribute only between 10 and 25% of the animals’ energy demands during winter[30].

In practice, the contribution from fat is likely to be lower than these models predict because reindeer which survive winter do not normally use up all their fat[31]. Moreover, there is increasing evidence that the principal role of fat reserves in ungulates is to enhance reproductive success, rather than to provide a substitute for poor quality winter forage (although the very presence of fat will necessarily also provide insurance against death during periods of acute starvation). Substantial pre-rut fat reserves, for example, enable male deer to gather, defend, and serve their harems without being distracted by the need to feed and, in several species, males hardly eat at all for two or three weeks during the rut. It is more difficult to distinguish between alternative roles (reproduction and food supplement) for fat reserves in female ungulates because, in many species, these are pregnant throughout winter. Kay[32] suggested that the principal role of fat reserves in females may be to supplement (but not to substitute for) their food intake during late pregnancy.


caption Fig. 17.5. Distribution of semi-domesticated reindeer in Eurasia and some of the indigenous and other peoples of the Eurasian north for which reindeer hunting and herding has major cultural and economic significance.



A Norwegian context

O’Brien, et al.[33] asked whether Norway is vulnerable or resilient to future anthropogenic climate change (using projections from the ACACIA project[34]. At a national level Norway can be considered relatively resilient and hence unlikely to be seriously affected by conditions forecast by climate scenarios over the next few decades. Its relative protection from hazards associated with sea-level rise, its weather-hardened architecture and infrastructure, its strong and equitable economy, its state of technological development, etc., all signal a good measure of resilience at the national scale. Certain economic sectors (oil and gas, hydro-power, fishing, agriculture, tourism etc.) will experience gains and losses, but on average the scenarios for responses to anticipated warmer and wetter conditions point to likely sufficiency of adaptive capacity to minimize costly climate-related disruptions.

Through the application of multi-scale analyses, using dynamic and empirical downscaling techniques for regional and local climate scenarios, respectively, O’Brien, et al.[35] were able to refine their assessments of vulnerability accordingly. Although climate extremes are not well captured in this analysis, it is clear that projections for differences in mean climate conditions vary greatly across Norway: northern, southwestern, and southeastern Norway fare quite differently. Only the first of these regions falls within the Arctic as defined in this chapter. Not surprisingly, it is this arctic portion of Norway that shows the greatest potential vulnerability to projected climate change; in large part due to the anticipated changes in natural ecosystems. The high dependence of human livelihoods on these resources, for economic and cultural reasons, contributes to a strong linkage between ecosystem changes and socio-economic consequences.

The primacy of fishing in many Norwegian coastal economies provides one example of such human– environment relationships. There is no historical analogue to allow confident predictions of fish stocks under a warmer coastal regime, and circulation changes in the North Atlantic may in fact be even more influential in determining the recruitment in key stock such as cod and herring. It is, however, likely that there will be changes in these marine ecosystems under projected climate regimes. Studies elsewhere reveal the difficulty that communities highly dependent on fishing have in adapting to alternative livelihoods when faced with permanently unfavorable changes in catch[36]. Coastal areas in more temperate regions of North America and Europe contain many such examples.

Reindeer herding in northern Norway provides a similar example. Changes in temperature can affect vegetation and changes in the timing and form of precipitation can affect the animals’ access to food. Either of these changes can influence the health and productivity of the herd, and hence the livelihoods and cultural practices of indigenous peoples who are highly dependent on this ecosystem.

O’Brien et al.[37] also gave good examples of how the overall perspective on Norway’s vulnerability could change with diminished importance of revenues from oil and gas over the next five decades (considered likely), and how climate impacts experienced in other nations can affect Norway via commerce, political relations, and movements of people. But an important underlying message is that for the foreseeable future the people most likely to be negatively affected by climate change are those whose lives are most intimately linked with terrestrial and marine ecosystems.

Finnmark Sámi reindeer herding

This analysis represents an interdisciplinary and intercultural approach to understanding the vulnerabilities (hearkivuohta) of specific human–environment systems in the Arctic. As a work in progress it explores only some features of the human–environment system represented in reindeer nomadism. These features include climate and non-climate factors that impinge on, and may influence, the sensitivity and adaptive capacity of the system to environmental change. The perspective adopted here is that of members of local communities: the focus is on their interpretation of the concept of vulnerability analysis and on how it might usefully be applied to their situation. Thus, the information provided here is the result of a partnership between researchers and reindeer herders. The case study demonstrates how through active participation the reindeer herders modified and applied a general conceptual framework and interpreted research findings in a co-production of knowledge.

Finnmark is the northernmost, largest, and least populated county in Norway (Fig. 17.6).Within its 49000 km2 there live approximately 76000 people, including a large proportion of Sámi. Populations of 114000 reindeer and 2059 registered reindeer owners in Finnmark in 2000 represented 74 and 71% of semi-domesticated reindeer and Sámi reindeer owners in Norway, respectively[38].

Reindeer in Finnmark are managed collectively in a nomadic manner rich in tradition. Herds of mixed age and sex, varying in size from 100 to 10000 animals, are free-living and range in natural mountain pasture all year round. The herders typically make two migrations with their animals each year, moving between geographically separate summer and winter pastures. In spring (April and May), they and their animals generally move out to the mountainous coastal region where the reindeer are left on peninsulas or are swum or ferried across to islands where they feed throughout the summer, eating nutritious parts of bushes and shrubs, sedges, and grasses. In September the animals are gathered and taken inland to winter pastures in landscape typically consisting of open, upland plains of tundra and taiga birch scrub (Fig. 17.7,[39]). The pattern of migration observed today is probably as much a legacy from earlier times, when Sámi moved to the coast to fish in the summer and retired inland to hunt game in winter, as a reflection of the natural behavior of their reindeer. The autumn migration inland is clearly an adaptation to climatic conditions.Winters are mild and wet near the coast but colder and drier inland (Fig. 17.8). Consequently, the climate is more continental inland and cycles of thawing and re-freezing (which increase both the density and the hardness of the snow making it increasingly difficult for the animals to dig to the plants beneath) occur less frequently than at the coast. Grazing (snow) conditions are generally better inland as a result.


caption Fig. 17.6.World distribution of reindeer, showing Finnmark – the northernmost, largest, and least populated county in Norway[1]. Fig. 17.7. The present pattern of semi-domesticated reindeer migration in western Finnmark.


Reindeer herding in northern Norway has many advantages over herding throughout much of the rest of the Eurasian Arctic and subarctic. First, although the absolute number of animals is small (the population in Finnmark, for example, represents approximately 4% of semi-domesticated reindeer in Eurasia), the density of reindeer is very high. This reflects, in part, the relatively high productivity of this region, which, in turn, is a consequence of the warming effect of a branch of the North Atlantic Current. The overall density of approximately 2 reindeer per km2 in Finnmark is roughly four times greater than the density of reindeer in Russia. Second, reindeer meat is regarded as a delicacy in Norway and in many years production fails to meet demand. This, in combination with the richness of the Sámis’ traditional gastronomic culture, provides opportunities for development of the economic basis of their industry through small-scale family-based productions focusing on the concept of adding value. Third, northern Fennoscandia possesses well developed infrastructure and transport and an electronic communication network superior to that in any other region of the circumpolar Arctic at similar latitude. These three factors form the basis of a potentially robust and vibrant form of cerviculture. They also represent features of both the natural and the social environments that potentially influence the vulnerability of reindeer herding to the effects of climate variability and change.


caption Fig. 17.8. Monthly mean precipitation and temperature at Tromsø and at Karasjok in Finnmark (26º E, 69º N). Data are for 1961 to 1990 and the bars indicate 1 standard deviation[2].


Modifying the general vulnerability framework (

The first step in a vulnerability study is to evaluate the general methodological framework (Fig. 17.1) and modify it, where necessary, to suit the characteristics of the system of interest, in this case reindeer herding in Finnmark. A conceptual framework must be developed that focuses on the specific and, perhaps, even unique attributes of each particular case. Reindeer, reindeer herders, and the natural and social environments to which they belong represent a coupled human– environment system. Many of the components of this system, though only distantly related, are closely and functionally linked. Herders’ livelihoods, for example, depend on the level of production of their herds. Production, in turn, depends on the size of herds and on the productivity of individual reindeer in them, which depend, again in turn, on the quantity and quality of forage available. The level of feeding the animals enjoy is determined in the short term by prevailing weather conditions including temperature in summer, which affects the growth and nutritional quality of forage plants, and by weather conditions in winter, in particular a combination of precipitation, temperature, and wind, which affect the quality of the snow pack and, hence, the availability of the forage beneath. In the medium and long term, however, feeding levels are also determined by a suite of non-climate factors all of which have a major influence on the level of production and, completing the circle, on the profitability of reindeer herding. These include the quality of pasture (in terms of the species composition and biomass of forage and the availability of other important natural resources), the area of pasture available, herders’ rights of access to pasture, the level of competition between reindeer and other grazers, the level of predation to which herds are subjected, the monetary value of reindeer products and so on. Common to all these non-climate factors is that they are influenced by the decisions and policies of institutions far removed from Finnmark. Hence, it was clear at the outset that reindeer herding is a production system affected not just by climate variability, and potentially also by climate change, but also potentially very strongly by the socio-economic environment in which it exists.


caption Fig. 17.9. Conceptual framework for the Finnmark case study.


A conceptual model relevant for reindeer herding in Finnmark was developed at a five-day meeting held in Tromsø in August 2002. The president of the Association of World Reindeer Herders drew together a team of natural scientists, social scientists, administrators, and reindeer herders. All the participants were encouraged to emphasize their own particular perspectives and, working together in this way, the group then revised the generalized conceptual framework to suit the conditions prevailing in Finnmark. The herders, for example, were largely responsible for selecting the principal components included in the final model and upon which the study was based. The customized framework (Fig. 17.9) describes the perceived relationships through which (1) climate change influences the growth and productivity of herds of reindeer, (2) herders cope with climateinduced changes in the supply of forage and in the level of production of their herds, and (3) herders’ ability to cope with climate-induced changes is constrained by extrinsic anthropogenic factors collectively called “institutions and governance”. (These include “predation”, the level of which is influenced by legislation that protects populations of predators.) Each part was tempered with herders’ understanding of the dynamics of herding, of their society, and of the natural and social environments in which they live. Superficially the final model (Fig. 17.9) bore little resemblance to the general framework (Fig. 17.1) from which it evolved, yet key elements, including human and environmental driving forces, human and societal conditions, impacts, responses, and adaptation, all remain.

Climate change and climate variability in Finnmark: projections and potential effects (

Climate change is one of a suite of factors that influence the physical environment, the biota and, ultimately, the cultures of indigenous and other arctic communities. Large-scale climate changes in the Arctic will influence local climate[40], which, in turn, can possibly affect foraging conditions for reindeer, the productivity of herds and, ultimately, herders’ income and livelihood.

Projections for Fennoscandia

The climate of northern Fennoscandia is milder than at similar latitudes in Russia or North America owing to the warming effect of a northeastern branch of the North Atlantic Current, which flows north along the coast of Norway. The mean July temperature at the coastal town of Vadsø (70º 05' N) in northern Norway, for example, is approximately 11 ºC, while that at Point Barrow (71º 30' N) in Alaska is approximately 4 ºC. Likewise, the mean January temperature inland at Kautokeino (68º 58' N) is approximately -16 ºC compared to approximately -35 ºC at Old Crow (67º 34' N) in Canada (both located at similar elevations).

These differences notwithstanding, recent modeling indicates that during the next 20 to 30 years the mean annual temperature over northern Fennoscandia is likely to increase by as much as 0.3 to 0.5 ºC per decade[41]. The projected rise in temperature is greater in the north than in the south of the region, greater inland than at the coast, and greater in winter than in summer.


caption Fig. 17.10. Low-pass filtered series of observed and projected mean annual temperature in Karasjok, eastern Finnmark. The projected temperature is downscaled from the ECHAM4/ OPYC3 global climate model, run with the IS92a emissions scenario[3].


Confidence in these projections is based on the trend in mean annual temperature for the period 1970 to 2000, generated retrospectively by the same models, corresponding reasonably well with empirical observations. Figure 17.10, for example, illustrates the observed mean annual temperature measured at Karasjok, a representative inland grazing region used in winter, between 1900 and 2000 and a modeled projection for mean annual temperature for the period 1950 to 2050[42]. The trend in the projection from 1970 to 2000 compares well with, and is not significantly different from, the observed temperature trends[43]. The models do not, however, capture the changes in variability which have been observed. At this stage, therefore, it is not possible to project with any degree of confidence to what extent the variability in mean annual temperature in northern Fennoscandia is likely to change over the next 50 to 100 years.

Global projections for the next 70 years or so indicate increased precipitation at high latitudes. These projections seem robust[44] and are qualitatively consistent with the expected intensification of the hydrological cycle caused by increased temperatures. Regional models for Fennoscandia project an increase in annual precipitation of between 1 and 4% per decade (Fig. 17.11). The regional precipitation scenarios are, however, generally less consistent than the regional temperature scenarios and their ability to reproduce the trends observed in recent decades remains limited.

Increases in temperature and precipitation can potentially affect snow conditions in a variety of ways that can influence foraging conditions for reindeer. Increased temperature in autumn might lead to a later start of the period with snow cover and increased temperature combined with more frequent precipitation may increase the frequency of snow falling on unfrozen ground. Furthermore, increased precipitation in winter would be expected to contribute to increased snow depth at the winter pastures of reindeer.With increased temperatures, the melting period in spring might start earlier but the last date of melting might be significantly delayed where the initial snow cover is deeper. The physical structure of the snow pack could also be affected by the projected changes in temperature and precipitation. No local projections for snow conditions in Finnmark have, however, yet been made. Their development would require an integration of the projections for temperature and precipitation, both of which are currently available only at a coarse scale of resolution. To be meaningful, models would have to be downscaled and would need to incorporate data on the physical structure of the landscape, especially altitude which influences local temperature profiles and, hence, the transition of precipitation from rain to snow[45].

Downscaling global projections

The spatial resolution of the projections for temperature and precipitation over northern Fennoscandia is very coarse and, consequently, of limited use for projecting local trends in any but the most general terms. Downscaled scenarios, designed to improve the spatial resolution of the projections, have been developed for temperature and precipitation at selected stations in Finnmark. Projections for Karasjok in eastern Finnmark are shown in Figs. 17.10 and 17.11. The downscaled temperature scenarios show some of the same characteristics as the regional scenarios for Fennoscandia, including greater warming in winter than in summer and inland compared to the coast. However, the inland–coast gradient was in most cases greater in the downscaled projections than in the global scenarios. Downscaled projections for precipitation did not match the global projections for Fennoscandia well. This result was not unexpected and reflects the fact that downscaling, unlike global modeling, is sensitive to the effects of local topography on patterns of precipitation.


caption Fig. 17.11. Low-pass filtered series of observed and projected annual precipitation in Karasjok, eastern Finnmark. The projected precipitation is downscaled from the ECHAM4/OPYC3 global climate model, run with the IS92a emissions scenario (Hanssen-Bauer et al., 2000).


Local climate conditions important for reindeer herding


caption Fig. 17.12. Winter precipitation anomalies for Karasjok (eastern Finmark) and Vardø (northeastern Norway), 1950 to 2001. The anomalies are given in percent relative to the 1961–1990 average.


To be manageable, the models developed by downscaling analysis were necessarily made very simple. The weather patterns over reindeer pastures, by contrast, are highly complex and display a large degree of regional, local, and temporal variation. Some of the temporal variation is apparent from data for particular parameters. The observed winter precipitation in Karasjok, for example, has varied during the last five decades from less than half the 1961–1990 average to almost twice this value (Fig. 17.12). Likewise, at Tromsø at the coast, the date on which the last snow disappeared (between 1960 and 2000) has varied by as much as 60 days from year to year. There is also considerable spatial variability: the mean annual precipitation for Finnmark (1961– 1990), for example, ranges from 325 mm at Kautokeino (inland) to 914 mm at Loppa (coast). The situation is, however, more complicated than these simple comparisons indicate owing to the many ways in which weather can vary. Data collected over 35 years from two weather stations in central eastern Finnmark reveal, for example, that almost every year is a record year. Every year one parameter or another is colder, or warmer, or earlier, or deeper, and so on than ever before. There are, in effect, no “normal” years in Finnmark; instead, every year is exceptional. In herders’ parlance: Jahki ii leat jagi viellja (“One year is not another’s brother”).

The challenge, therefore, is to extract data from global, regional, or local meteorological records in the form of selected parameters that, singly or in combination, represent useful proxies for those aspects of the weather in this complex system that significantly influence the growth and survival of reindeer and the work of the herders who look after them. Ecologists select proxies that are either as highly generalized or as highly specific as possible, including major atmospheric phenomena such as the North Atlantic Oscillation or monthly mean records of precipitation from a particular local weather station, respectively. The application of either highly generalized or highly specific data can be useful and can yield robust results. The selection of proxies, however, is largely arbitrary and the results lack the sophistication that characterizes herders’ understanding of the ways in which short-term variation in weather and longer term variation in climatic conditions affect their lives. Reindeer herders, like other people whose livelihood depends on close reading of the natural environment, have a deep understanding of the significance of the changing patterns of weather (Box 17.2). An important step in a vulnerability analysis of this kind, therefore, is to describe the effects of temporal and regional variation in weather on grazing conditions in terms of herders’ experience and, hence, to identify climate phenomena and thresholds that are potentially important for reindeer production.

Box 17.2. The significance of snow

Reindeer herders, like other people whose livelihood depends on close reading of the natural environment, have a deep understanding of the significance of changing weather patterns. This knowledge is based on generations of experience accumulated and conserved in herding practice. Herders’ understanding of snow (muohta) is one example.

In winter, each herding group grazes their animals in a defined area to which it has usufructory rights. In Finnmark, herds are typically tended continuously in winter, with herders taking watches that last seven to ten days. Their daily duties include maintaining the integrity of their herds – by preventing animals from straying and by keeping other reindeer away – and, most importantly, by finding fresh places for the animals to graze. “Good grazing” is a place where the snow is dry, friable, and not too deep to prevent the animals easily digging through it to reach the plants beneath. “Bad grazing” is a place where the snow is icy, hard, and heavy, or where a layer of ice lies over the vegetation on the ground beneath. “Exhausted grazing” is a place where reindeer have already dug and trampled the snow, consequently rendering it hard and effectively impenetrable.

Snow lies in the mountain pastures of northern Norway for up to 240 days per year and it is therefore not surprising that herders have learned to cope with varying snow conditions. The significance of snow for the lives of the people probably increased when they turned from hunting reindeer to herding them[46]. Winter grazing conditions must have become an important determinant of trade and, hence, an important topic of discussion. The distribution of snow and its physical characteristics such as its depth, hardness, density, structure, and variability all had to be expressed in a linguistic form. The Sámi recognize about 300 different qualities of snow and winter pasture – each defined by a separate word in their language[47].

A selection of Sámi words for snow:

Cearga: Hard-packed drift snow “which one can’t sink one’s staff into”– impossible for reindeer to dig through.

Ciegar: Snow that has been dug up and trampled by reindeer, then frozen hard.

Fieski: Snow in an area where only a few reindeer have been, evidenced by few tracks.

Oppas: Thickly-packed snow through which reindeer can dig if the snow is of the luotkku (loose) or seanas type.

Sarti: A layer of frozen snow on the ground at the bottom of the snow pack that represents poor grazing conditions for reindeer.

Seanas: Dry, coarse-grained snow at the bottom of the snow pack. Easy for reindeer to dig through. Occurs in late winter and spring.

Skárta: A thin layer of frozen, hard snow on the ground that forms after rain. Also poor grazing conditions.


Ecological impacts (

The ecological impact of large-scale climate variability and recent climate change on temperate species of plants and animals is well documented[48]. Among northern ungulates, variation in growth, body size, survival, fecundity, and population rates of increase correlate with large-scale atmospheric phenomena including the North Atlantic Oscillation[49] and Arctic Oscillation[50]. Putative causal mechanisms underlying these correlations involve the climatic modulation of grazing conditions for the animals. The effects may be either direct, through the influence of climate on the animals’ thermal environment or the availability of their forage beneath the snow in winter[51], or indirect, through modulation, by late lying snow, of the phenological development and nutritional quality of forage plants in summer[52]. The consequences for the animals may, in turn, be either direct, involving the survival of the current year’s young, or indirect, whereby climate-induced variation in early growth influences the survival and breeding performance of the animals in adulthood[53].

Some well-established reindeer populations characteristically display high-frequency, persistent instability[54] indicating that their dynamics, and the dynamics of the grazing systems of which they are a part, may be strongly influenced by variation in climate[55]. However, despite a substantial volume of research related to the effects of snow on foraging conditions in tundra and taiga pastures[56] and, more recently, research related to the effects of variation in summer weather on forage[57], only little evidence of a strong and pervasive influence of large-scale climate variation on the rate of growth of populations[58] or the performance of individual reindeer[59] has yet emerged.

Coping with climate variability and change (

The potential impact of climate variation and change on the productivity of herds can be ameliorated by tactical and strategic changes in herding practice. Herders’ responses (feedback) represent coping (birgehallat), indicated by the dotted line in Fig. 17.9. The conceptual framework proposes that responses may be triggered at two levels. Ultimately, the herders respond to climate-induced changes in the performance of their animals. They also respond directly to the kinds of weather conditions that are important for successful herding. This proximal response is indicated by the line marked “Herders’ knowledge” in Fig. 17.9. The model makes no assumption about the extent or effectiveness of herders’ ability to cope or the magnitude of the influence of climate change on the system.

A major point emphasized in this study is that climate change is not a new phenomenon in eastern Finnmark, even over the timescale of human memory. Systematic records of meteorological data have been made at Karasjok, close to the winter pastures, since 1870. These data provide clear evidence of climate change during the last 100 years. The dominant features of the temperature and precipitation records displayed in Figs. 17.10 and 17.11 are not the overall trends but, rather, the substantial decadal variation. Hence, although temperature displayed no statistically significant trend during the course of the last century, it is readily apparent that between 1900 and 2000 inner Finnmark experienced two periods with generally increasing temperatures. Between 1900 and 1935 and again between 1980 and 2000 the mean annual temperature at Karasjok increased by about 0.5 ºC per decade. The observed rate of increase closely matches the projections for warming over Fennoscandia over the next 20 to 30 years that lie in the range of 0.3 to 0.5 ºC per decade (see Chapter 4). Similarly, the modest net increase in precipitation during the last century, which occurred at a rate of 1.6% per decade, belies the observation that there were, in fact, three separate and substantial periods of increasing precipitation in those years. Between 1945 and 1965, for example, the mean annual precipitation at Karasjok increased by 20%. The rate of increase during this event greatly exceeds the current projections for precipitation increase over Fennoscandia of 1 to 4% per decade (see Chapter 4). Projections for future temperature and precipitation fail to capture these rapid changes and, instead, reflect only the modest trends observed across the 20th century as a whole.

Sámi reindeer herders have therefore, in the course of the last century, been exposed to climate change events of a magnitude at least as great as – and in some cases much greater than – those currently projected for northern Fennoscandia over the next 20 to 30 years. It needs to be noted, however, that a reoccurrence in the future of the large variations in climate experienced historically is certainly not excluded in the projections of climate change. Moreover, what is likely to be unprecedented historically is the level of mean climate around which these fluctuations will occur. One potentially useful approach to predicting the likely impact of, and herders’ responses to, climate change, therefore, is to explore how they were affected in the past and what responses they displayed then. This kind of exploration requires the codification and analysis of herders’ responses to weather-related changes in foraging conditions and of their perception and assessment of the risks associated with different coping options.

Strategic responses

Diversity in the structure of herds

Aboriginal production systems in extreme, highly variable, and unpredictable climates are based on the sequential utilization of, often, a large number of ecological or climatic niches[60]. The essence of such systems is flexibility and the distribution of risk through diversity. Reindeer herders maintain high levels of phenotypic diversity in their herds with respect, for example, to the age, sex, size, color, and temperament of their animals[61]. A 7appa eallu (“beautiful” herd of reindeer) is, therefore, highly diverse and, in this respect, is the antithesis of a purebred herd of livestock of the kind developed by careful selection to suit the requirements of a modern, high yielding agricultural ruminant production system.

The traditional diversity in the structure of reindeer herds is an example of a coping strategy aimed at reducing the vulnerability of the herd to the consequences of unfavorable – and unpredictable – conditions. Thus, in traditional reindeer herding, even apparently “nonproductive” animals of either sex have particular roles which, when fulfilled, contribute significantly to the productivity of the herd as a whole. Traditionally, for example, reindeer herds in Finnmark typically consisted of as many as 40% adult males. Large numbers of large males were required for traction; they acted as focal points, helped keep the herd gathered, and reduced the general level of activity of the females: in modern jargon, the males contributed to energy conservation within the herd. Many were carefully castrated to this end[62]. Their strength, moreover, enabled them to break crusted snow and to smash ice with their hooves, opening the snow pack to gain access to the plants beneath to the benefit of themselves and – incidentally – also for the females and calves in the herd. The modern agronomist, however, considers adult males unproductive and today few herds in Finnmark have more than 5% males. Males’ role as draft animals and in gathering and steadying the herd has been largely superceded by snowmobiles – albeit at greatly increased economic cost. The reliance on snowmobiles, moreover, renders herding early in winter difficult in years when little or no snow arrives before the NewYear. But old ways sometimes die out only slowly and there are ingenious solutions.When asked recently (in 2002) why he kept several heavy, barren females in his herd, Mattis Aslaksen Sara, a herder from Karasjok, replied “I have so few big males now – so who else will break the ice?” The decline in the diversity of the herd structure and, specifically, the increased proportion of females in today’s herds is largely a result of government intervention. It reflects the influence of practices copied from sheep production systems that have been translated to reindeer herding by agronomists. The reduced heterogeneity of herds represents a reversal of the traditional approach; its consequences, in terms of the performance of the animals, remain largely unknown. The pattern of dispersion of female-dominated herds over the landscape is said to be different. The consequences of reduced heterogeneity in terms of changes in the vulnerability of the herding system to environmental change remain completely unknown.

Pastoral nomadism

The characteristic seasonal pattern of movement reflects herders’ responses to the spatial and temporal heterogeneity and unpredictability of key resources, usually forage or water, whether these be for goats or cattle on a tropical savannah[63] or for reindeer on northern taiga[64]. Nomadism is adaptive in the sense that, by moving his herd, the herder gains or averts what he anticipates will be the advantages or undesirable consequences of his doing so or not doing so, respectively.

Tactical responses


For Sámi nomads, one principal feature of the natural environment that influences the pattern of movement of herds into, within, and out of winter pastures is the condition of the snow pack. Snow determines the availability of forage (crusted snow is bad) and, in late winter, the mobility of herds (crusted snow is good). Skilled herders observe how the snow drifts, how it settles, and where conditions remain suitable for grazing and then make decisions about how and when to move after assessing the physical quality of the snow pack in relation to topography, vegetation, time of year, and condition of the animals. In the warm winters of the 1930s (see Fig. 17.10), for example, conditions were sometimes so difficult owing to heavy precipitation that herds spread out and moved to the coast earlier than normal in spring. Today, neighboring herding groups (siida) may even “trade” snow in the sense that one group may allow its neighbors to move their herd to an area of undisturbed snow (good grazing) on the former’s land. In every case, success is contingent on the freedom to move.


Reindeer husbandry in Norway is based on the sustainable exploitation of natural pasture. In winter, access to forage can be restricted by deep snow or ice and the animals have to cope with reduced food intake as a result. So extreme were snow conditions in the winter of 1917/18, with ensuing loss of animals, that Sámi herders in Norway employed Finnish settlers to dig snow to improve access to forage. Herders often provided small amounts of lichen both to reward animals they were in the process of taming and also as a supplement for draft animals or for hungry ones. Gathering lichens, however, is laborious and, instead, in addition to locally produced grass converted into hay or silage, several commercially available pelleted feeds have been developed[65]. The provision of small amounts of supplementary feed can help to improve survival in winter (especially for calves), to increase the degree of tameness of the herd, and to improve the animal welfare image of reindeer herding in the eyes of the public. Negative effects include increased frequency of disease[66] and increased cost. The use of pellets and locally harvested grass increased throughout Fennoscandia in the 1990s; reflecting this, many petrol stations in the reindeer herding areas of northern Finland now stock sacks of feed during winter. The use of pellets is less widespread in Norway owing in part to its high cost: the grain products in pelleted ruminant feeds are heavily taxed in Norway and the cost of providing artificial feed for reindeer is between four and six times higher than in Finland. In Norway, therefore, use of feed is generally restricted to periods of acute difficulty. This pattern might alter, however, in future should snowfall increase substantially.

Constraints on coping (

The strategic and tactical decisions herders make in response to changes in pasture conditions represent aspects of coping. The success of the kinds of responses outlined in the previous section, however, depends to a large extent on herders’ freedom of action. This section outlines five constraints or potential constraints on this freedom of action. The first four concern government policy (state, regional, and municipal) and present institutional arrangements that reduce the herders’ ability to respond creatively to changing conditions, including climate variability and change. The fifth is pollution.

In Norway, Sámi reindeer herding takes place in a complex institutional setting heavily influenced by various forms of governance (see Fig. 17.1) that constrain herders’ options. Constraints include the loss of habitat, predation (where the abundance of predators and, hence, the rates of mortality due to predation, is influenced by legislation protecting predators), and the governmental regulation of herding (including the regulation of rights of pasture, of the ownership of animals, and of the size and structure of herds) and of market and price-controls. The effects of non-climate factors like these on the development of reindeer herding potentially dwarf the putative effects of climate change described previously. Institutions and governance have since the early 1980s demonstrably reduced the degree of freedom and the flexibility of operation under which reindeer herders traditionally acted. Their ability to cope with vagaries of climate may be reduced as a result. For these reasons, institutions and governance were included as a major element in the conceptual model (Fig. 17.9). The challenge remains to identify and quantify their impact on reindeer herding and to identify and understand the effects of this on herders’ ability to cope with and adapt to changing environmental conditions. Of course, not all forms of governance and institutions are negative for reindeer herding: central administration also provides important protection and opportunities for the industry and has supported both research and education. Interestingly, a major development in government support for reindeer herding was precipitated by an extreme climatic event. Severe icing over the pasture during the winter of 1967/68 resulted in substantial starvation and loss of reindeer in Finnmark. The government responded in an unprecedented manner and provided compensation equivalent, in today’s monetary terms, to US$ 6.5 million. Out of this action arose a debate among the Sámi regarding the division and distribution of government funds within the reindeer industry, which continues, in one form or another, to this day. Loss of habitat, predation, the economic and sociopolitical environment, and law, however, were factors highlighted at the co-operative meeting in Tromsø (see section their legitimacy and relevance lie in the fact that they are based on herders’ subjective evaluation of their own situation.

Loss of habitat

Reindeer herding is a highly extensive form of land use. Roughly 40% (136000 km2) of Norway’s mainland is designated reindeer pasture and within this area Sámi herders have – at least in principle – the right to graze their animals on uncultivated ground irrespective of land ownership. Herders’ rights of usufruct, however, afford them neither exclusive access to the land nor protection from the interests of other land users. Conflicts of interest are common. For herders the principal issue is generally the securing of habitat in which to graze their reindeer. Indeed, the progressive and effectively irreversible loss of the uncultivated lands which reindeer use as pasture is probably the single greatest threat to reindeer husbandry in Norway today. Preservation of pastureland is, likewise, perhaps the single greatest priority for sustaining the resilience of reindeer herding confronted by changes in both the natural and the socio-economic environment.


caption Fig. 17.13. Encroachment of roads in Finnmark 1940 to 2000, and the associated loss of reindeer pasture[4].


Habitat loss occurs in two main ways: (1) through physical destruction and (2) through the effective, though non-destructive, removal of habitat or through a reduction in its value as a resource. Physical destruction of habitat is chiefly a result of the development of infrastructure, including the construction of artillery ranges, buildings, hydro-electricity facilities, pipelines, roads, etc. The effective removal of habitat may result from disturbance (for example, by hunters, fishers, and walkers), local pollution, increased grazing pressure by potentially competing species (e.g., sheep[67]) or through loss of rights of access either locally[68] or as a result of the closure of regional or international borders[69]. Taking Norway as a whole, piecemeal development of infrastructure has resulted in an estimated loss of 70% of previously undisturbed reindeer habitat during the last 100 years[70]; in Finnmark, the figure is close to 35% for the last 60 years alone (Figs. 17.13 and 17.14).


caption Fig. 17.14. Projected development of infrastructure (including roads, houses, military training areas) in the Barents Euro-Arctic region 2000–2050. This scenario is based on the historical development of infrastructure, the distribution and density of the human population, the existing infrastructure, the known location of natural resources, distance from the coast, and vegetation type[5].



Fennoscandia is home to the last remaining sizeable populations of large mammalian predators in Western Europe, including bear (Ursus arctos), lynx (Lynx lynx), wolf (Canis lupus), and wolverine (Gulo gulo). These species are all capable of killing medium-sized ungulates like reindeer (although bears probably rarely do this). Wolverine, a major predator for reindeer, were completely protected in 1981 though limited hunting is now permitted. In Norway, very large numbers of domesticated animals range freely in the mountain areas in summer, including approximately 2 million sheep and 140000 reindeer (which remain at pasture both in summer and winter) and these, not surprisingly, are potential prey. Reindeer herders in Finnmark, the county with the highest losses, estimate that between 30 and 60% of their calves are taken as prey each year[71]; in some herds losses exceed 90%[72]. Losses on this scale dwarf all other causes of mortality including climate-related deaths[73] and are therefore a major determinant of levels of production in herds.

Norway’s mountain pastures are an important renewable natural resource: their management as pasture, however, is clearly complicated by the presence of predators and the resulting predation on grazing animals. Intervention designed to ensure the sustained usefulness of mountain pastures as a resource for grazing animals by reducing the density of predator populations to levels at which they no longer represent a threat to the livelihood of the sheep farmers and reindeer herders, must select from among several unsatisfactory alternatives. Consequently, any solution is likely to be an unsatisfactory compromise. Alternative strategies range from implementing a general reduction in the density of predator populations, to establishing “predator-free zones” where grazing can continue uninterrupted while leaving the predators elsewhere undisturbed. Any course adopted must be commensurate both with Norway’s commitment to the conservation of viable populations of mammalian predators under the terms of the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (the “Bern Convention”) and other international agreements and, at least as far as reindeer are concerned, by the country’s commitment to safeguarding the special interests of the Sámi people. This commitment is enshrined in the terms of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention No. 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples. Moreover, it seems apparent, as reindeer herders argue, that obligations with respect to the intentions of ILO Convention No. 169 may take precedence over those of the Bern Convention[74] and they press for the establishment of predator-free zones accordingly.

In practice, the situation remains unclear. No predator free zones have been created. The culling of predators takes place only on a limited scale and herders – who have the best local knowledge about the predators – are not normally permitted to take part. Compensation for loss of animals is generally paid only in cases where claims are substantiated with unequivocal evidence such as post-mortem examination of carcasses. Herders, however, normally determine losses by observing the absence of particular animals and are only rarely able to support their claims by producing a carcass; the gathering up, transport, and delivery of carcasses is generally impracticable. Consequently, their claims are mostly unsubstantiated and usually rejected: in 2001–2002 herders in Finnmark were compensated for only one in four reindeer claimed lost[75]. Loss of reindeer through predation, possibly exacerbated by increased snow, therefore, remains a major constraint on herd production levels and the herders, furthermore, remain largely powerless to tackle the situation owing to legislation that runs counter to their immediate interests.

Economic and socio-political environment

Reindeer herding in Norway is the most regulated reindeer husbandry in the world today. In 2000, the annual cost of its administration was US$ 21 million, which was more than twice the amount paid to reindeer herders for their meat. (This refers to the raw product; the market value of the reindeer meat sold is substantially greater.) The current high level of regulation of herding dates from 1978 when Sámi reindeer husbandry was brought more closely under the management of the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture where economic planning remained the policy-makers paradigm. This development reflected an earnest desire to improve the economic basis of Sámi reindeer husbandry and, hence, help herders to achieve the stable income indispensable in modern society. Its consequence was that central government became one of the most potent forces shaping the development of reindeer herding. The reigning paradigm of government policy was that of a modern, agricultural food-production system and an immediate consequence of its implementation was an increase in the number of reindeer and reindeer herders (Anon., 1992). Today, policies established by the central administration influence virtually every aspect of reindeer husbandry, from the granting of licenses to own reindeer and the allocation of grazing rights, to the monitoring and regulation of the size-, age-, sex-, and weight-structure of herds, the setting of production quotas, the influencing of both the age and sex composition of animals selected for slaughter, the timing of slaughtering, and determining to which slaughterhouses herders must sell their animals.

Some aspects of government intervention have been necessary and valuable. Once the aboriginal system of pasturing rights (the siida system) ceased to be recognized by Norwegian law[76], an alternative governance structure was needed. Other government interventions, such as a centralized regulation of the price of reindeer meat, have resulted in stagnation in herders’ economy. Political and market power was lifted from the hands of the herders in 1978 and consolidated in early 2000 when an alliance took place between Norsk Kjøtt (a meat farmers’ co-operative which controls 75% of slaughtering in Norway) and two large, private, reindeer slaughterhouses neither of which are Sámi owned. Sámi ownership and control is minimal: in Norway only a small proportion of reindeer are slaughtered by Sámi-owned enterprises compared to a large proportion in both Sweden and Finland[77]. Import tariffs and pricing policies have been used to protect and promote the interests of agricultural meat production at the expense of reindeer herding interests. The market mechanism has been eliminated as a price setting mechanism for reindeer meat and, instead, its price is negotiated annually by the herders’ organization (the Sámi Reindeer Herders Association of Norway) and the government. In reality, the negotiating power of the herders is minimal because Norsk Kjøtt is responsible both for the marketing and the regulation of the reindeer meat market. For example, from 1976 to 1991 the net price paid to herders for their meat, corrected for inflation, fell by 45% largely in response to an increase in the level of production[78]. In the following decade the trend was reversed and the level of production was halved; yet, contrary to all normal practice, the real price paid to herders for their meat remained at the 1991 level. The absence of normal market mechanisms for price setting has been economically most disadvantageous for the herders. The fall in the price of reindeer meat over the last 25 years exemplifies the influence wielded over the economic development of reindeer husbandry by agricultural meat producers with vested interests. Lacking direct control over the slaughtering and marketing of reindeer meat, the Sámi of Norway became, de facto, an internal colony (Reinert and Reinert, in press). This recalls the term “Welfare Colonialism” coined by Paine[79] to characterize culturally destructive colonialism in the Arctic.

Central administration, therefore, remains responsible for key aspects of the economic and socio-political environment in which herding exists and to which herders are obliged to adapt. The traditional fluidity and flexibility of practice that reindeer herding had developed to meet the vagaries of the natural environment of the north has been eroded. The exploration of the consequences of these developments for the adaptability, resilience, and vulnerability of Sámi reindeer herding under potential climate change remains, therefore, an important area of research.


The elaborate legal structure upon which the regulation of reindeer husbandry is based is another aspect of the complex institutional setting in which Sámi reindeer herding is practiced in Norway. The law is comprehensive, complex and, occasionally, liberal to the point of ambiguity[80]. It represents, therefore, a fourth non-climate factor that has a major influence on herding and which, by constraining herders’ options, influences their ability to cope with changes in the natural environment.

Legislation governing reindeer husbandry is of considerable antiquity. A treaty agreed in 1751 between the respective joint kingdoms of Denmark/Norway and Sweden/Finland included the division along a common national border of hitherto undefined northern lands. This same border divides Norway and Finland today. The 18th century legislators realized that the creation of a border would potentially disrupt the lives of the nomads whose freedom of movement across the area had hitherto been unrestricted. An addendum was, therefore, included in the treaty confirming agreement between the two states that Sámi reindeer herders’ customary utilization of the land should remain undisturbed notwithstanding the creation of a common border and the nomads’ obligation to adopt one or other nationality.

This document, the Lapp Codicil, is the first formal legislation of reindeer husbandry. Crucially, it was built upon the principle of local self-government regarding the division of resources[81].

The legislation of reindeer husbandry has evolved and increased in complexity since 1751. Successive statutes have been revised and new ones created to meet the challenges of changes in the economic and political climate, culminating in the Reindeer Husbandry Act of 1978 and its revision in 1996. Today’s law includes provisions for the regulation of a wide range of issues. Section 2 alone includes rules for the designation of herding areas, the duration of grazing seasons within them, the size of herds, and the body mass of the animals in them. The level of detail of the legislation contrasts sharply with the lack of detail in the guidelines for its implementation. The Act is built on the premise that the organization of reindeer herding is best left in the hands of public administration. No groups have protected rights of usage. Instead, successive levels of the legislature – including the Ministry of Agriculture, the Reindeer Husbandry Board, Regional Boards, and Area Boards – determine, virtually unimpeded by legal barriers, the division of grazing districts, the allocation of herding franchises, and reindeer numbers. Regulation is achieved through rules, not statutes, as a consequence of which there remains considerable uncertainty among administrators and herders alike about the scope of the Act and a severe limitation of individual herder’s opportunity to challenge administrative decisions.

The prevailing uncertainty is compounded by the fact that reindeer herding is regulated de facto by a Convention on Herding rather than through the provisions of the 1978 Act. The Convention is negotiated annually between the Government represented by the Ministry of Agriculture and the herders represented by the Sámi Reindeer Herders Association of Norway (NRL). The two parties are by no means equal. The Ministry is responsible both for drafting the regulations contained in each Convention, albeit in consultation with the NRL, and, ultimately, also for the interpretation and implementation of the final agreement. The regulations contained in the Convention are far more flexible than the Act but lack the legal checks and balances that the Act contains. The regulations agreed at each Convention, moreover, are frequently changed which only increases the level of uncertainty. Clearly, the complexities and ambiguities of the law contribute to the unpredictability of the administrative environment within which reindeer herding is practiced and, consequently, represent an important potential constraint on herders’ ability to cope with changes in the natural environment.


Pollution from sources outside the Arctic[82] is another non-climate factor that can potentially influence the development of reindeer herding. Just as clean, local water is a fundamental human right, so also is the availability of uncontaminated food that can be gathered from traditional local sources. Imported agricultural food products are no substitute. Fortunately, chemical pollution is substantially less important for reindeer herding in Finnmark (generalizing from data for nearby regions in Russia) and, indeed, for all reindeer herding in Fennoscandia, than it is for marine resources[83].

Most radioactive contamination on land in northern Fennocscandia is derived from fallout from atmospheric nuclear tests conducted up to 1980. Observed levels of contamination have not been considered hazardous for human health in Finnmark[84].

Radioactive contamination from the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986 is a major source of contamination in parts of southern Fennoscandia. This is a serious problem locally but is not directly a problem for reindeer herding as a whole because the majority of reindeer and reindeer herders live in the north of the region[85]. The radioactive pollution from Chernobyl has, however, been an indirect problem for the entire reindeer herding industry owing to negative focus in mass media, which failed to distinguish between those regions that received some fallout and those that were not affected at all. Misinformation of this kind can potentially turn consumers away and can encourage international food producers to step in and provide “clean”, although non-traditional, substitute foods. The influence of effects of this kind on the vulnerability of small arctic enterprises like Sámi reindeer herding remains an important area of study.

Heavy metals accumulate in lichens[86]. Concentrations of heavy metals in reindeer meat, however, are no higher than in the meat of pigs, cattle, and poultry[87]. No data are available on concentrations of heavy metals in reindeer in Finnmark. Data on trends in heavy metals are available only for reindeer from Sweden where samples have been collected annually in three reindeer districts since the early 1980s[88]. These data indicate that there have been no significant changes in the concentration of Pb, Cd, or Hg in reindeer meat for the period 1983 to 1998. In liver, the concentration of Pb decreased by 6.8% per year over this period, while the concentration of Cd showed a slight increase. Concentrations of Pb and Cd are very low (0.06 ?mol/L) in blood among women in arctic Norway[89].

Cadmium is a potential problem owing to its tendency to accumulate in reindeer kidneys: people who consume these organs are exposed to this metal. AMAP[90] reported that concentrations of Cd in reindeer kidneys in arctic Norway and Sweden are approximately three times higher than those in southern Norway and Sweden. Bernhoft et al.[91] reported very low levels of Cd in the kidneys of reindeer from Kola in northwest Russia.

No data are available on concentrations of POPs in reindeer in Finnmark. In general, concentrations of POPs are lower in terrestrial mammals than in marine mammals[92]. Concentrations have been measured on an annual basis since 1983 in reindeer at Abisko, Sweden[93]. Current levels are not thought to represent a significant threat for reindeer[94]. Levels of two POPs in other species in the Swedish Arctic are declining, e.g., SDDT and SPCBs in otters in northern Sweden[95], and this trend is expected to continue.

Insights from the reindeer nomadism vulnerability case study (

The reindeer nomadism vulnerability case study demonstrated the versatility of the general conceptual framework for vulnerability studies proposed in section 17.2. The development of a framework that was tailored specifically for reindeer herding in Finnmark also showed the diversity of the kinds of information that need to be included in an assessment of the vulnerability of a human–environment system in the Arctic. It illustrated the usefulness of reducing potential complexity to manageable proportions by developing a conceptual model containing just a few selected elements. It also showed the importance of collaborating with reindeer herders in a co-production of knowledge.

The validity and legitimacy of reducing an immensely complex system to something simple and, therefore, amenable to a vulnerability assessment depended wholly on the participation of herders themselves. Outsiders should not decide what factors, or suites of factors, influence reindeer herding: nobody, except for herders themselves, can legitimately make the required selection. The conceptual model, developed as a result of the interdisciplinary and intercultural effort, necessitated the integration of empirical data and herders’ knowledge. The integration of different ways of knowing, called the “co-production of knowledge”[96], is not widely exploited in ecological research probably because aboriginal knowledge often does not lend itself to reductionist analysis and hypothesis testing. However, herders’ knowledge of the impact of something as specific as climate variation on their way of life is based on an understanding resulting from generations of experience accumulated and conserved in herding practice and herders’ specialized vocabulary. Consequently, in some instances herders can contribute knowledge gathered over a time span longer than the periods over which climate change has been documented by other means. The success of the approach outlined here was evident from the logical design and usefulness of the resulting conceptual model.

The joint effort in developing a conceptual model appropriate for a study of the vulnerability of reindeer herding in Finnmark to climate change quickly revealed that herding is affected by much more than just change in climate. Moreover, it is extremely likely that the effects on reindeer herding of the non-climate factors introduced into the model potentially dwarf the putative effects of climate change on the system. Hence, the potential consequences of the projected increase in the average annual temperature at Karasjok over the next 20 to 30 years (Fig. 17.10) cannot meaningfully be considered independent of concurrent changes in the socio-economic environment for which, in some cases, clear predictions are already available (e.g., Figs. 17.13, 17.14).

Clearly, reindeer herding has been very resilient. The continued existence of nomadic reindeer herding by Sámi and other northern peoples in Eurasia today is evidence that these have, through the centuries, coped with and adapted to the vagaries and transitions of the socio-economic environment of the north. On one hand, it has not been overlooked that, if the marginalization of reindeer nomadism continues and if constraints on the freedom of action of the herders increase, new climatic conditions might threaten the resilience and increase the vulnerability of herding societies in ways that are without precedent. On the other hand, action provokes reaction: changes in climate and in the socioeconomic environment might also create new opportunities for sustainable development in reindeer peoples’ societies. Herders can be expected to grasp new opportunities, wherever they arise, and to take the initiative in improving the economy of their industry thereby reducing the vulnerability of their society.


Chapter 17: Climate Change in the Context of Multiple Stressors and Resilience
17.1. Introduction
17.2. Conceptual approaches to vulnerability assessments
17.2.1. A framework for analyzing vulnerability
17.2.2. Focusing on interactive changes and stresses in the Arctic
17.2.3. Identifying coping and adaptation strategies
17.3. Methods and models for vulnerability analysis
17.4. Understanding and assessing vulnerabilities through case studies
17.4.1. Candidate vulnerability case studies
17.4.2. A more advanced vulnerability case study
17.5. Insights gained and implications for future vulnerability assessments



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Committee, I. (2012). Climate change and reindeer nomadism in Finnmark, Norway. Retrieved from


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