There are 51 Sami communities in Sweden, from Könkärna far up in Norrbotten to Idre, furthest south. These communities have approximately 2,500 members with herding rights. Some ten to twenty times more Swedes have Sami origins, but are not members of any Sami community. The Sami communities are legal entities with reindeer herding rights in the community's area. Sometimes, several communities will overlap.
A Sami community normally encompasses summer pasture land in or near the mountains and winter pasture land down in the forest — in many cases all the way down to the coast. The reindeer have a natural yearly cycle, moving between summer and winter grazing. They are moved between these areas, either driven by reindeer herders or using animal transport trucks.
The Reindeer Husbandry Act
Reindeer herding is a right to the use of someone else's land. The Sami communities thus own the right to reindeer herding on SCA's and other owners' land.
Reindeer herding is regulated by the Swedish Reindeer Husbandry Act. It regulates such issues as how many reindeer the Sami communities can keep, and the requirements for the consideration of reindeer herding that forest owners are obliged to take. In the summer pasture lands, forest owners are obliged to consult with the Sami communities regarding forestry measures, whereas in the winter pasture lands this is voluntary.
The Sami communities also have the right to consultation regarding other operations that impact reindeer herding such as wind power, mines and infrastructure projects.
How does forestry impact reindeer herding?
During the summer, reindeer graze on moss and plants, often in the mountain districts where no forestry operations are pursued. During the winter, the reindeer live on ground moss and tree moss. The reindeer scrape out ground moss from under the snow, but under severe winter conditions they depend on tree moss.
Forestry impacts the occurrence of both ground and tree moss. When trees are harvested, tree moss disappears as well, only returning when the new stock has matured. Site preparation — which tears up moss to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the method — most often follows harvesting. When a harvested area is planted, the young stands are often so compact that the ground mosses are pushed back. They spread out again after the stock undergoes cleaning and pre-commercial thinning. Fertilization makes the ground more hospitable to grass and plants, which spread out at the expense of the mosses.
Forestry also impacts the mobility of both reindeer and herders. Dense young forest can make it difficult for reindeer herders on snowmobiles to drive their herds in one direction and can require them to resort to the more expensive method of herding by helicopter. An improperly laid forest road can tempt the reindeer into going in an inconvenient direction. In winter, ploughing of roads can be a measure that impacts reindeer herding. The reindeer choose to follow the ploughed road and can end up in unsuitable situations.
Finally, forestry can impact relics of Sami history such as old camping or cult sites.
What impact do various forestry methods have?
Here are som examples:
- Final harvesting is the most thorough step in forestry. It means that the trees disappear, and that conditions on the site will be changed for decades after the harvesting. Harvesting of trees with large amounts of reindeer moss is a particularly important issue for reindeer herding.
- Site preparation and selection of site preparation method impact access to ground moss.
- The choice of wood impacts the occurrence of ground moss. Often, the choice is between planting pine or contorta pine on land where moss is found. Contorta pine grows 40% faster than Swedish pine. It therefore forms compact stock more rapidly, which provides shade, pushes back ground mosses and can be so compact that it makes driving reindeer in the desired direction harder for the herders. Dense forests can also hide predators.
- Thinning is often a step in forestry that is seen as positive by reindeer herding. It makes the forest more open, thereby facilitating movement for both reindeer and herders. Often the presence of ground mosses increases after thinning.
- Fertilization makes the ground more hospitable for plant life, putting ground mosses at a disadvantage.
- Road construction impacts reindeer movement patterns, as does ploughing of forest roads.
Other problems for reindeer herding
Reindeer herding is also impacted by land use other than forestry. For exampel:
The water power expansions from the 1950s and 1960s have radically changed access to land and the migratory paths for many Sami communities. Regulation of the water supply can also make it difficult to drive the reindeer along the rivers between winter and summer pastures.
Mining operations impact reindeer herding. Currently, there are some ten permit cases before the Swedish Government concerning mines in reindeer herding areas.
The reindeer industry believes that wind power entails a major negative impact on reindeer herding, and that the reindeer try to avoid going near wind turbines. Wind power expansion also entails extensive road construction on wind farms.
All types of road construction and other infrastructure can impact reindeer movement patterns, both during and after the construction period.
Tourism negatively impacts reindeer husbandry. Increasing numbers of people moving around reindeer disturbs them and causes stress, forcing them to flee in unsuitable directions.
Growing numbers of predators are a major problem for reindeer husbandry. Bears, lynx, wolverines, golden eagles and above all wolves can all hunt down reindeer or calves, and can cause even more extensive damage by splitting herds.
One result of climate change is that the tree line is moving upwards into the mountains. Periods of extreme weather are becoming more common — for example, winter thaws that lead to the formation of ice crusts that make it impossible for the reindeer to get at ground moss.