The paradox of reindeer pasture management in Finnmark, Norway


Government officials and reindeer herders have in general very different perspectives on how to ensure a sustainable reindeer husbandry in Finnmark, northern Norway. While officials stress the need for reducing the numbers of reindeer as the most important measure to conserve the reindeer pastures, herders emphasize encroachment by competing land-use interests such as mining companies and windmill parks as the largest threat to pastures and the sustainable development of reindeer husbandry.

This short essay presents the paradox of the state's dual role as both a protector of traditional reindeer pastures from overgrazing and as a promoter of exploitation of natural resources in the same grazing land. The text is based on interviews and research conducted as part of my PhD study on land-use conflicts and reindeer management in Finnmark. The work is part of a larger project called Dávggas[1]  The economics and land-use conflicts in Sámi reindeer herding in Finnmark: Exploring the alternative.Exchanging knowledge: Reindeer herder and assistant professor, Mikkel Nils Sara, explains the herders' land-use and the impacts of encroachment to researchers from the Dávggas project. Photo: Kathrine I. JohnsenExchanging knowledge: Reindeer herder and assistant professor, Mikkel Nils Sara, explains the herders' land-use and the impacts of encroachment to researchers from the Dávggas project. Photo: Kathrine I. Johnsen






Introduction to reindeer management

In Norway, approximately 250,000 semi-domesticated reindeer are currently herded on land covering about 40 per cent of the mainland area of the country (Reindriftsforvaltningen, 2013). Only people of Sámi ethnicity may own reindeer in Norway, with the exception of a few concession areas in southern parts of the country. The reindeer are dependent on access to huge and undisturbed grazing areas (Jernsletten & Klokov, 2002). Approximately 73 per cent of the total number of reindeer is found in Finnmark, the northern-most county in Norway. More or less all of Finnmark is part of the reindeer herding area; the interior south is used as winter pastures, while the coastal area is used as spring, summer and autumn pastures. Most herds cross a number of municipalities on their migration between winter and summer grazing areas.

Since 1992, ecological, economic and cultural sustainability has become the main objectives of the Norwegian reindeer husbandry policy (LD, 1992). The change in policy was the result of a growing concern in the late 1980s that a large number of reindeer was leading to overgrazing, land-use conflicts and inefficient meat production. New regulations and economic incentives were implemented to motivate herders to restructure and reduce the size of their herds – with little success in Finnmark. The general trend was that the reindeer numbers continued to increase. The Reindeer Husbandry Act of 2007 was designed to improve the efficiency of the reindeer husbandry policies and ensure a sustainable reindeer industry by decentralizing responsibility to herders on a local level (Reindriftsforvaltningen, 2009). However, the reindeer number in Finnmark has grown in recent years despite new legislation and management tools supporting a bottom-up approach to reindeer management.

Conflicting perspectives on sustainable reindeer husbandry

The state management of reindeer husbandry is vested with Ministry of Food and Agriculture (LMD). While LMD claims that the growing number of reindeer can be explained by the notion of the 'tragedy of the commons' (see Hardin, 1968), herders suggest a combination of alternative explanations for the increasing herd sizes; for example, the state incentives for calve production; unreliable access to slaughter houses; and low meat prices (personal communication with employees in LMD and herders, 2012). The state-led modernization of reindeer husbandry was intensified in 1976 with the introduction of public investments to maximize meat production and herders’ income (Hausner et al., 2011). Herders interviewed admit that a large number of reindeer in Finnmark makes it more challenging to manage the herds, but they do not agree that overgrazing is a current treat. Among the multiple challenges, herders identify encroachment of pastures by competing land-use interests as the largest threat to sustainable reindeer husbandry.

Though LMD has recognized loss of grazing land as a threat to reindeer husbandry, they emphasize the need for reducing reindeer numbers as the number one priority for ensuring a sustainable reindeer husbandry(LMD, 2011). Government officials argue that an ecologically sustainable reindeer number will protect pastures and increase the efficiency of meat production, and safeguard the Sámi traditional livelihood for the next generations. In February 2013, reduction plans were decided on behalf of most herding districts in Finnmark. Herders are worried that the state overruling of their arguments will also make reindeer husbandry more vulnerable in conflicts with competing land-use interests. (See Johnsen et al, forthcoming, for an analysis of the conflicting perspectives on the governance of Sámi reindeer husbandry in Finnmark.)

Mineral extraction in reindeer land

While LMD is in a process of enforcing reindeer reductions to conserve the pastures of Finnmark, another ministry, the Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation (KMD, named Ministry of Trade and Industry until end of 2013), promotes the same region as a treasury of natural resources; oil, gas, wind and minerals. In March 2013, the government presented its Strategy for the Mineral Industry, which sets out the aim to increase profitability and growth in the Norwegian mineral industry (NHD, 2013). During the period 2010-2014 the government allocated 100 million kroner (approximately 12 million euro) for mapping mineral resources in northern Norway. It is estimated that the profitable mineral resources of the country amounts to around 1.4 billion kroner, with the greatest potential in the north (UD, 2013). The government encourages the northern municipalities to facilitate for extraction of minerals to help the economic development and the demand for jobs (NRK Sámpi, 2012). The mineral strategy says that mineral activities will be operated in a sustainable and 'environmentally responsible manner and in balanced coexistence with reindeer husbandry and other Sámi interests' (NHD, 2013, p. 67, my emphasis). The solutions for coexistence will be 'based on good dialogue and a shared understanding of the challenges to be met' (NHD, 2013, p. 12, my emphasis).

In March 2014, KMD approved – with the support of LMD – the plan for copper extraction within traditional reindeer pasture in Kvalsund Municipality in Finnmark, as the first extraction plan to be approved after the adoption of the mineral strategy. The plan was approved on the condition that the mining company (Nussir ASA) and the two affected herding groups (Fiettar and Fálá) come to an agreement on remedial measures (KMD, 2014). Though there are still important decisions to be made before Nussir ASA can start their operation[2], it useful to take a brief look at the Nussir project to find out how the concepts of good dialogue, shared understanding and balanced coexistence have been followed up.Area of conflict: Undermining copper extraction is planned in these traditional reindeer pastures. Herders argue that the extraction activities, transport of waste from the mine and the new infrastructure will threat their calving grounds and migration route. Photo: Kathrine I. Johnsen Area of conflict: Undermining copper extraction is planned in these traditional reindeer pastures. Herders argue that the extraction activities, transport of waste from the mine and the new infrastructure will threat their calving grounds and migration route. Photo: Kathrine I. Johnsen



Coexistence between reindeer herding and mineral extraction

Both the CEO of Nussir ASA and the herders refer to a number of meetings where they have discussed concerns and remedial measures. The CEO describes the dialogue as frequent and good, and the herders agree that there have been many opportunities to discuss with the company. Still, this has not changed the herders' attitude towards the copper mine. They explain that they see no solution to the challenges to coexistence between reindeer husbandry and the planned extraction activities. While the herders commend Nussir ASA for their efforts to create a dialogue, they criticize the municipality and ministry for not facilitating real consultations in accordance with the Procedures for Consultations between the State Authorities and Sámi Parliament (see AID, 2006).

Kvalsund municipal council has approved the land-use plan (reguleringsplan) for the extraction and dumping sites. They regard the plans as a way to improve the economy of the municipality. The herders who have objected to the plans are seen as obstacles for economic development. The local politicians see few benefits of the herders apart from being 'exotic' with the potential to attract tourists (personal communication with the mayor of Kvalsund, 16 July 2012). The herders do not hold political power in Kvalsund as most herders of Fiettar and Fálá are registered in Kautokeino municipality further south, and this is were they pay their taxes and vote for local government.

The local herders have repeatedly insisted that coexistence with the planned copper mine is impossible as the extraction activities will cut off their migration routes and disturb vital calving land. The impact assessment on reindeer husbandry concluded that the planned activities 'are likely to have major impacts on reindeer husbandry and may even reduce the number of livelihoods in herding' (Nellemann & Vistnes, 2011, p. 11). The herders have objected to the approved land-use plan claiming that the plan violates their rights according to the ILO Convention 169 on the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples.

In September 2012, the County Governor mediated negotiations between Kvalsund Municipality and the advocates of the herders' interests. The Governor concluded that 'the facilitation of good coexistence is the responsibility of all parties concerned', but the 'objecting parties have shown little willingness to identify agreeable mitigation measures, which can form the basis for coexistence between the reindeer husbandry and the mineral industry' (letter to the Ministry of Environment dated 30 November 2012). He forwarded the case to the government for a final decision with a recommendation to approve the planned copper mine. In March 2014, KMD announced that they had approved the municipal land-use plans for mineral extraction in Kvalsund. The announcement recognized that the planned activities would occupy and impact key grazing areas and migration routes, but the KMD argued that  the benefits of economic growth and development in Kvalsund outweigh such costs (letter to the County Governor of Finnmark 20 March 2014).Official inspection: In March 2013, the State Secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Ellen Øseth (left), and other government officials came to Kvalsund to learn more about the land-use conflict. The CEO of Nussir ASA, Øystein Rushfeldt, points to the area of the planned mining activities. Photo: Kathrine I. Johnsen Official inspection: In March 2013, the State Secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Ellen Øseth (left), and other government officials came to Kvalsund to learn more about the land-use conflict. The CEO of Nussir ASA, Øystein Rushfeldt, points to the area of the planned mining activities. Photo: Kathrine I. Johnsen



Concluding remarks

While the state argues for a reduction in reindeer numbers in order to protect the pastures and secure a future for Sami reindeer husbandry in Finnmark, the same state promotes infrastructure development and land-use activities competing for the same pastures. Herders point to the paradox in that the number of reindeer in Finnmark has to go down in order to preserve the pastures, while at the same time the authorities are encouraging mineral extraction and windmill parks in the middle of their grazing land. For example, LMD has decided that Fiettar has to reduce their reindeer number by 37.5 per cent by 2015, while KMD has accepted mining activities that will result in Fiettar losing land used for calving. This paradox is given little attention in the public debate about sustainable reindeer husbandry. And the herders' trust in that the government is acting in the herders' best interests is diminishing.

Herders all over Finnmark face increasing pressure from infrastructure development on grazing land. They spend a considerable amount of time reviewing and commenting on planned infrastructure development affecting their pastures. Many have hired professional lawyers to assist them in the struggle for protecting their traditional grazing lands from encroachment from mining, windmill parks, hydro power plants and leisure cabins. It is not clear how local and national government will facilitate the conflicting needs and interests of the mineral industry and reindeer husbandry. In the case of the copper mining plans in Kvalsund, the responsibility for ensuring good dialogue, shared understanding and balanced coexistence, is left to a private company and the herders – two parties with opposing interests and very different access to resources to advocate for these interests.

Kathrine Ivsett Johnsen is a PhD research fellow at Noragric, Norwegian University of Life Sciences

[1] In northern Sámi, dávggas means elastic, resilient, flexible, tough.

[2]The company is also awaiting a permit to discharge waste from the extraction activities in the fjord, a scenario which has created an opposition alliance between fishermen, the tourist industry, environmental organisations and reindeer herders.



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