An information project in Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG) in Arctic Council October 2006 - October 2008.

Reindeer herding, traditional knowledge and adaptation to climate change and loss of grazing land


A Norwegian Arctic Council project organized by the Association of World Reindeer Herders (WRH), in close cooperation with the International Centre for Reindeer Husbandry (ICR), the Reindeer Herders’ Union of Russia (RHUR), the Saami Council (SC), Saami University College (SA) and UNEP Grid-Arendal. The EALÁT-Information project is a part of EALÁT-Reindeer Herders Vulnerability Network Study, which has received full IPY endorsement (ID: 399).


Indigenous peoples in the Arctic face major challenges related to changes in their society and the northern climate. More than 20 indigenous peoples are reindeer herders. There is an urgent need to inform the Arctic nations about the changes to which they are subjected and to give some concrete examples of how herders’ traditional knowledge relates to adaptation to changing conditions, including traditional use of grazing land. Partnership between Russian, Saami and Alaskan reindeer herders in such an information project is an important and creative step towards this. Locally, case study based workshops organized in the reindeer herding societies in the most important reindeer herding regions focus on gathering and exchanging information about how traditional knowledge is used and how traditional grazing lands are lost. Subsequently, Arctic Council EALÁT-Information will communicate from these community based workshops to the Senior Arctic Officials (SAOs) and finally to the ministerial meeting in Norway in 2008. EALÁT-Information promotes local competence building for indigenous peoples. The challenge of Arctic Council EALÁT-Information is to take reindeer herders’ knowledge into action for sustainable development of the Arctic and, in particular, to involve Russian, Scandinavian, Finnish and Alaskan reindeer herders in this process.


The Arctic Council project EALÁT-Information is a follow up from the Arctic Council’s reports Arctic Climatic Impact Assessment (Arctic Council, 2005) and Sustainable Reindeer Herding (I and II), and the Yakutsk Declaration from the 3rd World Reindeer Herders Congress in Sakha (Yakutia) in 2005. The philosophy underlying the IPY consortium project EALÁT-Reindeer Herders Vulnerability Network Study is also consistent with the recommendations of the ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council in Iceland on 24 November 2004 and the Reindeer Herders’ Yakutsk Declaration. ACIA concluded that the Arctic is warming faster than previously thought and that indigenous peoples will experience substantial challenges to their economies and their cultures as a result. The Yakutsk Declaration stated that reindeer herders should be able to participate in IPY 2007/2008 on equal terms with the scientists who investigate herders’ societies and their use of natural resources. The declaration supports true partnership between scientists and herders. Furthermore, the Association of World Reindeer Herders (WRH) supports the development of national-level plans for a climate adaptation strategy in which reindeer herders’ traditional knowledge is included.

The priority of EALÁT-Information is to organize workshops and inform the mainstream society in the Arctic states about reindeer herders’ knowledge related to traditional pasture use, climate variability and climate change. Understanding reindeer herders’ ability to adapt to climate change and the rapidly changing patterns of use of the Arctic territories is important for sustainable development of the circumpolar regions and will be communicated directly to the SAOs and finally delivered as an Arctic Council report and on web-portals. It is therefore important to focus, as does EALÁT-Information, on the ability of reindeer herders to respond to these changes and to communicate this to the mainstream societies, schools and national authorities.

Reindeer husbandry is practiced in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Mongolia, China, the United States (Alaska), Canada and Greenland by more than 20 different indigenous Arctic peoples and involves some 100,000 herders and three million semi-domesticated reindeer which graze approximately 4 million square kilometers in Eurasia. Reindeer herders have managed vast areas in the Arctic over hundreds of years. These areas have only recently become significant for industrial interests, including the exploitation of oil and gas reserves. EALÁT-Information will analyse and communicate examples of traditional knowledge in reindeer pastoralism in case studies from reindeer herds in Sapmi, Nenets AO, Yamal AO, Sakha Republic, Chukotka AO and Alaska using a comparative approach.

Competence-building is one major objective of EALÁT-Information, which was initiated by the Association of World Reindeer Herders, an indigenous peoples’ organisation which has observer status within the Arctic Council, and is carried out in partnership with the Reindeer Herders’ Union of Russia, the Saami Reindeer Herders Association of Norway, the Saami Council and Kawerak, Alaska. The lead organisation of EALÁT-Information is the International Centre for Reindeer Husbandry (ICR), in Kautokeino. Opened in 2005 by the Norwegian government, the ICR is a fairly new institution which promotes communication of reindeer herders’ knowledge and strengthens cooperation between the indigenous communities in the North, research and industry. Furthermore, the ICR is a member of the University of the Arctic, and responsible for the UArctic thematic network on adaptation to global change. EALÁT-Information activities will therefore be carried out in cooperation with the University of the Arctic.

The EALÁT consortium programme

The EALÁT consortium programme is a core IPY project related to traditional knowledge and changes in reindeer husbandry.

EALÁT is an interdisciplinary, intercultural study that will assess the vulnerability of reindeer herding, a coupled human-ecological system, to change in key aspects of the natural and human environments, actively involving reindeer herders, linguists, lawyers, anthropologists, biologists, geographers, economists, philosophers (to address the ethical dimension) as well as indigenous institutions and organisations, commercial interests and management authorities. It focuses on the adaptive capacity of reindeer pastoralism to climate variability and change and, in particular, on the integration of reindeer herders’ knowledge in the study and analysis of their ability to adapt to environmental variability and change.

While EALÁT-Information will focus on information, EALÁT-Research, organized by the Saami University College in Norway, will scientifically define risks related to change and will support economically robust and ecologically sustainable development of reindeer pastoralism in the north. Management and policy decision-making in reindeer pastoralism must be improved by the integration of indigenous traditional and scientific knowledge. It is important that reindeer herders’ traditional knowledge is integrated into the management and monitoring of the natural environment in the Arctic. EALÁT-Information will link to EALÁT-Outreach, which is led by the ICR, will focus on outreach, the development of web and portal solutions, film productions and information materials for schools like DVDs, books and posters. EALÁT-Outreach also includes disseminating the main findings from the Arctic Council’s ACIA report to the reindeer herder societies.

EALÁT follows the recommendation from the International Conference of Arctic Research Planning (ICARPII), which states that there has been a paradigm shift to a holistic and multidimensional perspective in the Arctic, including the human dimension, indigenous insights and a more full integration of Arctic processes in the earth system.

Knowledge challenges for circumpolar reindeer herders

Reindeer pastoralism, ancient in origin in all its forms, represents models in the sustainable exploitation and management of northern terrestrial ecosystems based on generations of experience accumulated, conserved, developed and adapted to the climatic and political/economic systems of the North. Reindeer herders’ traditional knowledge needs to be documented now before much of their understanding is lost owing to the socio-cultural transformations associated with globalisation.

Reindeer have major cultural and economic significance for indigenous peoples of the North. High sensitivity not withstanding, little is known about the vulnerability of human-ecological systems to change. Understanding and measuring vulnerability requires assessment of systems’ ability to adapt to impact and the extent to which freedom to adapt is constrained. EALÁT will therefore also examine the current state and changes of the polar environment. It will explore (i) the influence of climate variability and change on reindeer, reindeer pastoralism and herding societies and (ii) the extent to which institutions and governance constrain, or create opportunities in, herders’ ability to cope with and to adapt to the effects of climate change. The limits of the adaptive capacity of reindeer pastoralism must be defined, documented and explored together with the potential role of herders’ traditional understanding of, and techniques for, reducing their vulnerability for the effects of climate change.

We believe that valuing traditional and scientific knowledge equally and, hence, integrating herders’ experience and competence within the scientific method will enable us to contribute towards reducing the vulnerability of reindeer husbandry to the effects of climate change. Local effects of warming of the global climate during the next 30 to 50 years are likely to be pronounced over reindeer pastures in the north. EALÁT will adopt a multicultural approach in a multidisciplinary field that includes monitoring, research, outreach and communication.

Using this holistic approach, integrating social and natural science and reindeer herders’ understanding in the co-production of knowledge, EALÁT will contribute to local competence building in the indigenous peoples’ societies. It will develop a knowledge base for indigenous students in the Arctic and will encourage recruitment of these students to positions at indigenous peoples’ research and management institutions.

Loss of grazing land

Reindeer herding is a highly extensive form of land use. For herders the principle issue is generally the securing of habitat in which to graze their reindeer. The progressive and effectively irreversible loss of the uncultivated lands which reindeer use as pasture is probably the single greatest threat to reindeer husbandry today. Preservation of rangeland is perhaps the single greatest priority for sustaining the resilience of reindeer herding confronted by changes in both the natural environment, as in the form of climate change, and the socio-economic environment (McCarthy et al. 2005).

Habitat loss occurs principally in two ways: (i) through physical destruction and (ii) 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. Of far greater concern is the gradual abandonment by reindeer of previously high-use areas as a result of their avoiding disturbance resulting from human activity (UNEP 2001, 2004). A range of studies have documented a reduction in use of rangeland by reindeer varying between 48% and 96% compared with pre-development distributions within a band ranging from 2.5 to 5.0 km of cabins, dams, power lines and roads (Vistnes and Nellemann 2001, Nellemann et al. 2003, Vistnes et al. 2004). Approximately 25% of reindeer range in the Barents Euro-Arctic Region has effectively been lost owing to disturbance resulting from infrastructure development; in some of the productive coastal ranges of Finnmark the figure is as high as 35% As much as 1 % of the summer grazing areas used traditionally by Saami reindeer herders along the coast of northern Norway are lost every year, which is similar to the grazing land used by one nomadic family in the summer (Jernsletten and Klokov 2002, UNEP 2004). Preservation of grazing land is one major task in response to the warming of the Arctic. Furthermore, increased vegetation growth as an response to climate change is also one reason for loss of grazing land traditionally used by reindeer herders (Tyler in press). One consequence of loss of grazing land is increased trampling of the vegetation available.

Activity 2007-2008:
Communication and information

EALÁT-Information will communicate traditional knowledge from six selected reindeer herding regions and specific case herds including Sapmi (Norway, Sweden, Finland, NW Russia), Nenets AO, Yamal AO, Sakha Republic, Chukotka AO and Alaska. These include the world’s major reindeer herding regions. Knowledge about traditional pasture use, snow change, reindeer terminology and herders’ ability to adapt to changing conditions will have high priority. Information about the loss of grazing land and traditional adaptations to the loss of grazing land in each region will be a part of the project, in cooperation with UNEP GRID-Arendal. Historical temperature records from the five regions will stimulate the workshop discussions. Society-based meetings, including interviews with herders, will be organized in each region coordinated by local representatives of the WRH, the Reindeer Herders’ Union of Russia and Kawerak, Alaska, in both years. Three workshops are planned for 2007 and three more in 2008, before the Arctic Council ministerial meeting. The ability to adapt to change is based on knowledge embodied in herders’ specialised language, the institutions of herding and the actions of individual herders. Examples will be included in the final report to the Ministers, through a printed report and a web-based presentation. Each region will have a locally-based coordinator who will cooperate with ICR in the project.

Traditional knowledge related climatic change and urgent need for documentation

Documentation of elders’ knowledge, particularly in relation to climate, local weather, pasture loss and the responses of herders and herders’ institutions to variation in these parameters, is an ethical imperative. As the older generation decreases, the sum of non-written knowledge stored in peoples’ memories and, thus, remaining in the indigenous society, is also declining. This knowledge is irreplaceable. With this in mind, the project has been developed in accordance with the intentions of international declarations and conventions for the collection, analysis and publication of the knowledge of indigenous peoples and local communities. Use of reindeer herders’ language as part of these scientific analyses is important. The International Centre for Reindeer Husbandry has a special responsibility to document and disseminate traditional knowledge pertaining to reindeer husbandry.

Competence building in a changing society

It is intended that EALÁT-Information will make an important contribution to increasing local competence within herder societies and, in particular, to the development of new strategies for the conservation and management of reindeer husbandry based on an indigenous perspective. We believe the EALÁT-Information project is a pioneer project in understanding adaptation to climate change and changed use of the Arctic.


Jernsletten, J-L. L. and Klokov, K. 2002. Sustainable reindeer husbandry. Arctic Council 2000-2002. University of Tromsø, 157 pp.

McCarthy, J.J., Martello, M.L., Corell, R.W., Eckley, N., Fox, S., Hovelsrud-Broda, G.K., Mathiesen, S.D., Polsky, C., Selin, H., Tyler, N.J.C., Strøm Bull, K., Siegel-Causey, D., Eira, I.G., Eira, N.I., Eriksen, S., Hanssen-Bauer, I., Kalstad, J.K., Nellemann, C., Oskal, N., Reinert, E., Storeheier, P.V. and Turi, J.M 2005. Climate Change in the Context of Multiple Stressors and Resilience. Ch 17 Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA). Cambridge University Press. Pp. 945-988.

Nellemann, C., Vistnes, I., Jordhøy, P., Strand, O. and Newton, A. 2003. Progressive impact of piecemeal infrastructure development on wild reindeer. Biological Conservation 113, 307-317.

Tyler, N.J.C., Turi, J.M., M.A. Sundset, K. Strøm Bull, M.N.Sara., E. Reinert, N.Oskal., C.Nellemann J.J. McCarthy., Mathiesen, S.D., M.L. Martello., O.H. Magga., G.K. Hovelsrud, I. Hanssen-Bauer, N.I. Eira., I.M.G.Eira and R.W Corell. 2006. Saami reindeer pastoralism under climate change: applying a generalised framework for vulnerability studies to a sub-Arctic social-ecological system. Global Environmental Change. In press.

UNEP 2004. Arctic environment: European perspectives – why should Europe care. UNEP and European Environment Agency, Environmental Issue Report No. 38, EEA, Copenhagen, 58 pp.

Vistnes, I. and Nellemann, C. 2001. Avoidance of cabins, roads, and power lines by reindeer during calving. Journal of Wildlife Management 65, 915-925.

Vistnes, I., Nellemann, C., Jordhøy, P. and Strand, O. 2004. Barriers to wild reindeer migration. Journal of Wildlife Management 68, 101-108.


Responsible organization: International Centre for Reindeer Husbandry (ICR), Kautokeino
Project leader: Director Anders Oskal and Svein D. Mathiesen (ICR)

Project participants:

Information manager Elna Sara, ICR
Chairman of ICR Johan Mathis Turi, Secretary General of Association of World Reindeer Herders (WRH)
Reindeer herder Maria Petrovna Pogodaeva, Reindeer Herders Union of Russia Sahka (Yakutia) Republic
Vladimir Etylen, Reindeer Herders Union of Russia, Chukotka Autonomous Area
Russian coordinators, MSc Olga Etylen and Galina Rybkina, Moscow
Dr Christian Nellemann, UNEP - GRID Arendal
Dr. Knut Kielland and Greg Finstad, University of Alaska, Fairbanks

Reference group:

Representative of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Professor Ole Henrik Magga, project leader for IPY EALÁT-Research, Saami University College
Dr Robert Corell, Leader of ACIA, American Meterological Association, USA
Dr Florian Stammler, Arctic Centre, University of Lapland. Not confirmed
Olav Mathis Eira, Saami Council
Mrs Berit Anne S Triumf, Information Officer, Responsible for outreach, Reindeer Husbandry Administration Norway
President Dmitry O. Khorolya, WRH
Chair Juha Magga, Saami Reindeer Herders’ Association of Finland
Chair Per Gustav Idivuoma, National Union of Saami People, Sweden
Mr Øyvind Ravna, University of Tromsø. Not confirmed




Sapmi: Norway, Finland, Sweden, Russia

Anders Oskal, Director ICR

Nenets Autonomous Area


Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Area

Dmitry O. Khorolya, President of WRH

Sahka Republic

Maria Petrovna Pogodaeva, Vice President WRH 

Chukotka Autonomous Area

Oleg Etylen, scientist 

Alaska, USA

Tom Gray, Kawerak Reindeer Herders’ Association


American Meteorological Association, USA
Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, Finland
Association of World Reindeer Herders
Center for Human rights, University of Oslo, Norway
Centre for Saami Studies, University of Tromsø, Norway
CICERO, University of Oslo, Norway
Department of Arctic Biology, University of Tromsø, Norway
GRID Arendal, Norway
Kawerak Reindeer Herders Association, Alaska
Norwegian Meterological Institute
Norwegian School of Veterinary Medicine, Tromsø
RAIPON, Russia
Reindeer Herders’ Union of Russia
Resource Centre for the Rights of Indigenous People, Kautokeino, Norway
Russian Academy of Science, Chukotka Branch, Anadyr, Chukotka AO, Russia
Sámi Reindeer Herders’ Association of Norway.
Sámi University College/Nordic Sámi Institute, Kautokeino, Norway
University of the Arctic
University of Tromsø, Norway
Yamal Polar Agricultural College, Salekhard, Yamal-Nenets AO, Russia