Coordination of forestry and reindeer husbandry in the Sámi homelands

During 2003, the Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute (FGFRI) has completed two reports on research projects which focused on the impact of forestry on reindeer grazing grounds and on reindeer grazing (Kumpula et al. 2003, Kumpula 2003). Felling has the biggest negative consequences, at least in the short term, on arboreal lichens and reindeer lichen grazing grounds. However, in the long term the reindeer lichen is likely to benefit from more light, since this type of lichen generally grows better in better light conditions. The Ivalo reindeer herding cooperative is a good example of this, in that the grazing grounds are in good condition despite decades of felling.

In the Sámi homelands, most of the areas that have been protected to preserve biodiversity lie in areas where reindeer husbandry is practically the only form of land use. It follows that natural biodiversity in a national park may be reduced as a consequence of over-grazing by reindeer, without any significant contribution by forestry. In Northern Lapland, the real problem for reindeer husbandry is not so much forestry as the fact that reindeer ownership has become too fragmented to allow for profitable reindeer husbandry, whether by Sámi people or anyone else. Simply put, there are just too many reindeer owners; in the Sámi homelands, there are at present 1107 Sámi reindeer owners; 60% of whom own less than 50 reindeer.

Reindeer owners according to no. of counted reindeer, during the reindeer herding year 1998/99 in Inari, Enontekiö and Utsjoki (source: FGFRI Reindeer Research Unit)

Reindeer Inari Utsjoki Enontekiö Total
1-49 384 138207729
50-99 166 12347336

The average income derived by the above reindeer owners from reindeer husbandry came to about 3,500 euros a year, which means that a growing number of Sámi reindeer herders are forced to seek additional incomes outside reindeer husbandry. It is partly due to this fragmentation of reindeer ownership that the present situation of over-grazing has emerged, something which is evident in excessive wear on all lichen grounds in the national parks in Northern Lapland, as well as an absence of new birch saplings.

Even a cursory examination will reveal that the five reindeer herding cooperatives in the Inari area which have recently featured in the media due to the forestry operations taking place there, also had more than 60,000 reindeer in excess of the maximum numbers permitted during 1980-1993. Keeping such numbers of reindeer has worn the remaining summer and winter grazing grounds to an extent which has made it necessary to increasingly introduce supplementary feeding of the reindeer. There is no unambiguous proof that forestry operations would have limited the number of reindeer it was possible for these herding cooperatives to keep, or prevented them from practising reindeer husbandry. The Ivalo reindeer herding cooperative, which has been subject to the most intensive forestry operations of any of the herding cooperatives in Northern Lapland since the war, has the healthiest foundation for reindeer husbandry of all, measured with several different indicators; it has the shortest time of supplementary feeding, the best female reindeer, the highest calf rate etc. This indicates that the current problems in reindeer husbandry are caused more by economic factors within the herding cooperatives (the high costs arising from fragmented ownership, increased supplementary feeding and the motorization of the business), than by forestry operations in the area.

In examining trends in reindeer numbers, it is clear that they have multiplied several times since the Second World War. However, reindeer husbandry cannot continue to grow indefinitely if the natural grazing grounds that it is dependent on continue to decrease at the present rate. The fall in natural grazing grounds is striking even in the herding cooperatives in whose areas there is no forestry.

The effect of different practices in reindeer herding can be seen in the border of Finland and Norway in the region of Kaldoaivi cooperative. In the Norwegian side there are birches in different stages whereas in the Finnish side birch saplings are scarce.

About the Sámi livelihoods

In addition to natural economies, forestry and tourism have also been practised in the Sámi homelands for decades now. There is no other extensive industrial activity. The vast areas of land which have different types of protected status is a limiting factor for the introduction of other commercial operations. All the municipalities in the area in question suffer from high unemployment.

The general change in the economic structure has reached the municipalities in the Sámi homelands, too, over the past few decades. The economic structure has changed, especially in Utsjoki and Inari, from basic natural economies to services and other contemporary business. In fact, a look at the Sámi homelands as a whole reveals that the percentage of service sector and similar enterprises is several times that of all primary production sectors put together. Services are by far the biggest source of income in the Sámi homelands. Over 60% of the employed workforce earns its living in that sector. Social income transfers (pensions and unemployment security) provide an income for a significant percentage of the population, too.

In 1984, the Sámi still derived their income from primary production to a greater extent than the rest of the Finnish population, but since then, their income structure has come closer to the average for the Province of Lapland. In Utsjoki, for instance, the Sámi population in primary production accounted for 24.1% in 1984, a figure which had fallen by about 5% by 2002. A similar change is seen in Inari. Meanwhile, in Enontekiö and Vuotso, Sámi people are still involved in primary production to a greater extent than the rest of the population. In Inari and Utsjoki, the percentage accounted for by primary production sectors has fallen noticeably and the income structure of Sámi people is more or less identical with that of the rest of the population.

Sámi and Finnish reindeer owners

The Sámi homelands (31,941 km2), which admittedly are not defined in the Finnish Reindeer Husbandry Act (1990), cover 27.9% of the reindeer herding area and 64% of the special reindeer herding area (total 49,739 km2). In the reindeer husbandry year 1998/99, herding cooperatives in the Sámi homelands consisted of a total of 1,370 reindeer owners and over 71,400 reindeer. There were 1000 Sámi reindeer owners and they owned a total of 62,000 reindeer, i.e. 86.5% of the reindeer in the Sámi homelands and one third of all reindeer in Finland. The herding cooperatives in Paatsjoki, Ivalo, Hammastunturi, Muotkatunturi and Muddusjärvi consist of a total of about 450 reindeer herders (32.8%) and about 25,500 reindeer (41%). In some herding cooperatives in the Sámi homelands, a great proportion of reindeer are owned by Finns; this is the case in Ivalo (57%), Paatsjoki (one in three reindeer) and Hammastunturi (one in five reindeer). In Muotkatunturi, Finns owned 5.6% of the reindeer.

The turnover of forestry operations in the Inari area is EUR 7.9 million and that of reindeer husbandry is EUR 2.8 million. It is probable that reindeer husbandry alone cannot compensate for the impact that a reduction in forestry would have on the area's economy. In my opinion, the best economic benefits could be obtained by permitting both kinds of operations. The combined output of forestry and reindeer husbandry together will naturally produce a better result than either of these operations on their own. In principle, the optimization of combined production in forestry and reindeer husbandry can be solved, based purely on principles of economic science. The present political leadership of the Sámi Parliament in Finland appears to be unwilling to do so, however, despite the fact that most of the forestry workers in the area are of Sámi extraction. Practically all the problems that forestry causes for reindeer husbandry are linked with the felling of old forests (i.e. forest renewal of over 1,000 hectares per year). Thus the area of forest destined for final felling each year represents only 0.03% of the total area available for reindeer husbandry in the Sámi homelands. Consequently the claim that the present felling plans would threaten Sámi culture are clearly exaggerated.

In the herding year 1998/99 Sámi reindeer owners produced 0.6 million kilos of reindeer meat or about 28.5% of the total production of reindeer meat in Finland. This brought an income of a total of EUR 3.4 million or so for the Sámi. When compensation for reindeer killed by predators and by traffic, financial subsidy per animal and other subsidies are taken into account, this rises to EUR 5.5 million. In the Sámi homelands, the income from slaughtered animals makes up a lower proportion of the income from reindeer herding than in other areas. Compensation for reindeer killed by predators makes up almost 14% of income in the Sámi homelands, whereas it is only about 4% elsewhere. Compensation for reindeer killed by traffic is lower, but financial subsidy per animal accounted for as much as 16.7% of income in the sector in the herding year 1998/99, compared with only 12.4% elsewhere in the reindeer herding area. Other subsidies received also accounted for a higher percentage (about 6%) than elsewhere. The taxable income of the Sámi came to a total of EUR 2.7 million, and on average of EUR 6723 per person. However, only a total EUR 789,915 of the earned and capital income of the Sámi derived from reindeer husbandry, i.e. only 29% of the total taxable income (Kemppainen & Nieminen 2001). Most reindeer owners in the Sámi homelands have incomes of less than EUR 2000 these days. This means that the majority of Sámi reindeer owners must supplement their income with processing of reindeer products, tourist services, other occupations or social income transfers such as pensions and unemployment benefits.

Aside from these statistics, there are few differences when one examines the special characteristics of Sámi and Finnish reindeer husbandry. In the Sámi homelands, reindeer density on average is 2.4 reindeer per km2, compared with 2.2 in the special reindeer herding area and only 1.4 in the remainder of the reindeer herding area. Inventories of winter grazing grounds have shown that the biggest amount of reindeer lichen and horsehair lichen per reindeer in the Sámi homelands was found in the surroundings of Lake Inari. The lichen grazing in the Utsjoki and Enontekiö herding cooperatives was in poor condition. The biggest amount of wavy hair-grass was available to reindeer in the central and western parts of Inari (Kumpula et al. 1997). Although access to enough winter grazing is the real 'bottleneck' in reindeer herding, access to summer grazing has also begun to limit the productivity of reindeer husbandry, particularly in fell regions. In the southern reaches of the reindeer herding area there may be even six times the amount of summer nutrition per reindeer compared with the fell regions (Kumpula et al. 1999, Kumpula 2001). Natural reindeer husbandry is becoming rare even in the Sámi homelands due to inadequate grazing. During the herding year 1998/99, about 2 million kilos of supplementary feed was taken out to the reindeer, and 6% of all reindeer are in fact fed in enclosures (Kemppainen & Nieminen 2001).

About Sámi rights

The new Finnish Constitution secures the right of the Sámi people to practise their own culture and indigenous occupations in their homelands. In addition to the rights enshrined in the Constitution, the Sámi have been demanding ownership rights to State land and exclusive rights for Sámi people to engage in reindeer husbandry, hunting and fishing. However, in autumn 2002, the Constitutional Law Committee stated that protection of Sámi cultural autonomy by law does not change the legislation currently in force which regulates who is allowed to practise traditional occupations in the Sámi homelands. These provisions can only be changed through amendment of the legislation currently in force. The Committee further underlined that if amendments are proposed to the right to practise certain occupations, they must be based on valid research results. The Ministry of Justice has commissioned a study on Lapland land rights from the Universities of Oulu and Lapland together, and the study should be completed by the end of next year. It is probable that the Ministry of Justice will use the study as a basis for establishing guidelines for the measures to be taken in the Sámi land ownership dispute in 2005.

Provisions under the Reindeer Husbandry Act which entered into force in 1990 allow the Sámi to draw up guidelines for the reindeer husbandry practised by their herding cooperatives which prevent 'outsiders' from making incursions into Sámi reindeer herding and thereby their source of livelihood.