Rain on Snow

Article expired Published 29 Sep 2010 Last modified 03 Sep 2015
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This content has been archived on 03 Sep 2015, reason: Content not regularly updated
About 70,000 Sami live in the Arctic regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Originally they hunted reindeer, but since the 17th century they have practised herding as a form of agricultural meat production, passing their knowledge and skills down through the generations.

The reindeer herder has learned to accept the good and the bad part of nature and always to adapt.

Niklas Labba, reindeer herder, Finland

The Sami have always changed with the times. Once nomadic, the herders now live in solid houses instead of portable tents, and use snowmobiles and skidoos instead of skis and sledges. But the 20th century also brought a wider range of changes: they have had to share their territory with forestry, tourism and mining, and their associated infrastructures.

Now the reindeer herders are under pressure from another source – climate change. Since the late 1980’s, the autumn snows have arrived later, and throughout the winter, rain has been falling on the snow. The rain freezes and forms an ice crust that is often too hard for the reindeer to break through to get at their staple food, lichen. Reducing the reindeer’s food source still further is the year by year upward movement of the tree line, encroaching on the tundra where the reindeer graze.

"The losses during winter with no access to the soil can be catastrophic." Niklas Labba

These environmental factors have resulted in up to 90% of animals in a herd starving to death in the worst years.

To ensure that their reindeer have enough food and are able to survive the winter fit and well enough to give birth to healthy calves, the herders are resorting to buying expensive fodder and moving to neighbouring lands. But emergency strategies can’t be used every year.

Reindeer herding is only marginally profitable and extremely hard work. It is entirely dependent on nature and the environment. If a long term solution is not found, herding will become economically unsustainable as well as too physically difficult to manage. The younger generation will simply stop working with reindeer, and the Sami will lose their defining way of life.

"What I want is to get the voices of the reindeer herders heard by the politicians." Niklas Labba

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European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100