Rain-on-snow conditions putting the Sami people and their reindeer under pressure
The reindeer herder has learned to accept the good and the bad part of nature and always to adapt." says Niklas Labba, reindeer herder in Lapland, Sweden. 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 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", says Niklas Labba. These environmental factors have resulted in up to 90% of animals in a herd starving to death in the worst years.