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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: August 2009

26 - Adapting to climate change in Sámi reindeer herding: the nation-state as problem and solution


We have some knowledge about how to live in a changing environment. The term ‘stability’ is a foreign word in our language. Our search for adaptation strategies is therefore not connected to ‘stability’ in any form, but is instead focused on constant adaptation to changing conditions.

Johan Mathis Turi, Chairman of International Centre for Reindeer Husbandry (ICR), Tromsø, UN Environmental Day, June 2007


Climate change is likely to affect the Sámi regions in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, with greater variability in temperature, precipitation and wind, and higher winter temperatures (ACIA, 2005; Tyler et al., 2007). These factors strongly affect snow quality and quantity, with snow quality as a crucial factor for reindeer herding. Considering their experience obtained through time and their traditional ecological knowledge, the pastoral practices of Sámi herders are inherently well suited to handle huge variations in climatic conditions. Reindeer herding and its natural environment have always been subject to large variability in weather patterns, and skilful adaptation to these past variations offers important insights on adaptation to climate change. In particular, it is crucial to recognize the importance of traditional ecological knowledge (Berkes, 2008).

The adaptation of Sámi reindeer herding to climate change is conditioned by its political and socio-economic environment (ACIA, 2005, p. 971; E. S. Reinert, 2006; Tyler et al., 2007). Important parts of the traditional adaptive strategies – the composition of herds and the flexibility to move reindeer herds between summer and winter pastures – are challenged by nation–state policies restricting herd diversity and mobility and by rigid regulations.

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