The Finnish reindeer-herding area lies in the northern boreal forest zone. The herding area is divided into 57 reindeer management districts with a total area of 114,355 km2 (excluding water areas). The official number of reindeer in the year 1992 was 263,789, or 2.3 reindeer per square kilometre. In 1946 the density was only about one reindeer per square kilometre. The increased pressure on the mid-winter lichen pastures has reduced the volume of lichen. Also the decreased area of old coniferous forests with arboreal lichens has diminished the supply of food during the late-winter months. The lack of suitable winter pastures has led to the need for supplementary feeding with hay.
The intention of this study was to develop and test methods for cost-effective reindeer range land inventory and to assess the present state of pastures in seven districts. Use was made of Landsat 5 TM satellite imagery that was processed with remote sensing and GIS software. The analysis of well-known field sites proved the image classification to be between 80 and 90% accurate. By comparing field data and classification results, estimates can be made on the available fodder reserves in the different pasture types. The results show that mid-winter pastures are both scarce and degraded in six of the seven areas investigated. Only one area (Muotkatunturi) has mid-winter pastures in reasonably good condition. Late-winter pastures with arboreal lichens are more widespread than mid-winter pastures and determine the amount of additional winter feeding required. Summer pastures are abundant in all seven reindeer-herding districts and are therefore not a limiting factor. The method used is objective, inexpensive, and fast when compared to conventional methods. Information can be produced on the quantity and quality of reindeer pastures. This knowledge can be used to make better estimates of the natural grazing capacity of reindeer districts in Finland.