International Seminar in Arkhanglesk, Russia 4-5 March, 2020: «Migration of Wild Predators near Populated Areas in the Barents Euro-Arctic Region», organized by the Barents Euro-Arctic Cooperation, Västerbotten chairmanship (2019-2021).
Allow me first of all to acknowledge the organisers of this important seminar and their determination to address the question of management of large predators in the Barents Region. Management of especially large predators as wolves, lynx, wolverine, eagles and bears has historically been the exclusive concern and responsibility of each country. Even today some of these views remain, when certain politicians, administrators and even scientists still label wolf and other large carnivores with a national identity. The Sami people have so far not claimed that there are any Sami wolves around…
The large predators have had a different relation with the indigenous peoples in the Barents region, compared with the views and polices in concerned countries, both historically and contemporary. The bear has for example historically been a holy animal among indigenous peoples and some Finnish Ugric peoples in the Barents region. For a long time, the policy was to reduce or wipe out large predators and carnivores in most of the states in the Barents Cooperation, except Russia. In the shift towards protection and conservation in many areas of the world today, we have seen a transition in efforts to conserve biological diversity from a historic emphasis on protecting single species to approaches that emphasize maintaining intact landscapes and fully functioning food webs.
The rationale behind this emerged conservation goal is the fact that indigenous peoples have been a part of these food webs for millennia, and sustaining the livelihoods of indigenous people alongside the flora and fauna. Often, traditional use of land by indigenous people assure the landscape is maintained in a state that is far more hospitable to biological diversity than would be the case if these traditional economies were replaced by more intensive and extractive use of the lands.
However, landscape-level conservation is demanding because it often creates conflicting goals that must somehow be settled. For example, restoration and conservation of particularly large predators, is an ambitious conservation objective, but it has the potential to harm human livelihoods that may be vital to sustaining semi-wild landscapes. This problem is particularly for lands inhabited by people whose well-being depends on harvesting species as reindeer, that are also consumed by predators. When conflicts between predators and people occur, a knowledge-based management must resolve them. This management system is often costly and must be justified on the basis of understanding impacts of predators on reindeer herding. The management system should be based on knowledge, as I said earlier, relevant science and also traditional knowledge, but this is not generally the reality.
The Sami and Nenets peoples have as an example lived on the landscapes of Fennoscandia and Jamal for at least 5000 years. Reindeer husbandry is central to their culture and livelihood. During the last two millennia, domesticated reindeer have been used for meat, hides, transportation, milking, and to lure wild reindeer to sites for capture. Today, only Nenets peoples allow their reindeer herds to migrate across large distances unimpeded by fences, even if their reindeer herding is rapidly changing. On the Finnish, Swedish and Norwegian side most of the reindeer herding landscape is fragmented by infrastructure, forestry, mining, hydroelectric plants, windmill parks, tourist facilities and related activities. This demands a high degree of adaptation and mitigation. On top of all we have the unpredictable consequences of climate change that will probably increase the reindeer husbandry vulnerability in relation to predators.
The area of land devoted to reindeer husbandry covers most of the area of the Barents region and is also at the same time a vital habitat for the Eurasian lynx, wolverine, wolf, brown bear and eagle. The main prey for these predators is now the semi- domesticated reindeer on the Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian side and partly also on the Russian side. Reindeer husbandry is now under hard pressure, because of increasing predation. In some reindeer districts this is so intense that reindeer husbandry is on the edge of collapse. The damages that large carnivores cause, effect in several ways. In the worst areas the economic, social and psychological pressure on the herders and their families is significant.
Allow me briefly to give some facts and statistics about the present situation facing the reindeer herding communities today, mainly related to the situation on the Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish side.
Around 95 % from the found damages that large carnivores cause in Finland are targeted to reindeer husbandry. Some 25,000 to 35,000 reindeer are lost to large carnivores every year. The compensation for predation damages was about 9 million EURO in year 2019 and has during the last decade increased significantly. The total number of reindeer in Finland are about 200,000 heads. About 90,000 to 100,000 reindeer are slaughtered, producing over 2 million kilograms of meat. The presence of large carnivores has increased over the years and one of the reasons is the long border against Russia. This is especially a fact when it comes to the influx of wolf from the Russian side.
In Sweden the highest allowed number of reindeer is 270,000 heads and the actual number year 2019 is around 250 ,00. The estimated damage that carnivores cause is at least 19,500, up to 72,500 killed reindeer each year, due to calculation made by a governmental commission in 2012. Owners of predator-killed livestock are usually compensated based on documented losses, as on the Norwegian and Finnish side, whereas the Swedish system is based on risk. In a risk-based compensation regime the reindeer herders can focus on reindeer husbandry, instead of searching for predator-killed reindeer. There is also an incentive for reindeer owners to invest in mitigation measures to reduce losses. A risk-based compensation scheme excludes the need to directly observe predator kills, but nonetheless requires defensible estimates of damage.
The last decade the number of slaughtered reindeer have decreased from an average of about 80,000-90,000 between 1980-2000 to about 60,000 heads today. The compensation was about 6 million EURO in 2019. The Swedish Parliament has decided that reindeer herding areas should be excluded from permanent presence of wolf. The Swedish Parliament also decided in year 2012 that reindeer herding in Sweden should maximum accept 10 % loss to large carnivores, which means at least 27,000 reindeer per year. This has however not yet been implemented and the discussion is still on-going about the design of the tool to estimate the damage for each reindeer district. During the same time numbers of carnivores have increased. Today many of the reindeer districts have losses up to 30 %, which is unacceptable.
On the Norwegian side the number of reindeer vary from year to year, but in 2019 there were about 250,000 domestic reindeer in Norway, more than 185,000 of them in the county of Finnmark. The recent years the number of slaughtered reindeer have been between 70,000- 80,000 heads. When it comes to compensation for reindeer killed by predators, approx. 5 % of the compensation is paid on the basis of reindeer found killed by predators. The other 95 % of the compensation is paid on the discretion of the managing authority. The recent years about 85-90 million NOK have been paid as compensation.
In 2017, the authorities planned to introduce a new compensation scheme for the loss of domestic reindeer to predators. The Sami Parliament and the Norwegian Reindeer Husbandry Association (NRL) requested that implementation of the scheme must be postponed until traditional knowledge from the reindeer husbandry is included in the compensation scheme. On this basis, the new compensation scheme was suspended and the Environment Directorate, in collaboration with the Sami Parliament and the NRL, has initiated work to implement traditional knowledge from the reindeer husbandry into management regime. The Sami Parliament has stated that today’s predator policy and management create major problems for reindeer husbandry. Figures from many reindeer herding districts show that predators kill an unacceptably high proportion of productive animals. There is also a breach between what the reindeer husbandry is seeking to get reimbursed in connection with loss of prey and what is paid out. The Sami Parliament also argues that the reindeer communities feel that they have no say and that confidence in the predator management is low. In several contexts, the Sami Parliament has expressed the need for changes in today’s predator management and population goals.
The management regimes on the Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish differ both when it comes to the level of compensation and how to estimate the number of large predators. Management of large predators in Sweden, Norway and Finland are guided by international agreements that simultaneously require sustaining the livelihood of the Sami people as well as assuring the viability of populations of large carnivores. The current rates of compensation for the number of reindeer that fall prey to predators are based on rough estimates of consumption rates and conservation values. These estimates are not derived from any comprehensive, large-scale, cross border analysis of effects of predators on reindeer population dynamics or harvest.
Even if I am quite critical to management of large carnivore in relation to reindeer husbandry both nationally and in a cross-border context there are lights in the tunnel. The cross-border cooperation between Sweden and Norway in the management of predators is evolving in a constructive and hands-on manner, which is promising. One critical obstacle in this context is that the political decision makers often claim that there is not enough knowledge about predation, especially when it comes to bears and eagles. The reindeer communities’ view is that’s the predation caused by bears and eagles is undervalued and the paid compensation unfair. The management regimes should focus on two objectives: to determine if predators have a measurable, long-term impact on reindeer harvest and to evaluate the magnitude of the effects of predators on reindeer population growth, relative to other sources of variation, including climate change.
One of the key players in management of large predators are members in science communities in the Barents region. Necessary resources must be allocated to the science communities to bridge both the knowledge gaps and clarify assumed misunderstandings and preconceptions. The science communities sometimes seem to be unaware about their own colonial past and don´t understand why the reindeer herding communities often question their goals, methods and objectivity. This lack of trust must be addressed. On the Norwegian side this has been addressed and discussed in the science community, hopefully this has been noticed in the science communities on the Finnish and Swedish sides as well.
We need to establish a spirit of trust among all players, including the civil society with maximum transparency if we will succeed to establish a management of large predators with broad acceptance among all parties.
In concluding I want to once again repeat my appreciation to the initiative taken by the governors to invite us all to Arkhangelsk to highlight and discuss our common challenges related to the management of large predators in the Barents region. From indigenous peoples we hope that this event will, so to speak, be a take-off for a more formalised collaboration concerning matters related to management of large predators in cross border context in the framework of the Barents Cooperation.
Thank you. Giitu.