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Climate change adaptation plan for the reindeer husbandry industry in Northern Sweden

March 7, 2020

Climate change is a global issue, but affects
people on a local scale. The rising temperatures in the atmosphere are causing a number of
impacts around the globe, and researchers from Imperial College London have looked into
how climate change will impact the reindeer husbandry practice in northern Sweden. In
this video they will present an adaptation plan developed specifically for this industry
and location, to ensure the tradition of reindeer herding can continue into the future. The
four main impacts of climate change that are likely to be disruptive to the reindeer herding
industry are wildfires, droughts, extended seasons and increased rainfall. Wildfires
have become and will be increasingly more common and pose a great threat to farmers
and herders across the country. Droughts affects the animals’ access to food and overall
health. Longer summers would put pressure on food sources and could alter the food chain.
Finally, more rainfall in the autumn highly increases the likelihood of hard, unbreakable
snow and ice cover, making the reindeers’ natural source of food – lichen – unavailable.
Climate change poses a great threat to the traditional industry of reindeer husbandry
and the farmers face increased risks of economic losses unless solutions are adopted. Wildfires
are hard to prepare for and adapt to, but there are two main methods to reduce the risk.
By participating in forest management, especially in areas where the treeline is likely to progress
to, the availability of dead biomass to fuel fires can be controlled. This would benefit
both the reindeer and the health of the forest. Allowing reindeer to graze in areas close
to the treeline early in the year, reduces the number of trees growing in the north and
saves the more northern feeding grounds for later in the season. Secondly, relocating
storage buildings for foodstock away from the northward progressing forests can be an
important step to ensure there is enough food to last through the winter. Longer summers
and shorter winters will alter ecosystems significantly and this opens for new pests
and diseases to affect the reindeer herds. It’s important to educate yourself about
these, as well as reduce the spread of diseases by limiting contact with other herds and euthanise
affected individuals when necessary. New predators such as lynx, wolves and brown bears, will
be expanding their territories to be a threat to herds. It is therefore important to increase
the frequency of check ups and protecting pregnant cows is essential. Using tracking
systems allows for the herder to be notified if an individual stops moving for longer periods
of time, and allows you to check on it. In addition to this, food sources would be strained
as there is limited regeneration time. Herders should therefore rely more on extra feed during
the winter months and reduce the dependency on lichen as this could be covered by hard
snow and ice. Another adaptive action is to regulate the herd size depending on climate
predictions. Temperatures in Sweden are likely to increase, with summer mean temperatures
reaching 15C further north every year. This means that permafrost is going to melt further
and further north. Herders should use this to their advantage and move their reindeer
to melting areas, making sure there is enough water available. In dry periods, herders should
ensure the access to more traditional water sources such as rivers and lakes. With warmer
temperatures comes more rain in the autumn flooding rivers and smaller lakes all over
Sweden. Reindeer are smart enough to avoid marshy areas, but it could be necessary for
them to cross wet areas to get from one feeding ground to the next. With less permafrost and
more rain comes more marshes that could trap individual reindeer, so it is important to
do frequent check ups. GPS tracking devices should be attached to the animals, which notifies
you if an animal has been standing still for too long, indicating a trapped individual.
In order to avoid flooded rivers in common migration routes, ditches should be dug to
alleviate the pressure on the main rivers. Hard river management solutions, such as using
bricks or other solid material to support the edges could reduce maintenance efforts,
but has a higher up front cost. Reducing the dependency on individual feeding grounds,
and introducing alternative food sources, such as hay and grass, reduces risk of undernourishment
and other health issues. You can ensure these new adaptation plans are implemented by supporting
researchers in their effort to find the best solutions. At the moment, not as many herders
as we would hope for are participating in the experiments. It is clear that climate
change could impact the traditional industry of reindeer husbandry in multiple ways, but
by preparing and adapting to these changes your economy and herd will be able to thrive.
The four most important adaptations to remember are to
Adapt migration routes to expected seasons and weather projections. Seek educational
materials about individual impacts to best prepare yourself for emergency situations.
Report back to local governments about the impacts you are experiencing and which adaptation
methods you have used. And finally, do more frequent check ups on your herd when conditions
are different from what you are used to. Climate change doesn’t have to end reindeer husbandry.
Be ready for change, and you and your herd will be looking towards a brighter future.

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