The challenges of modernity for reindeer management (RENMAN)

Leader: Bruce Forbes                                        Start of the project: 2001
Research group: Global change                         End of the project: 2004


This research project addressed fundamental questions regarding the future sustainable utilization of reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) in the subarctic/subalpine and boreal regions of Europe in order to enhance the quality of life of local human populations and the appropriate management of living resources. Reindeer management is among the most important mutually competing uses of natural resources and the environment in the Barents Euro-Arctic Region, or BEAR. It is also one of the oldest and most resilient forms of livelihood in the region. Semi-domestic reindeer comprise a living resource that is central to the cultures of many northern indigenous peoples, including the Sami, as well as non-indigenous people in some areas (e.g., Finland, Russia).

RENMAN intended to study these human-environmental interactions and related problems in an interdisciplinary manner by combining and integrating the expertise of a multi-national consortium of social scientists, natural scientists and – most importantly – the herders themselves. Established methodologies deriving from the various disciplines involved here - anthropology, economics, geography, soil science and biology - were combined in order to enhance the holistic approach the research team intends to apply. The aims of RENMAN had the following general themes, focusing on the interaction between rural human populations and reindeer:

1. The human dimensions of reindeer management and involvement of local rural populations in the research and scenario-building process.
2. Examination of the various resource-based conflicts surrounding reindeer management, including: (i) disparities among EU and Russian markets; (ii) the cultural perceptions (both herders and dominant society) of ecology itself; and (iii) a systematic comparison of herders’ experience-based knowledge and science-based knowledge.
3. Quality of reindeer pastures, with special emphasis on summer pastures. This will involve qualitative characterizations and mapping of various habitats and estimation of their potential from the perspective of the herders (and the reindeer!), coupled with quantitative investigations of ecosystem productivity and nutrient cycling.
4. Quality of soils and surface waters. This will involve quantitative evaluation of the impacts of varying reindeer densities in relation to sustainable production and risk assessment of pathogens spreading to animals and humans under changing management.



Central research questions were:

• Is "overgrazing" the only problem and reducing the number of reindeer the only solution in reindeer management?
• What are the key issues in reindeer management for the local reindeer herding communities?
• What is the future of reindeer management in northern Fenno-Scandia and adjacent northwest Russia?
• We know a lot about winter pastures, but what about the quality of summer pastures? 
• Can herders participate meaningfully in the research process?
• How best to integrate reindeer management with other uses of the northern environment, such as tourism, forestry, and hydropower?

Participant institutions

The project involved partners from nine institutes in five countries:

1. Arctic Centre, University of Lapland (coordinator);
2. Department of Geography, University of Oulu;
3. Finnish Forest Research Institute, Rovaniemi;
4. Helsinki University of Technology, Espoo;
5. Institute for Polar Ecology, Christian-Albrechts   
University, Kiel, Germany;
6. The Norwegian Crop Research Institute, Tromsø,  
7. Department of Social Anthropology, University of   
Tromsø, Norway;
8. Institute for Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology,
Uppsala University, Sweden;
9.Institute for Anthropological Field Research, New  
Bulgarian University, Sofia,Bulgaria.

 RENMAN research activity
RENMAN project participants in Oteren, Norway discussing
the selection of study sites along the Norway/Finland border.
In the photo from left are as follows: Johan Mathis Turi,
Chairman of the Association of World Reindeer Herders;
Christian Uhlig, researcher from Norwegian Crop Research
Institute; Heidi Kitti, Ph.D. student from Arctic Centre,
University of Lapland; and Timo Kumpula, Ph.D.
student from Department of Geography, University of Oulu.
Photo: Bruce Forbes

RENMAN research area
 IKONOS – 2 false color satellite image from Jauristunturit, 
 acquired 28 June 2001. The reindeer fence on Finnish – 
 Norwegian border is visible because of higher reindeer 
 lichen coverage in Norway (upper part of the image).


Forbes, B.C. et al. (eds.) Reindeer management in northernmost Europe: linking practical and scientific knowledge in social-ecological systems. Ecological Studies 184. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.

More information

Research Professor Bruce Forbes
Arctic Centre, University of Lapland