Wild reindeer

Published by the Norwegian Environment Agency Lag rapport Les på norsk

Norway is home to the last remaining viable populations of wild reindeer in Europe, and we therefore have a special responsibility for ensuring their survival. Infrastructure development and disturbance are resulting in the loss and fragmentation of wild reindeer habitat.

Norway has almost 35 000 wild reindeer

Today there are between 30 000 and 35 000 wild reindeer in Norway. Originally, their range included all Norway’s mountain areas. Reindeer in the southern half of the country have previous been split between four main regions, as shown on the map. However, there were few barriers to reindeer movement at the time, and probably a great deal of exchange of animals between regions. 

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The map shows the previous four main regions in southern Norway. Source: The Norwegian Environment Agency/environment.no

Wild reindeer now locally extinct in several areas

North of Trondheim and in certain mountain areas further south, domestic reindeer have completely replaced the wild populations. South of Trondheim, wild reindeer are now restricted to certain parts of their original distribution area.  

Wild reindeer habitat fragmented

During the past 30 years, many roads, reservoirs and holiday cabins have been constructed in and near areas where there are still wild reindeer populations. This has resulted in fragmentation of reindeer habitat and has split up populations. Today there are 23 more or less separate and much smaller wild reindeer areas, and very little opportunity for animals to move between them.

Several of the remaining areas of reindeer habitat are at risk of further development and fragmentation, which would will split up the reindeer populations still further.

Balance between reindeer numbers and grazing resources

Today, there is a good balance between wild reindeer numbers and grazing resources, and the carrying capacity of reindeer habitat is being maintained. Lichen-covered areas, which are the most important winter grazing habitat for wild reindeer, are not being overgrazed, and the thickness of the lichen mats is not decreasing.

Wild reindeer generally in good health

In the spring 2016, a wild reindeer suffering from chronic wasting disease (CWD) was detected in Nordfjella reindeer area. Actions have been taken to attempt to eradicate CWD in Norway, and it has not been found in other wild reindeer populations in Norway. The health of Norway’s wild reindeer is monitored through The Health Surveillance Programme for Cervids (HOP). Aside from CWD, the health of wild reindeer is generally good. There are, however, occasional outbreaks of foot rot, tissue worm (Elaphostrongylus cervi) and enterotoxemia, a disease caused by a toxin from gut bacteria.

Climate change may also affect reindeer health. Warmer and wetter summers may increase the incidence of disease and the numbers of parasites, while milder and wetter winters will result in more ice formation on winter grazing grounds. The result may be poorer survival and breeding success.

Wild reindeer easily disturbed by human activity

Wild reindeer are very easily disturbed. Infrastructure development can displace reindeer from grazing areas or act as barriers to migration (wild reindeer dislike crossing roads and railways). Even skiers and walkers can be a serious problem at certain times, for example during calving. Too much disturbance can prevent reindeer from feeding normally and affect their health. They may be unable to build up sufficient fat reserves to survive the winter and for the females to calve normally.

Energy needs may put pressure on reindeer habitat

A growing demand for energy may increase pressure to develop more of Norway’s remaining hydropower potential and to construct wind farms in areas of wild reindeer habitat. Such developments would also increase the need for high-voltage power lines. This would split up reindeer habitat still further, while reservoir construction would displace and disturb the reindeer.

Holiday cabins and use of the mountains

Holiday cabin developments also displace wild reindeer, and are a particular problem on the margins of the reindeer management areas. These are often important winter grazing areas.

In recent years, the use of marked trails in the mountains has increased. Trails with high activity and traffic may seem like a barrier that the reindeer not want to cross.

Hunting

The wild reindeer populations are regulated by hunting. This ensures an appropriate relationship between the amount of food available and number of animals. 

The population target for each management area is determined locally.  The meat from harvested animals is used for human consumption.

The graph below shows the size of the annual harvest in the last three years. In 2018 approximately 4200 wild reindeer were shot during the hunting season, down by 1400 animals from the year before. Most reindeer are usually harvested in Hardangervidda, the largest wild reindeer area in Norway. In 2018, the quotas were low here, and Reinheimen-Breheimen was the reindeer area with the highest number of reindeer shot, approximately 800.

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Safeguarding wild reindeer habitat

To maintain a healthy, robust wild reindeer population, we must safeguard reindeer habitat and maintain a good balance between reindeer numbers and the available grazing resources.

Wild reindeer management boards 

There are nine wild reindeer management boards, which are appointed by the The Norwegian Environment Agency. The boards have local representation, and have management responsibility for one or a few wild reindeer areas.

Habitat conservation

The Norwegian Government has decided that regional plans are to be drawn up for mountain areas that are particularly important for wild reindeer. After the idea was launched in a white paper in 2005, a programme was set up to prepare regional plans for 10 reindeer management areas by 2012. Each plan is being drawn up by the counties and municipalities involved. (The 10 areas are Snøhetta, Knutshø, Rondane, Sølnkletten, Forollhogna, Ottadalsområdet, Hardangervidda, Nordfjella, Setesdals Austhei and Setesdal-Ryfylke). The aim is for each plan to find a good balance between the needs of wild reindeer and the interests of other user groups.

How can we reduce disturbance  to wild reindeer?

There are many different ways of reducing disturbance to wild reindeer from human activities, for example:

  • closing mountain lodges at times of year when reindeer are particularly vulnerable
  • planning where cabins, paths and ski tracks are sited and where tour operators should arrange their activities on the basis of what is known about the migration routes of wild reindeer and areas where they are particularly sensitive to disturbance
  • providing the public with information on how to avoid disturbance to reindeer
  • introducing a certification system for nature-based tourism companies
  • making more active use of land-use planning to channel walkers and skiers to areas where they will not disturb wild reindeer
  • forbidding parking and stopping on sections of road that are natural starting points for trips into vulnerable wild reindeer habitat.