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Cultural-historical heritage Norway

Indigenous communities are facing major economic and cultural impacts. Many Indigenous Peoples depend on hunting polar bear, walrus, seals, and caribou, herding reindeer, fishing and gathering, not only for food and to support the local economy, but also as the basis for cultural and social identity (1). For Norway especially reindeer husbandry is an important part of the historical-cultural heritage.

Reindeer husbandry

In Norway, reindeer are herded over an area of approximately 140,000 km2 (about 40% of the country). In 2005, about 2400 persons owned herds, constituting about 230,000 reindeer (2). The ‘Norwegian Reindeer Herding Act’ provides the Saami exclusive right to practice reindeer husbandry (3).

It is clearly shown that local and global climate affect reindeer directly (e.g. increased energetic costs of moving through deep snow and in accessing forage through snow) and indirectly (e.g. effect on forage plant biomass and quality, level of insect harassment and associated parasitism). It is, however, difficult to predict a general pattern of how future climate change will influence reindeer husbandry (an important economic and cultural activity for the Saami People) in Norway. This is because of several reasons (3):

  • patterns in life history traits and population parameters of reindeer vary over space and time;
  • both temperature and precipitation will increase in Norway, with greater changes in the North, i.e. the areas with reindeer husbandry, but the rate of increase will vary with space and seasons;
  • there are several indirect effects of global warming that can complicate the ecological response, especially involving the response of vegetation (e.g. forage on which reindeer depend);
  • spatial variation, seasonality, complexity of the ecosystem functioning and nonlinearity of ecological processes make any firm prediction uncertain.

The level of income for reindeer herders (from reindeer husbandry) is generally low in Norway; hence the industry is vulnerable to extrinsic factors such as climate change. The main source of income is commercial meat production. The industry also serves as a cultural basis and producer of raw materials for Saami handicraft. The reindeer industry therefore has a profound importance for the cultural identity of the Saami people (4).

The increase in precipitation is projected to be significant in all regions of Norway except the southeast. Significant increase in autumn precipitation is projected along the western coast of Norway, while a significant increase in winter precipitation is projected in southern parts of the country (5). A reduction in winter snow-cover in the lowlands all over Norway, and an increase in the high mountains are projected, at least up to 2050 (6).

In warm winters, precipitation may fall at the coast in the form of rain rather than snow, and such reduction in snow cover will increase the winter forage accessibility and will probably favor the winter coastal-adapted reindeer husbandry along the coast south of Finnmark. On the other hand, the projected increase in snowfall in higher elevated and mountainous areas may be harmful for those reindeer spending winters there, as access to lichen, their major winter forage, will be reduced.

Climate change will also lead to an increase in freezing rain and freeze-thaw cycles (1). These cycles will increase the frequency of icing at higher elevations and reduce the winter forage accessibility, thereby amplifying the negative effect of increased snow accumulation, and could reduce the winter carrying capacity, both in Finnmark and the southern reindeer herding areas.

Overall, reindeer husbandry in Finnmark, where production per head in most of the area is generally low and highly fluctuating (2), may benefit from the ongoing warming trend through an improved summer and autumn condition. Moreover, mushrooms are an important food source for reindeer during autumn (7) and may increase in abundance due to improved conditions for growth in wet late summers.

The predicted increase in growing season could also promote the expansion of agriculture in northern Fennoscandia. The ultimate limiting factor for the reindeer industry is access to grazing lands. Historically, agricultural settlements played a major role in displacing reindeer herders from their land (8). Additional changes in patterns of land use due to global warming include forestry, agricultural and industrial development, and expansion of tourism development. These all impose potential constraints on reindeer.

Reindeer lichens have decreased (9). This could lead to a reduction in the quality of winter pastures for reindeer, and thus negatively affect reindeer husbandry. However, reindeer have evolved in highly seasonal, stochastic, and limiting natural environments, with low productivity. Therefore, reindeer may certainly overcome some of the stress caused by a shift to a more productive environment, unless out-competed by some of the more southerly forest dwelling species such as moose Alces alces, red deer Cervus elaphus or roe deer Capreolus capreolus that have already expanded north during the last decades (10).

There may be some compensation for adverse effects in one season by beneficial effects in other seasons, so that the average effect on an annual basis is not necessarily harmful.

Although reindeer are easy to herd and habituate quickly to new environments, climate change may constrain the original nomadic migration pattern and trigger new and local adaptations, including revision of district range boundaries.

Effects of changes in season lengths

For reindeer husbandry, changes in the lengths of the thermal seasons likewise have both beneficial and adverse impacts (12). Due to the shortening of thermal winters, extremely deep snow cover in winter and a late snowmelt in spring, both being detrimental to reindeer well-being, become less frequent. Conversely, in mild winters freeze and thaw tend to alternate, forming ice layers within the snow pack and on the ground. Hard ice layers hamper digging of forage below the snow. Moreover, reindeer is adapted to sub-arctic climate conditions and therefore suffers from the increasingly numerous heat waves during the longer thermal summers. In particular, the occurrence of successive warm summers exposes reindeers to parasite epidemics (13). 

Wild mountain reindeer in Hardangervidda National Park

Europe’s largest population of wild mountain reindeer is in Hardangervidda National Park, Norway. The Hardangervidda plateau is situated in the south-western Scandes halfway between Oslo and Bergen in Norway. In the past four decades, the reindeer population has fluctuated between 26,000 and 6,000 individuals, followed by a marked decline down to 4,296 reindeer in 2003 (11).

Climatic changes might amplify existing trends in recreation activities, resulting in more disturbance and further deterioration of wild mountain reindeer summer and winter habitats. The summer season is expected to extend and temperatures to increase. In consequence, the use of existing infrastructure (e.g. hiking trails and mountain lodges) and related disturbance levels will intensify. This trend might also result in new infrastructure developments that affect migration routes and lead to further isolation of summer habitats. In winter, Hardangervidda will turn into a more reliable area for winter sports than lower-lying regions which might bring more tourists to Hardangervidda (11).

Wild mountain reindeer conservation should be focused on already occurring and intensifying problems like hunting, infrastructure development, and recreation. Measures to minimize risk factors should include an educative programme on the code of conduct for hunters, tourists, and tourism enterprises to minimize disturbance. Contingency plans and emergency services need to be provided to alleviate existing pressures like habitat fragmentation. Emergency actions should include a strict protection of sensitive habitats (e.g. breeding grounds) and migration routes. This could also include the spatial and temporal exclusion of visitors. To remediate damages and infrastructure in sensitive habitats and at important migration, routes should be deconstructed or displaced (11).


The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Norway.

  1. ACIA (2004)
  2. Reindriftsforvaltningen (2005), in: Weladji and Holand (2006)
  3. Weladji and Holand (2006)
  4. Paine (1994), in: Weladji and Holand (2006)
  5. Hanssen-Bauer et al. (2003), in: Weladji and Holand (2006)
  6. Roald et al. (2002), in: Weladji and Holand (2006)
  7. Staaland and Nieminen (1993), in: Weladji and Holand (2006)
  8. Fjellheim (1999), in: Weladji and Holand (2006)
  9. Tømmerik et al. (2004), in: Weladji and Holand (2006)
  10. Mysterud (2000), in: Weladji and Holand (2006)
  11. Rannow, S. (2013)
  12. Turunen et al. (2016), in: Ruosteenoja et al. (2020)
  13. Laaksonen et al. (2010), in: Ruosteenoja et al. (2020)

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