Lack of Snow Stalls Reindeer Migration in Sweden

The northernmost town in Sweden, called Kiruna, houses the reindeer herders this time of year. The Sami people are an indigenous tribe that has herded these animals for generations and followed them during the reindeer migration. The Sami have been north too long though. Generally, the snows come in November and the reindeer start heading south again. So far, there still is not enough snow to push the reindeer out and the people are concerned. A resident of Kiruna states, “I can’t ask my father what to do now because he hasn’t seen this; it hasn’t happened during his lifetime.”

Reindeer Migration Tradition

As stated previously, the Sami are an indigenous tribe in Sweden that makes a living off herding reindeer. They have their own language and culture, part of which follows the old hunting and gathering traditions of ancient peoples. They live off the land and do not exploit it, which is quite different compared to many other cultures on the Earth today. They are not alone though. Several people carry out reindeer husbandry around the world, including in Norway, Sweden, and China. They follow the reindeer migration and cultivate the population. 

For the Sami, they gather the reindeer in September and kill some for meat. This is their main source of income. After this, they let the animals graze until the snow comes and they start their winter reindeer migration. The herders follow the animals on snowmobiles and stay in cabins along the route of the migration. Even the children of these families get to leave school to take part in the process. For the Sami, everything is tied to the reindeer and the reindeer migration.

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Lack of Snow

Kiruna is almost 100 miles into the arctic circle, but they are experiencing a lack of snow. Because of this, the reindeer migration has not started yet. Snow is crucial for reindeer husbandry, so the people are worried. Herders use the snow to track the herd as well as predators, and the snow provides their means of travel. Some research claims that the effects of climate change are worse at the poles. The average temperatures rise faster, which results in a rapid loss of ice.

The lack of snow may also affect the vegetation in the area. It would be easy to see a lack of snow as a good thing because it will provide more food to the animals. On the other hand, the lack of snow may cause the reindeer to trample plants and even overgraze. This change also encourages animals to take new migration routes, which would disrupt the entire reindeer migration route the Sami follow. The Sami are trying to adapt, but are afraid that the new route may not provide enough food. Though the reindeer are already semi-domesticated, if the Sami start feeding them, it could change the herd’s behaviors.

The Sami Take Action

Scientists are calling the region fragile because of the lack of snow and ice formation. On top of this, the reindeer population is decreasing. There are still over 2.8 million mature reindeer in the world, but the IUCN has had them listed as a vulnerable species since 2015. To protect their way of life, the Swedish Sami Association has teamed up with 10 families across Europe and Africa to start a lawsuit against the European Union. 

Their reasoning is that the European Union has failed to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are responsible for climate change. They state the challenges the reindeer have faced in the reindeer migration, which has affected their ability to find food. In turn, this damages the Sami’s very livelihood. Older herders worry about the young ones that will follow in their footsteps because they cannot imagine their lives without reindeer.

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Lacey Jolley

I love exploring, experiencing new places, and eating good food! I'm amazed every day at how well the Earth provides for us, and I want to return the favor. I hope to help others learn how we can make our world a better, cleaner place.

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