Arctic indigenous leaders, scientists to study reindeer and caribou systems

February 05, 1999

Indigenous leaders, reindeer herders, caribou hunters, scientists and policy makers from ten countries will gather next week (February 10 - 14) in Rovaniemi, Finland to discuss the role of humans in managing and protecting reindeer and caribou, the most important land-based species for people living in the Arctic. The Arctic Centre of the University of Lapland together with the Institute of Arctic Studies at Dartmouth College is hosting this meeting in order to develop an international science plan that will guide research for the next decade. The conference, "The Human Role in Reindeer/Caribou Systems: Coping with Threats to Environmental Security in Northern Landscapes," will explore the impact of human activity on arctic caribou and reindeer communities.

Arctic residents face dramatic changes to the biological resources vitally important to their physical and cultural survival. The workshop will be the world's first gathering of natural and social scientists and indigenous peoples to address changes in arctic caribou and reindeer systems. The goal is to develop and widely disseminate a comprehensive plan for scientific research that promotes the physical and cultural well being of Arctic residents and reduces conflicts over resource use and the timing and scope of extractive development. The International Arctic Science Committee (IASC), representing national science organizations in 17 countries, has adopted this project as a priority on the IASC science agenda.

Caribou and reindeer (scientifically known as Rangifer tarandus) play a crucial role in human habitation of the Arctic by providing food, shelter and transportation. The animals are central to the cultures of many indigenous peoples, including the Chukchi, Cree, Dene, Even, Evenki, Gwi'chin, Innu, Inuit, Metis, Nenets, Saami, Sakha (Yakut), Yukagir and Yupiit.

Changes in caribou and reindeer systems that may have an adverse impact on these and other arctic residents include reductions in grazing land and resources as a result of large-scale development by mining and hydrocarbon industries, habitat alteration due to global warming and pollution, and shifts from subsistence hunting and herding to more intensive commercial herding.

Fundamental changes in economic, political, and legal structures also affect indigenous peoples and their use of natural resources. The effects of these changes on caribou and reindeer systems and their relationship to indigenous peoples are potentially extreme, but have received little scientific study. Conflicts between a traditional reindeer economy and an expanding globally oriented industrial system are particularly pronounced in the Russian North.

Around the circumpolar Arctic, scientists are currently investigating ecosystem relationships of caribou and reindeer and the human connections to arctic grazing systems, including their cultural, social and economic importance. They are expanding knowledge of the effectiveness of different management systems and the impact of political and legal issues on land use. These initiatives, while valuable, are specific to particular areas and communities.

Scientists often conduct such research in the absence of meaningful consultation with user groups. Thus, there is a critical need for a broad initiative that is comprehensive in scope, covers the entire arctic region and represents all relevant resident and scientific communities. This workshop will therefore draw on a pool of knowledge from caribou and reindeer users, in addition to past and ongoing studies by the science community.

Unlike previous meetings, this workshop will be an open forum in which debate and consensus is encouraged during the formulation of a strategy for future scientific research. Representatives of the press are invited to attend and observe the workshop according to the enclosed schedule. There is a workshop website which includes relevant information, including speaker abstracts and profiles, up-to-date scheduling changes, etc. at:
For addition information in Finland, contact:
Bruce Forbes, Senior Scientist
Arctic Centre, University of Lapland
PO Box 122, SF-96101 Rovaniemi, Finland
Tel 358-16-3412-710; Fax 358-16-3412-777

For additional information in the US, contact
Gail Osherenko, Senior Fellow
Institute of Arctic Studies
Dartmouth College
Hanover, NH 03755 USA
Tel 603-646-1396 / Fax 603-646-1279

Dartmouth College

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