Resources from the edge

Using the land

For thousands of years the people who live in the Arctic have lived off the land in a form of subsistence husbandry. There is little opportunity for growing crops in the Arctic so people live on the animals they can domesticate or those they hunt. They use these resources to their utmost.

This type of animal husbandry is practiced by 100,000 people across nine nation states. This allows people to utilize the fragile northern and mountain ecosystems in the most sustainable manner possible. Reindeer husbandry can be divided into two types.

  • Tundra husbandry refers to the longer type migration practiced during the summer to the coast to avoid the attentions of biting insects. Meat production is the main aim of this practice. Indigenous peoples currently involved in this type of husbandry include the Sami, Nenets, Komi, Eveny, Chukchi and Koryak.  
  • The taiga on the other hand is more geographically restricted in its migrations with the animals being primarily used for transportation and milk production.

Both methods nowadays utilize the reindeer for meat, handicrafts, skins and herbal medicine.

The reindeer herders


Describe the distribution of reindeer herding in the Arctic. In which areas is it most important economically?

Click on the mobile controls and listen to Alan, an Inuit, talking about culture and sustainability.

In our culture you take what you need and you leave the rest and you only take what you need. Why? Number one is that if you over harvest, you are going to start to have less of everything in the future and you have less and less as we keep growing. The settlements are growing at a fast rate. Pretty soon we will have lower numbers in every species. We may even eradicate some species. But if we continue to look after and to protect it and respect it we'll have it for ever. 

Alan, an Inuit

In European Arctic lands reindeer herders have been working for hundreds of years. In the summer months the animals move south from the treeless tundra plains where they live on the sedges and flowering tundra to the taiga forest where they might winter, although they prefer the tundra.

Caribou hunter
Sami reindeer herder, Kautokeino in Norway
Raymond Molony

Herders and hunters follow this migration and with the changing distribution of plants and developments of other economic exploitations such as mining and forestry the way of life of the animals and the people is changing for ever.

Helicopter used for reindeer herding
Raymond Molony

This has been a particular problem in Russia in the Province of Yakutia where the reindeer migrations have been affected by climate change and oil and gas development. A government programme has been developed for the protection and management of reindeer herds.

Caribou crossing a river near Anadyr
Jennifer Murray

The problems occurs in other areas such as Sweden.

We are at a crisis point in Sami areas whereby the last unexploited Sami areas are being claimed by a mining and wind-power boom 

Malin Brännström, lawyer for the Swedish Saami Association

Can you draw up a programme to help the Sami reindeer herders?

This presentation helps you to discover more about reindeer herding in the Russian Arctic.

Useful links

WWF: The impact of climate change on the Russian Arctic, and paths to solving the problem (pdf)


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