Reaction of Reindeer to Obstructions and Disturbances

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Science  30 Jul 1971:
Vol. 173, Issue 3995, pp. 393-398
DOI: 10.1126/science.173.3995.393


In Scandinavia, highways and railroads have not generally created obstructions to the movement of domesticated reindeer, although thousands of animals are killed each year in accidents. Some disruption in the movements of wild reindeer in Norway has been associated with the construction of a railroad and highway through an alpine plateau south of Trondheim.

Hydroelectric projects have had the greatest detrimental effects on reindeer by flooding rangelands and obstructing migration routes. Special problems are created by the fluctuating water levels in reservoirs and rivers; efforts to mitigate the effects of these fluctuations have been only partially successful. Reindeer have strong traditions for migrating along specific routes, and realignment of these routes is extremely difficult.

Conflicts of interest exist between reindeer herders and foresters. During their winter feeding, the deer damage young trees. The cutting of forests usually results in a deterioration of the area as a rangeland for reindeer. Herbicides used in forestry have been implicated in the death of some reindeer in Sweden, and research is now under way to determine the effects of herbicides on reindeer.

The increased use of fences in reindeer husbandry in Scandinavia has emphasized the fact that reindeer behavior and characteristics of the terrain must be considered if fences are to be successful in directing or controlling the movements of reindeer. Herders now use snowmobiles instead of reindeer for transportation and herding, but the machines disturb the reindeer and must be used with discretion.

Recent evidence indicates that large amounts of industrial waste in the atmosphere are carried from the British Isles and central Europe to Scandinavia, where they fall out in rain and snow. This has raised concern about the influence of the wastes on lichens, the main winter food supply of reindeer. Studies are now under way in Finland, Sweden, and Norway, through the International Biological Program, to determine the growth rates of the several lichen species that are important to reindeer.