Victory for Greenpeace and reindeer in Lapland

Feature story - August 25, 2009
After seven years of Greenpeace pressure, government-owned logging company Metsähallitus has agreed to leave the tall trees of northern Lapland standing, and with them, the livelihood of the Sámi people.

Reindeer in the Lappi reindeer cooperative

The company, Metsähallitus, and the herders, have signed a logging moratorium for 20 years, protecting some of the last old-growth forests left in Europe and ending a long-standing conflict between the herders and Finland's State forest service. 

The old-growth forests of Northern Lapland are home to the Sámi people and herds of reindeer. The Sámi people are among the largest indigenous groups living in northern Europe and are reindeer herders by tradition.  

As such, they rely on the remaining old-growth forests to provide vital food for their reindeer during the long, cold winter months. For years, the Sámi reindeer herders had been calling on the government to protect important areas of reindeer forests from industrial logging. Yet the Finnish government prioritised other forms of land use. Piece by piece, the reindeer grazing grounds were reduced by the government's own logging company, Metsähallitus, which carries out most of the logging in Lapland.

Logging destroys tree hanging lichen, an important source of winter food for the reindeer, and causes serious fragmentation of pastures. We joined their struggle in 2002 when along with the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation and the reindeer herders, we published maps of the most important reindeer forests in the area of Inari, and asked Metsähallitus to agree to moratoria on all logging in the forests and fair negotiations on their use.

Forest Rescue Station helped local herders 

In 2005, we established an international Forest Rescue Station in the forests of Nellim. From the camp, our volunteers helped the local reindeer herders to mark out their reindeer forests, threatened by logging. In the same year, we also filed a lawsuit with the reindeer herders when Metsähallitus continued logging the forests despite a UN Human Rights Committee recommendation for Finland to cease the logging until the case has been handled by the court. 

The agreement signed this week, gives hope for other old-growth forest areas in Finnish Lapland. Sini Harkki, Greenpeace forest campaigner in Finland, said that 20 years is enough time to find a permanent solution to the conflict between traditional reindeer herding and forestry. “We hope that the negotiated solution will work as a model for Metsähallitus to resolve similar conflicts in other parts of the Sámi Homeland as well.”

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