One thousand kilometres north of Finland’s capital Helsinki lie some of the largest tracts of reindeer forest left in Lapland. These forests are also the homeland of Northern Europe’s only indigenous people, the Sámi.

Omschrijving: Traditional free-grazing reindeer herding forms the basis of Sámi culture. During the cold Arctic winter months Lapland’s old-growth forests provide a lifeline for grazing reindeer. On the branches and trunks of trees grows the ‘horsetail’ lichen an arboreal hanging lichen that is an essential wintertime food for the reindeer.
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The State claims ownership of up to 90% of the traditional Sámi homeland in Finland. Within the State-owned lands are areas that are, in theory, specially designated under the Reindeer Herding Act (Section 2). While the Act proclaims that these defined areas “shall not be used in a manner that causes considerable damage to the reindeer herding”, in recent decades the state-owned forest company Metsähallitus has destroyed important winter grazing forests that are vital to the reindeer.

The Finnish State often claims that in the Inari municipality of northern Lapland, some 40% of forests have been formally protected and that therefore no new areas warrant protection. What they fail to mention is that these protected areas are concentrated in the least productive land. Almost all of the important winter reindeer grazing forests are excluded from these zones and remain unprotected. In fact, only around 20% of pine forest (the most important grazing land for reindeer) in Upper Lapland is protected, and most of this 20% is in unproductive or high altitude areas.

In 2003 the reindeer herders together with Greenpeace and the Finnish Association of Nature Conservation (FANC) mapped out forest areas essential for winter grazing. Over 90% of the mapped forest areas were found to be old-growth forest.

Using these maps, a coalition representing the majority of forested reindeer herding co-operatives in the Sámi area demanded a moratorium on logging in the identified areas until a decision regarding their future was reached. Sadly, logging did not stop and a number of the areas found to be vital grazing pastures have been destroyed.

In 2004, Metsähallitus claimed it was starting a new initiative and that by the end of the year it would begin updating its Natural Resource Plan (NRP) in Upper Lapland. The aim of this project was once again to harmonise the needs of reindeer herding and forestry. However, by January 2005 the revision of NRP had not yet started. The Inari reindeer herding co-operatives published their preconditions for participation in updating the NRP (see Box 3) and sent them to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. The preconditions include, once again, the demand for a temporary logging moratorium on areas under discussion until decisions regarding their further protection have been made.

Greenpeace, WWF and FANC collectively expressed their support for these preconditions in a letter to the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry on 16 February 2005.

At the end of February 2005, while the reindeer herders and NGOs were waiting for a reply to their letters, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry announced that the new NRP for Upper Lapland had already begun earlier that month. Simultaneously, Metsähallitus had started logging in one of the reindeer herding areas, had opened a road into another and was still logging in the third area. At the time of publishing this report, a response has still not been received from Metsähallitus concerning a moratorium on logging while this process is underway.

We are fast approaching the point of no return. Metsähallitus is logging some of the last tracts of old-growth forest abundant in horsetail lichen outside of protected areas. Approximately seventy percent of the old-growth forests logged by Metsähallitus are sold for pulp and paper production. Forests hundreds of years old, which support a myriad of wildlife and sustain the Sámi culture, are being rapidly converted into magazines, copy paper and envelopes.

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