The largest single factor affecting wild forest reindeer populations is the large-scale landscape change brought about by humans over the centuries. Marshes have been drained, forests have been cut down several times, thousands of kilometres of power lines have been built, and the road network has extended even into the wilderness.
There simply are no longer sufficiently large untouched wilderness areas for wild forest reindeer in existing reindeer habitats.
Before the advent of highly efficient forestry, the best moose pastures were created naturally by forest fires. Moose and the wolves that preyed on them focused on those areas. In a natural forest landscape, wild forest reindeer lived in old-growth forests and on undrained swamps, where there were low concentrations of moose and wolves.
Today, young forests favourable for moose are everywhere in managed forests, while protected old-growth forests cover only a fraction of the forest area in the range of the wild forest reindeer.
An increased moose population can, in turn, maintain a strong wolf population. The wild forest reindeer does not reproduce as effectively as the moose, which often produces two calves. Thus, the impact of large predators in the current landscape has a greater impact on wild forest reindeer than on the moose population.
Drainage has also changed the swamps in ways unfavourable for wild forest reindeer. Ditches and ditch side thickets provide visual cover for predators. In Canada, natural bogs have been shown to improve survival of reindeer calves.
An extensive road network and other infrastructure fragments the habitats of wild forest reindeer.
The wild forest reindeer is therefore left to adapt to the modern landscape. This slow-breeding species has shown some ingenuity. Adequate food is usually available, but what about other aspects of a suitable habitat? Are suitable calving environments already packed?
Actions by man and large beasts are the most important factors that have an effect on the number of the wild forest reindeer and the spreading of the stock.
The development of forestry leads to the logging of forests ready to be harvested, which for its part has a negative effect on the state of areas covered by lichen which are vital for the wild forest reindeer. For that reason, the preservation of existing old forests, for example, by establishing protected areas in them, is very important in regard to the protection of the wild forest reindeer.
In recent decades, many new quarries were opened in the Republic of Karelia. Because of their small size, the quarries themselves have no significant impact on the animals, but building the needed infrastructure around a quarry may noticeably change habitats important for wild forest reindeer. This fact must be taken into consideration when establishing quarries.
Photo: Might the fragmentation of its habitats explain why the wild forest reindeer can no longer cope with predators? Image source: RKTL. Natural forest landscape and current forest landscape. Yellow: moose habitat, green: old-growth forests.
Wild forest reindeer
Scientific name: Rangifer tarandus fennicus
Range and numbers:
In Finland, 800 individuals in Kainuu, 2000 individuals in Suomenselkä and about 20 individuals in Seitseminen and Lauhanvuori National Parks (reintroduced populations).
In Russian Karelia up to 2,400. See range map.
Conservation status in Finland (2019): Near Threatened (NT)