Reintroducing a large animal species to its native habitat influences local residents in several ways. The “new” species can cause economic damages, or it can be feared to cause them. On the other hand, positive expectations are also possible through e.g. nature tourism. It is in no way unimportant how a reintroduced species is viewed – positive expectations of local residents can help support a successful reintroduction, while opposition may at worst ruin the entire project.
Natural Resources Institute Finland (and former Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute) carried out several social impact assessments in the potential reintroduction areas. They were used as a base for the WildForestReindeerLIFE project. Workshops were set up for local practitioners in spring 2013 at Isojoki, Ilomantsi, and Pyhäntä. Isojoki (Lauhanvuori National Park) was later chosen as a reintroduction area. Another social impact assessment was carried out in 2016 in the proximity of Seitseminen National Park.
The assessments show that returning wild forest reindeer is mainly considered a positive action. Workshop participants are looking forward to e.g. encountering wild forest reindeer. They also see the reintroductions as a valuable asset to the tourism industry. Concerns raised included the population development of large carnivores along with potential traffic and agricultural damages caused by the wild forest reindeer.
Social impact assessment conducted Isojoki, Ilomantsi, and Pyhäntä: Hiedanpää, J. & Pellikka, J. 2013: Metsäpeuran palautusistutuksen sosiaalisten vaikutusten ja niiden merkittävyyden arviointi. - Suomen Riista 59: 64-85. In Finnish with English summary and tables.
Systematic poaching does apparently not target wild forest reindeer in Finland, although individual cases have been recorded. Other direct human-induced disturbances may be caused e.g. by unauthorized snowmobiling. The extent and significance of this disturbance is not known. Information concerning wild forest reindeer poaching and any apparent cases of disturbance will be compiled together during the WildForestReindeerLIFE project.
Traffic is the second most important mortality factor of wild forest reindeer after predation by large carnivores. Adult wild forest reindeer, i.e. fertile individuals important to the population, are particularly vulnerable to being hit by vehicles. Tens of wild forest reindeer collisions occur annually, but the exact number is unknown due to the way in which statistics on deer collisions are compiled. The WildForestReindeerLIFE project aims to form an accurate picture of how wild forest reindeer collision numbers are developing and where the worst collision sites are. This information will be used for planning the prevention of accidents.
Wild forest reindeer population development has mainly been estimated through springtime aerial counts. However, aerial counts are expensive and their success depends on conditions during the counting, e.g. the snow situation.
Wild forest reindeer population size and structure have also been followed in both Kainuu and Suomenselkä by observing autumnal rutting herds. Counts have been conducted in Kainuu since 1996, and in Suomenselkä from 2007 to 2013.
The WildForestReindeerLIFE project will increase the practicability of the autumn counting method, and will begin implementing it at the reintroduction sites. The aim is to create a counting method that, when combined with the aerial counts, provides as accurate a picture as possible of both wild forest reindeer population development and structure. Combining various counting methods will provide information e.g. on how wild forest reindeer mortality varies with the seasons.
The Finnish Wildlife Agency is in charge of developing the wild forest reindeer assessment method.
Wild forest reindeer
Latin name: Rangifer tarandus fennicus, a wild "cousin" of the reindeer
Range and numbers:
In Finland, 750 individuals in Kainuu and 1,450-1,500 in Suomenselkä
In Russian Karelia up to 2,400, with an estimated 1,500 in Arkhangelsk and 2,500 in Kom (the question of the taxonomic status of wild reindeer of Arkhangelsk province and Komi Republic is open and requires special research). See range map.
Conservation status in Finland: Near Threatened (NT)