Traditional Ecological Knowledge of Reindeer Pasturage, by Berit Inga

October 31, 2008 • Philip BurgessBlog


This is a poster presentation by Berit Inga from the Arctic Ungulates Conference, in Sakha Yakutia in August, 2007 and is reproduced here with her kind permission. Berit Inga is employed at the Department of Wildlife, Fish and Environmental Studies at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Umeå and at Àjtte, the Swedish Mountain and Sámi Museum, Jokkmokk Sweden and she can be contacted at berit.inga(at)

This will be published as a full article in a forthcoming edition of  RANGIFER 27 (2), 2007, Nordisk organ for reindriftsforskning (NOR), the publication of the Nordic Council for Reindeer Husbandry Research.


My hypothesis is that the reindeer herding Sámi have benefit from knowledge about which plants the reindeers graze upon, and also in view of the seasons. In order to communicate this knowledge, the reindeer herders have to name the plants.

berit inga-map


22 reindeer herders, born before 1950, from four reindeer herding districts (Gabna, Leavas, Girjas and Udtja), were asked to identify various plants and to describe what plants and lichen the reindeers prefer, and during which season they are grazed. In the interviews, the reindeer herders were shown photographs of plants, as well as samples of lichen. The herders were also asked to rate seven boxes with samples of reindeer winter pasturage.


Out of 41 vascular plants, dwarf shrubs and trees the reindeer herders identified 21 species and five plant groups. Most of the reindeer herders identified species of plants that they also eat themselves, such as Norwegian Angelica, Agelica archangelica archangelica. Other plants that were well known within this group are Water Horsetail, Equisetum fluviatil, and a group of species of grass that the herders collectively call “sitnu”. The latter preserve their green colour under the snow and are thus good for grazing in the winter.






The Sámi names for lichen follow a nomenclature that identify the species as fructicose on the ground, foliose or crustose on rocks or bark, or pendent in trees. All species of mushrooms are simply called “guoppar”, in Sámi language. When the reindeer herders were asked to rate the seven boxes, they did not mainly concern with the amount of lichen in the box. Instead they rather talked about how much snow they expected to cover the area. Boxes with thick lichen were consistently regarded as good pasturage.

Berit Inga research table

The knowledge about winter pasturage plants is more detailed than the knowledge about summer pasturage plants. The reason is most likely that the reindeer herders have more frequent contact with the animals during the winter, when the herd is gathered and moved between grazing areas. The reindeers are left to roam freely during most of the summer, and gathered only a few times into fences for marking the calves. The conclusion of this study is that the conditions of the snow is probably the most important factor when the reindeer herders choose and decide where to let the reindeer herd graze during the winter.

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