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Reindeer herding and petroleum development on Poluostrov Yamal: Sustainable development or mutually incompatiable uses
by Bruce Forbes
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Viable wildlife populations
  The relative biodiversity of Yamal on a global scale is insignificant, but does include some rare and ecologically vulnerable species. About 10 species of birds and small mammals (and seven species of vascular plants) are included in the Red Book (Chernov 1997), and it seems that none are listed due to being understudied. Substantial populations of terrestrial wildlife still exist (Dobrinskii 1997), although some fur-bearing species are subject to hunting and trapping, both licit and illicit. Pelt output can allow a very rough measure of population dynamics and harvest statistics from 1962 to 1988 are provided by Vilchek (1992) for wild (not farmed) arctic fox, fox, ermine, wolf, squirrel, otter, wolverine, sable, muskrat and hare. Data for brown bear and moose (both very rare on the tundra), and reindeer are available for the period 1975-84. Polar bear and walrus may come ashore in places in late summer but are protected (Chernov 1997). Three types of ptarmigan or grouse (Lagopus spp.) occur, along with wild ducks and geese, and these are hunted for sport and game by non-Native and Native populations, respectively. Raptors comprise a variety of owls, eagles, hawks, all of which are common in the tundra zone except the peregrine falcon (Chernov 1997). In the years following microtine peaks, when raptors peak, Nenets typically kill a great many eagles in an attempt to control predation on reindeer calves (M.N. Okotetto, pers. comm.).
  The pelt output trends for some mammals reveal steep declines. For example, the number of arctic fox pelts produced between 1962-64 ranged from 23324 to 32406. In 1988 the number was 4334. Others, such as wolverine, vary greatly - from a high of 148 in 1969 to a low of 7 as recently as 1983 - with no clear pattern (Vilchek 1992). The dangers of using such data to estimate actual wildlife populations are well-known (cf. Usher and Wenzel 1987). Nonetheless, I simply wish to demonstrate that the full suite of indigenous wild animals has survived in the context of reindeer herding for several centuries, despite increasingly intense hunting, trapping, fishing and industrial pressures from non-Nenets in the last several decades.
  Wolves (Canis lupus albus) are distributed everywhere, but population densities are somewhat higher on the so-called 'southern' tundra (central Yamal) compared to the 'northern' tundra (northernmost Yamal) and the forest-tundra. Adult animals are good sized, with males averaging 40 kg and females 36.6 kg. The only consistently larger ones belong to the North American subspecies C. l. occidentalis (Korytin et al. 1995). Hunting from helicopters peaked after WWII (413 animals taken 1948-58), but then eased up and populations had recovered by the 1970's. The total population for the Yamal-Nenets Region was recently estimated to be about 500 wolves, with densities ranging from about 0.7 individuals per 1000 km2in the forest-tundra to 1.5/10002km in the tundra (Korytin et al. 1995). The majority of animals depend on the reindeer for their sustenance and therefore follow the latter's annual migration to a great extent. But for many in the far north and along the coast ptarmigan are also important in their diet. Average pack size is 6.5-7.5 animals with dens not closer than 15 km to each other.
  Although wolverines also range all over Yamal Peninsula, population densities are much lower than wolves, as is the case elsewhere in the circumpolar North. They are slightly more numerous in the southern tundra and forest-tundra. The density for the region is estimated to be only 0.05 individuals per 1000 km²(Korytin et al. 1995). They sometimes prey on reindeer, taking only weakened/sick adults or calves, but are so rare that Nenets do not consider them a threat to the herds. More common is for them to feed on carcasses left by wolves, though they also prey on smaller mammals and birds and consume hoards of berries in season. When they are hunted or trapped, it is usually by non-Nenets seeking their extremely valuable pelts.
  The arctic fox is considered to be particularly at risk. In the early phases of intensive gas field development, 13% of dens were substantially or totally destroyed during the construction of roads, facilities, and quarries, in addition to uncontrolled off-road traffic by tracked vehicles. Since then the pace of development has increased substantially, as has poaching by crew workers, and there is concern for the long-term viability of the central Yamal population (Dobrinskii and Sosin 1995). In addition to wild mammals, each year many Nenets-owned reindeer and tons of fish are taken illegally by non-Natives (Forbes pers. obs.; Golovnev and Osherenko 1999; L. Okotetto, pers. comm., Panaevsk Sovkhoz, Yamal Peninsula, March 1999).
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Reindeer herding and petroleum development on Poluostrov Yamal: Sustainable development or mutually incompatiable uses, by Bruce Forbes.
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