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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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Impacts of petroleum exploration and reindeer grazing on ecosystems
  Many direct and indirect impacts (e.g., poaching, as described above) occur as a result of petroleum exploration. After more than 25 years of exploration, the tundra ecosystems of northwest Siberia are characterized by many of the same impacts found in arctic Alaska (cf. Reynolds and Tenhunen 1996; Walker 1997). On Yamal, these impacts are documented by Forbes (1995, 1997), Khitun (1997) and Vilchek (1997). Natural disturbances which regularly create large areas of bared mineral soils include thermokarst erosion, lake drainage, and so-called 'shallow-layer detachment slides', when large portions of slopes slump downhill and reveal bare mineral soils (Leibman and Egorov 1996; Pavlov 1997). The region is vast and the amount of overall industrial disturbance seems small when calculated as a percentage of the total land area (Vilchek 1997). Nonetheless, as Nenets are quick to point out, the developers always take the best lands - higher, drier ground - for creating infrastructure (Alexander 1994; Forbes pers. obs.) (Fig. 2). In an area as flat as Yamal, dominated by mires and lakes, this quickly puts additional, unsustainable pressure on the remaining relatively high ground, such as ancient sand dunes, which is exploited by the reindeer for insect relief in summer (Helle and Aspi 1984).
  Reindeer grazing impacts are documented by Podkoritov (1995), Korytin et al. (1995), Martens et al. (1996) andMagomedova et al. (1997). Reindeer greatly affect community structure and productivity via their trampling and grazing. For example, cover of virtually all lichens, especially those fruticose species most preferred by reindeer (Podkoritov 1995), is minimal and ruderal or weedy species are prominent (Forbes 1995). There is evidence that vascular ruderals, which are normally restricted to disturbed habitats, have begun to spread into relatively 'intact' tundra, where the organic layer has been thinned often to the point of rupturing from trampling by the animals (Forbes and Jefferies 1999). The cover of grasses, in particular, is increasing in many areas - so-called 'grassification' - at the expense of dwarf shrubs and lichens (Martens et al. 1996). Grazing is increasingly conducive to the formation and expansion of denuded soil, particularly in zonal dwarf shrub-lichen tundras on sandy substrates, where denudation triggers deflation processes (Martens et al. 1995; Khitun 1997; Vilchek 1997). The cumulative impacts associated with grazing thus include: greatly accelerated deflation of exposed sands; thinning, warming and cratering of the vegetation mat; increased infiltration rates resulting in massive thermokarst and landslides; and altered hydrology and drying of soils in drained areas. It is estimated that 70% of the pastures currently belong to the low quality category (Korytin et al. 1995).
  Reindeer herders of the state farm (or Sovkhoz) "Yarsalinskii", which manages those reindeer herds grazing in the vicinity of the Bovanenkovo Gas Field, have for many years been violating the Sovkhoz's borders by allowing their animals to graze extensively on pastures administered by the more northerly state farm "Yamalskii". Actions such as this are conducive to furthering the conflicts between reindeer herders working for the state farms and those acting as private owners/herders. These violations appear to start a chain reaction, leading to more violations (Okotetto and Forbes 1999). A parallel situation has been reported by Evdokimova (1999) slightly further west on the Bolshezemelskaya tundra, where pastures have been similarly degraded due to competition between Nenets and Komi herders for the same grazing land.
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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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