A surge in wind power development and associated road and powerline infrastructure is currently taking place worldwide. In Sweden and Fennoscandia, plans of large-scale wind power mill farms counting several hunderd windmills and their associated infrastructure of roads and powerlines are being implemented. In this report we describe how wind farms not only during construction, but also during operational phases impact reindeer and reindeer husbandry.
Reindeer behaviour in relation to wind farms were studied in three different study areas in Västerbotten County in northern Sweden. In the Malå reindeer herding community the effects of Storliden and Jokkmokkliden wind farms were assessed during the calving and summer grazing period. In Vilhelmina Norra reindeer herding community, use of the winter grazing range around Stor-Rotliden wind farm was studied.
Finally, the use of the Lögdeålandets winter grazing range by reindeer from the Byrkije reindeer herding community from Norway was assessed in relation to the Gabrielbergets wind farm. Reindeer habitat use was assessed through reindeer fecal pellet-group counts and by the use of GPS-collars. Data were before and during the construction phase and during the operational phase. We estimated reindeer habitat selection by developing resource selection function (RSF) models for each area in relation to the wind farm areas before, during and after construction. In addition, reindeer use was assessed around Gabrielsberget when 1) the wind farm was turned off for 40 days; 2) during operation when the reindeer were supplementary fed, and 3) during operation without supplementary feeding. Finally, the perception, experiences and views of reindeer herders were assessed through qualitative interviews.
Our results showed that the reindeer in both calving and winter grazing areas were negatively affected by the wind farm developments. The reindeer avoided grazing in areas where they could see and/or hear the wind turbines and preferred to use areas where the wind turbines were topographically sheltered. In Malå, the reindeer increased the use by 60% of areas topographically sheltered away from the operating wind farms compared to before construction. In winter at Gabrielsberget wind farm, with no supplementary feeding, reindeer largely avoided a 3 km zone.
When the reindeer were fed inside the wind farm and intensively perimeter herded to stay close to the wind farm, the reindeer still increased their use of areas locally where the wind turbines were sheltered by the topography with 13 %, compared to when they were not fed nor intensively herded. In the calving area in Malå, the use decreased with 16-20 % within 5 km from the wind farm. Moreover, the reindeer significantly increased their movement rate by 18 % within 4 km from the wind farm area during operation phase, compared to before the wind farms were developed.
Reindeer actively avoid or reduce use of areas within 3 km from wind power farms both during construction and operational phases. Reindeer are more active or vigilant when close to wind power farms. Finally, reindeer tend to – but at more modest extent – to select more sheltered areas close to windmills if forced through supplementary feeding and herding.
During winter, wind farms situated in upland terrain may reduce the availability and access to reindeer of important higher-altitude winter grazing areas. This may have particular adverse effects and reduce the resilience of reindeer husbandry against extreme weather such as icing by restraining range accessibility. As extreme weather events are expected to be more frequent with climate change, also the ability of reindeer husbandry to adapt becomes reduced with continuing piecemeal infrastructure development.
The results from our projects have shown that wind farm developments have considerable impacts on reindeer and reindeer husbandry both during the calving season and during the winter season. The impacts for reindeer husbandry may be expected to be most severe in the winter grazing areas, where it often is difficult to find alternative grazing areas. A direct effect of a wind farm in the middle of the winter grazing area, such as Gabrielsberget wind farm, may be that the reindeer need to be supplementary fed and intensively herded to keep the reindeer in the area, subsequently increasing the work load on the reindeer herders. It also reduces the ability of herders to mitigate extreme weather by moving reindeer to dwindling alternative grazing sites.
Other infrastructure, such as roads and power lines, also affect the reindeer habitat selection. Prior to wind farm development, reindeer avoided areas in the vicinity of larger (>5 m wide) roads. After the wind farm was developed, the reindeer at Stor-Rotliden stopped avoiding the large roads and instead increased the habitat use closer to the large roads in the only alternative foraging areas. At Gabrielsberget, the reindeer also used areas close to the large roads, including the highway E4, when the reindeer were freely ranging in order to avoid the wind farm. This obviously increases the risk of traffic accidents and herders are subsequently required to intensify herding.
Mitigation measures for herders and developers in areas where wind farms are already established are presented. Especially, established associated road infrastructure to the windmills should be closed for public use to avoid recreational activities, whether by ATVs or snowmobiles, or by hunters. Furthermore, a close contact should be maintained between the power company and the reindeer herding community to prevent road or mill maintenance work during sensitive periods for the reindeer. Other more regional measures to facilitate reindeer movement and migration between different grazing ranges may be to establish fences along major roads and railways (eg. E4 or the main railroad through Sweden) combined with strategically placed ecoducts.