Future prospects for the tundra and its native peoples

The future looks uncertain for large-scale reindeer herding as developed over the last 200-300 years, and particularly so for the very large herds that were developed as a consequence of the collectivization that was enforced in Eurasia by Soviet Russia. During the 1960s the collectivization of herding brought the number of reindeer on the Chukotka Peninsula to over 100000, exceeding the capacity of the winter range (Krupnik, 1993). Consequently, the essential lichens were seriously overgrazed and have not fully recovered.

Another present threat to the tundra, particularly to lichens on which reindeer depend, comes from atmospheric pollution generated locally and in distant regions. Future threats may arise due to climate change. The forests that have retreated southwards from the arctic shores over the last 6000 years (see Fig. 5.4) may return with climatic warming to narrow the coastal belt where reindeer grazing developed during the Little Ice Age. Where the forests do not return it is probable that the terrain will be occupied by extensive bogs (see Chapter 5) due to the process of paludification favoured by the onset of mild, wet winters. The recent increases in oceanicity and nitrogen input from air-borne pollutants will also promote the growth of bogs.

Human presence in the Arctic will undoubtedly continue, but it will be the mineral, gas, and oil resources that will dominate the economy. These activities may put the tundra at risk from the disturbance that is caused by the movement of equipment and installation of roads and pipelines, as well as the hazards of pollution (Crawford, 1997b).

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