A Swedish Sámi herders association is at loggerheads with the state-owned forestry firm

Protests have temporarily halted a planned clear cut.

By Kevin McGwin - August 20, 2021
A police offer watches on as logging equipment is transported away from a clearcut site following protests by reindeer herders and conservationists. (Kajsa Falk / Greenpeace)

Representatives of Sweden’s Sámi reindeer herders are calling for changes to the way the country’s state-owned forestry company Sveaskog does business, amid a two-week standoff that ended with a decision on Thursday to temporarily halt the planned clear cut of an 85-hectare section of forest that herders say is being carried out without their approval.

According to the Sámi reindeer herder organizationSámiid Riikkasearv, Sveaskog and national authorities do not live up to their obligation of taking Sámi land use into account when conducting logging.

“Given the impact forestry has on reindeer herding, any forestry activities that haven’t been approved by Sami herding associations should postponed until changes have been made,” said Matti Blind Berg, Sámiid Riikkasearv’s chair.

The decision to halt logging activities due to be carried out on land used by the Muonio reindeer herding association was made “for safety reasons,” according to Sveaskog, whose activities there had been idled since August 9, when herders and members of the environmental activist group Greenpeace set up camp in the area.

[Sweden moves to update Sámi reindeer laws in the wake of a landmark land-rights decision]

Herding-association land accounts for 95 percent of the forest under national management. While firms looking to use land used by most of Sweden’s 51 herding associations must consult with herders about planned land use, this is not the case for a handful of associations, including Muonio, known as koncessionsameby, that do not limit membership to Sámi. Unlike Sámi herders, members of these associations are permitted to use forest land for grazing by regional authorities.

The conflict escalated this past November, when the representatives of 29 herding associations complained that, despite their historic claims, they had no say in what happened to the land they were using.

“Instead of it being farmed, this leads to it being consumed,” the representatives wrote in an open letter published by the news outlet Aftonbladet.

[UN criticizes Sweden for failing to consult Sámi on mining permit]

According to herders, Sveaskog currently has plans to log about 100 plots in the Muonio area, and that many of these are important natural sources of the lichen that reindeer feed on.

“The plots they are foresting now still clearly show the signs of past clear-cutting,” Hans Holma, the chair of the Muonio herders association said. “There is no room for more clear-cutting here. The reindeer need lichen-rich forests to survive, and we stand by our demand that formal consultation with co-planning must be resumed.”

Sveaskog, for its part, said it continues to consult with all herding associations, and accused Greenpeace of “spreading false information” about its Muonio activities.

“Sveaskog and the Muonio herding association had a meeting on June 21 and a further meeting was planned for the end of August.”