Norwegian legislature won’t halt order requiring herder to put down 275 reindeer

The decision appears to put an end to a bid by a reindeer herder in Finnmark to challenge a law he says violates his human rights.

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A Sami reindeer herder drives his ATV as he follows a herd of reindeer on the Finnmark Plateau, Norway, in a June file photo. (Stoyan Nenov / Reuters)

Jovsset Ánte Sara is currently the owner of a herd of 350 reindeer. However, it is increasingly likely that, by the end of the year, the 25-year-old will have to put down 275 of them in order to comply with a 2007 Norwegian law aimed at preventing overgrazing in the Finnmark region.

Sara, who inherited what was then a herd of 71 reindeer from his aunt eight years ago, was informed in 2013 that it would need to be reduced to 75, after it had reached a size of 150 head. The reduction was necessary if the number of reindeer in the region was meet the limit set by Oslo. 

Now, in what may be the final act in a six-year political and legal battle, the Storting, the national assembly, on Tuesday rejected a proposal that would have permitted Sara to wait to reduce the size of his herd until the UN Human Rights Committee decides on a complaint he lodged with the Switzerland-based tribunal in March.

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Sara asked the committee to weigh in on the issue after the Norwegian supreme court last December overturned the rulings of two lower courts, which had found that the order to reduce the herd size was a violation of property rights.

Lawmakers who supported the delay argued that if the committee ruled in Sara’s favor, it would likely require changes to the legislation that sets the limits for the number of reindeer in each district.

Herders in each district are permitted to divide the permitted number of reindeer amongst themselves as they see fit. But, in the case of Sara’s district, disagreement amongst Sara and the five other herders meant that a court ultimately had to determine how to split the 3,105 reindeer permitted in the district.

Its 2012 decision assigned four herders each one sixth of the limit, requiring them to slaughter any additional reindeer. Sara and another herder were temporarily permitted to maintain their herd size, however.

Since then, the fifth herder has reduced his herd size to the permitted number. Sara was ordered to do the same, but chose instead to take legal action. Now that the supreme court has spoken, lawmakers rejecting the proposal say it is only fair that he, too, reduce his herd size.

According to calculations by NRK, Norway’s national broadcaster, a herd of 75 reindeer can be expected to generate 32,000 kroner ($3,700) in revenue each year.