Svalbard reindeer bag (Rangifer tarandus platyrhynchus)

Semi-closeup of a Svalbard reindeer foraging in summer.
Photo: Stein Ø. Nilsen / Norwegian Polar Institute

The bag of Svalbard reindeer is monitored as part of the effort to ensure that the hunting will not have undesirable effects on the population. The annual bag is restricted to a limited area, quota controlled, based on annual counts, and comprises around 2.5–5 % of the total autumn population in the area. This is within the limits set to ensure that the bag will not alter the population level, and the gender and age composition.

What is being monitored?

Svalbard reindeer hunting

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The bag has increased steadily since hunting was re-opened in 1983. The maximum number (238) was taken in 2009. The number of reindeer shot since then declined for two years, before the number increased again in 2012. This increase has continued and in 2016 the bag was over 200 reindeer. The bag of adults has risen since 2004. The number of calves shot showed a tendency to decline in 2003-2008, but in 2009 as many as 65 calves were shot, 26 % of the total reindeer bag. After this, the bag of calves has been small related to the total bag.

Status and trend

The statistics for how many Svalbard reindeer have been shot in 1983–2016 show a rising trend, especially for adults. In the first 10 years after hunting resumed, the annual bag varied between 110 and 120. The last 20 years have generally seen a bag of 150 to 240.

The largest was in 2009 when 238 were shot. Since then, it has stabilised at around 180-190. In 2016, the bag was 235 in total.

The rise in the calf bag has been less and the annual calf quota is adjusted in keeping with the reproduction figure for the year. As long as the quota allocated remains at the current level and the number of animals shot constitutes a small percentage (2.5–5 %) of the total population in Nordenskiöld Land, the present population level will be maintained. The hunting result is not particularly dependent on the actual availability of reindeer and the size of the population. It is more influenced by the keenness of the hunters to hunt and shoot the reindeer they have been allocated, the weather and snow conditions, and the actual location of the reindeer in the hunting area when hunting takes place. Low calf production affects the calf bag.

Causal factors

The protection has had the desired effect. During the 60 years that passed between the protection and the re-introduction of hunting, a vital and abundant population built up in Svalbard in general and particularly in the 6 parts of Nordenskiöld Land where hunting is currently permitted.

The interest for reindeer hunting is strong in Longyearbyen and has periodically been on the increase.

Until 2008, the open season lasted 3 weeks, from 20 August to 10 September. In 2008, it was extended in both directions, starting on 15 August and ending on 20 September, giving 5 weeks in all. This was done so that the hunting would be less hectic and hunters would have more days and weekends to hunt on in case the weather and travelling conditions made it difficult to get out. The open season now puts no limitation on the opportunity to shoot the single reindeer each hunter have a licence to take.

Consequences

Svalbard reindeer may only be hunted in 6 defined hunting areas in central areas of Spitsbergen during normal hunting. The total bag is based on yearly counts and the population. Since the limitation is 1 animal per qualified hunter, the total quota is, in reality, controlled by the demand.

The legislation clearly states that the bag must not affect the population. An investigation made in 2012 by scientists from the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, the Norwegian Polar Institute, and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, funded by the Svalbard Environmental Protection Fund, concluded that, under the current management practice, the hunting bag had little effect on the stock of Svalbard reindeer.

The adult, reproductive hinds are the most important group in the population. Even with a bag of up to 13% of the population of adult hinds, the stock will not be particularly reduced. The actual bag of adult hinds has varied over the last 10 years between 4% and 10% of the hind stock.

The report also concludes that 400–450 reindeer can probably be shot annually in the whole of Nordenskiöld Land without affecting the stock.

It should be pointed out that hunting does not take place everywhere in Nordenskiöld Land and only part of the total population is affected by it. In relation to the bag estimated to be possible, the current bag (around 180–200) is reassuring as regards the number of reindeer, even though there is a possibility that the bag is too high in parts of the terrain or a few hunting areas.

A project which presented its final report in 2017 looked at the extent to which female reindeers are sedentary or whether they are able to establish new home ranges in the event of changes in environmental conditions. GPS data from tagged females indicated that the current delimitation of hunting areas closely reflects the actual conditions in Sassendalen and Diabas. The female reindeers in these areas were largely sedentary. However, female reindeers in Hollendardalen and Grøndalen made extensive use of common areas. In these cases, population data and culling should be considered collectively. There was also considerable exchange between Colesdalen and Reindalen. However, the findings have not led to any change in the subdivision of the hunting area.

As long as the total bag is at the present level, and the number of animals shot is a small part (2.5–5%)of the population on Nordenskiöld Land, the present population size is not affected. The hunting result is not expected to alter the gender and age composition of the population either. The intention of the Governor of Svalbard, based on guidelines on the management of the fauna in the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act and the Hunting Regulations, is that "the population should be shot through". This is a consequence of the target that the natural composition and development of the population should not be affected. More bucks than hinds are shot some years, but over a number of years a reasonably identical proportion is shot. This is favourable because it avoids a shift in the gender composition.

For the most part, two factors determine the variation in the number of Svalbard reindeer from one year to another:

  1. Density dependence (competition on food resources)
  2. Variations in the climate (e.g. precipitation in winter, especially rain, and summer temperature)

A high density of reindeer gives competition for grazing resources and leads to declines in the production of calves and population growth. Icing in winter limits access to food, requires more consumption of energy to search for food and causes the reindeer to lose weight. For calves and older bucks that are in poor shape after rutting, the end result is often death from starvation when food is scarce in spring.

About the monitoring

Afeature that is common for all hunted species in Svalbard seems to be that the total catch is low compared to the total population. Still, it is important to have the best possible statistics on hunted species.

The Svalbard reindeer is an endemic species (only existing in Svalbard). It is the archipelago’s largest herbivore and is adapted to the ecosystem. Norway has a large responsibility for managing the species, and the recreational hunting must not be in conflict with the management goals.

Places and areas

Relations to other monitoring

Monitoring programme
International environmental agreements
Voluntary international cooperation
Related monitoring