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Nenets Migration in the Landscape: Impacts of Industrial Development in Yamal Peninsula, Russia

07 Aug 2013

Worldwide, traditional pastoralists are facing challenges of industrial development and competitive land use interfering with their nomadic lives. The Yamal peninsula in western Siberia, a homeland of nomadic Nenets reindeer herders, has been subjected to the Bovanenkovo gas field industrial development since the 1980s. We quantitatively assess how industrial development impacts Nenets migration routes and camp sites and discuss implications for their quality of life. In cooperation with herders, we mapped 21 migration routes and followed two reindeer herder brigades for 15 weeks in July 2008 to August 2009, providing insight into both the social and physical challenges facing Nenets herders. Terrain ruggedness, willow cover, migration routes and camp (chum) sites were recorded on 2 × 2 km grid cells on topographic maps. Rugged terrain with willows (31% of the study area), which is land particularly suitable and valuable for reindeer husbandry, contained nearly 61% of all migration routes. All clusters (>8 km2) of rugged terrain were used for grazing, migration and camp sites, reflecting few alternative land opportunities. Many 1- to 3-km narrow passages of such terrain created natural ‘bottlenecks’ for Nenets migrations in the Yamal landscape. These bottlenecks, used by three to six different reindeer brigades, are crucial for the herders, while competition for land with industrial developers within these areas is particularly high. The physical footprint of Bovanenkovo installations is small, but for the three herding units migrating through these bottlenecks, the industrial development resulted in blockage of two out of four possible routes, loss of major grazing areas and subsequent loss of access to at least 18 traditional camp sites and one sacred site along their traditional route. The combined actions of physical and social impacts from industrial development have reduced migration opportunities and the quality and access to natural resources in the herding cycle. This has thus affected the lives and well-being of indigenous herders in Yamal.

Status: Completed

Type: Staff Publications

Author: Christian Nellemann, Anna Degteva

Year of publication: 2013

Publisher: Pastoralism: Research, Policy and Practice

Tags: indigenous peoples pastoralism reindeer

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