Monday, April 26, 2010

Climate Change: Arctic Migratory Birds Face New Challenges

As Arctic temperatures warm and weather becomes less predictable, migratory birds may face new challenges and some nasty surprises when they return north, researchers with the Canadian Wildlife Service say.

Sometimes birds arrive at their northern breeding grounds earlier than they used to, driven by warm weather in the South, only to find no food there when they arrive. Their entire breeding cycle could be turned upside down, because the breeding schedules of these birds may be out of whack with nature and as a result they may lack food for their young. Also the increased numbers of mosquitoes, contributed to higher numbers of deaths at some seabird colonies, say biologists with the Canadian Wildlife Service.

Since the 1970s CWS biologists have seen severe weather produce many lethal situations for seabirds. Generally most seabirds are long-lived. Eiders live at least 10 years, murres about 30 years, and fulmars up to 50 years, so “you don’t see them die very often,” said Mark Mallory, a seabird biologist with the CWS in Iqaluit.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mining prospects in arctic Norway also causing controversy

A front page story in today's 'Norwegian news in English' proclaims, “Prospects Bright for Arctic Mining.” There is little mention of the role of the Saami considering these ventures are in the high arctic, in Finnmark Province, clearly in Sapmi.

Test cores been showing gold, copper and platinum. The mining company Nussir ASA intends to apply for permission to extract the minerals and if successful, production might start in year 2011 (the international mining company Wega Mining owns 18% of Nussir). Member of the Norwegian national parliament was quoted as criticizing reindeer husbandry for being subsidised, not moving with the times and standing in the way of development.

“The Finnmark plateau is our pasture,” said reindeer herder Alf Johansen during a recent conference with Labour Party deputy leader, Helga Pedersen. He thinks that reindeer grazing areas should have as much legal protection as a crop farmer’s fields. Some of these cores are in calving grounds. Egil Olli continues to state that any mining projects will be rejected by the Saami Parliament in the Finnmark area.

Also at issue is if the mining moves forward, the Saami Parliament demands that resources and mineral exploration should benefit mainly the local Saami communities and population, as the proposed mines are in Saami lands, and will effect the ability to maintain a traditional livelihood. This brings up the controversial ongoing debates regarding indigenous land rights in the region.

Additional links:

Canadian Mine Threatens Traditional Indigenous Reindeer Husbandry in Sapmi

On Monday Blackstone Ventures Inc. issued a press release that reports that it has completed twelve short diamond drill holes totaling 1,650 metres at its Uma Cu-Zn-Au volcanogenic massive sulphide (VMS) project in arctic Sweden. Results of four drill holes at Uma North indicate the source of the high-grade Suitcase boulder field remains undiscovered. At Uma South, four of eight drill holes testing EM anomalies encountered weak base metal mineralization. A second phase drill program is planned for this summer at the Uma project.

Last fall an environmental court ruled in favour of Blackstone's work plan at Uma. The Court said that Blackstone does not require a special dispensation to explore for minerals within the company's Uma Project. This decision overrules the previous negative decision by the County Administrative Board and enables the company to initiate its exploration program, including diamond drilling, of targets identified in proximity to high grade boulders of copper-lead-zinc.

On the same day as the court ruling, the Saami Council issued a press release saying the mining proposed by the Canadian company threatens their traditional way of life and violates their basic human rights, as recognized by the United Nations.

This test-drilling is on reindeer pasture lands. Blackstone has further announced its plans to mine in the disputed area. The Saami communities have not agreed to such test-drilling. Furthermore, Saami community members do not recognize the company’s right to drill, noting that the company does not hold the relevant permits to drill and lacks a work-plan, approved by the reindeer herders.

“This is the heart of our land,” says Marja Skum, a spokesperson for the communities. “This is where the reindeer come to calf, and where they find the richest pasture. Our forefathers have lived with the reindeer on these mountains since time immemorial. We are determined to pass the legacy on to the next generations. Therefore, we have no choice but to do everything we can to stop this mine. If a mine is established in the planned area, we will no longer be traditional reindeer herders. We will lose the most vital part of our identity.”

“As a nomadic people, reindeer herders roam their reindeer over vast areas,” says Blom. Some of these areas are interchangeable. But Blackstone has picked the absolute worst place to prospect. The planned mine is in an area that the communities can simply not replace. That is why we will assist the communities to the best of our ability to stop this project.”

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has repeatedly affirmed that reindeer husbandry is fundamental in the Saami people’s culture, and is integral to Saami individuals’ cultural identity. Hence, no industrial activities are allowed in Saami areas where such activities render it impossible, or significantly more difficult, for Saami communities to pursue reindeer husbandry.

“Blackstone’s planned mine would essentially prevent the impacted communities from pursuing traditional Saami reindeer herding. Thus, it would be detrimental to the reindeer herders’ cultural identity. As a consequence, the mine is illegal as it would violate the reindeer herders’ right to culture. We are positive that international bodies will halt the project. We will use all legal means available to stop the plans for a mine in the area”

The Saami people are indigenous to arctic Europe (as the Inuit are the indigenous peoples of the Canadian arctic). The Saami have pursued nomadic reindeer husbandry in its traditional areas since time immemorial. They have inhabited their traditional land since well before other populations colonized their territories. Gran, Ran and Ubmeje are three Saami reindeer herding communities whose traditional pasture lands are in this area.

For further information, contact Marja Skum, +47 47 25 11 68, Mattias Åhrén, +47 47 37 91 61 or Anders Blom, +46 70 51 44 480

Info from Mining Company:

Mon Aug 31, 2009
Environmental Court Rules in Favour of Blackstone's Work Program at Uma

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

USA and Canada only countries on record as opposing UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

In a reversal of its position, New Zealand announced on Monday that it now backed a UN declaration on indigenous people's rights (of more than 370 million native peoples worldwide), leaving the United States and Canada the only countries on record as opposing it.

The declaration affirms the equality of indigenous peoples and their right to maintain their own institutions, cultures and spiritual traditions. It also establishes standards to combat discrimination and marginalization and eliminate human rights violations against them.

When the General Assembly adopted the declaration in September 2007, there were four opponents - the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand - who argued that it was incompatible with their existing laws.

Australia announced its support for the declaration in April 2009.

New Zealand's Minister of Maori Affairs Pita Sharples announced his government's approval at Monday's opening session of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, which about 2,000 native peoples are attending.

The Canadian government said in a speech by the governor general last month that it would take steps to endorse the U.N. declaration "in a manner fully consistent with Canada's constitution and laws." Indigenous groups have urged the government to embrace the human rights instrument without conditions or limitations.

The United States is set to announce that it will review its opposition to the declaration.

The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (document A/61/L.67), which is not legally binding, was approved by the 192-member General Assembly after more than 20 years of deliberation. The vote was 143-4, with 11 abstentions and 34 countries not voting due to absence from the assembly hall at the time of the vote. (Voting in favour were Sweden, Norway, and Finland. The abstaining countries included Russia).

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice is scheduled to address the forum on Tuesday and will announce that "we will be conducting a formal review of the declaration and the U.S. position on it," according to an excerpt from her prepared text obtained by The Associated Press.

"Our first nations face serious challenges: disproportionate and dire poverty, unemployment, environmental degradation, health care gaps, violent crime and bitter discrimination," Rice says. "We recognize that, for many around the world, this declaration provides a framework for addressing indigenous issues."

It calls on states to prevent or redress the forced migration of indigenous peoples, the seizure of their land or their forced integration into other cultures. It also grants indigenous groups control over their religious and cultural sites and the right to manage their own education systems, including teaching in their own languages.

The opponents and many countries that abstained said they wanted to work toward a solution, but they took exception to several key parts of the declaration which they said would give indigenous peoples too many rights and clash with existing national laws.


More information:

Fight for the Arctic and interests of indigenous people

Melting icebergs have created favourable conditions for the development of oil and gas fields and other mineral resources and industrial use of the Arctic. Across the circumpolar arctic there are several arctic indigenous groups including the Inuit, Yupik, Saami, Nenet, Chukotka etc. which together add up to 150 thousand members. The leaders of indigenous peoples in the Polar Regions have gathered at their summit in Moscow to discuss these issues.

There are audio clips from:
Olav Mathias Eira of the Saami Council
Jim Stotts of the council of Inuits from Alaska

“Warmer climate makes it possible to explore arctic areas, and we are all aware though history what happens when vulnerable societies in the north when so many new people and new activity comes, and that is a bit scary for many indigenous societies.” - Olav Mathias Eira

The Arctic region will be developed inevitably. There is a need to proclaim loudly the position of indigenous people so as safeguard their interests.

Full article (text and audio in English):

About the summit (click here)

Resource Centre for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ Gáldu has a good article that can be downloaded (here)

An article about the realities faced by the Indigenous Nenets who are already living in the midst of oil and gas exloration (here)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Kola Peninsula Governor on reindeer fences, fishing, and mining

Fences, Fishing Quotas, and development of a gas mining field in the Barents Sea

In a long interview with the newspaper Vedomosti in March 2010 (full interview link here) the new Kola Peninsula regional Governor Dmitry Dmitriyenko said that his administration plans to establish 100-200 km wide zones for reindeer herds.

Today, reindeer herds migrate over major parts of the peninsula and unlike reindeer husbandry in the neighbouring Finland, fences are not widely used in Kola.

Interestingly, the Governor frames this decision to be a economic support (raise productivity) and also a result of climate change (increasingly difficult to gather the herds at slaughter time because the rivers now freeze later than before).

“Now the old deer graze across the Kola Peninsula. But the climate is changing, and when the time comes to slaughter, cattle can not go back in time, because the river on which they had returned, do not have time to freeze or already opened. As a result, culling begins later, respectively, feeding decreases. We want to translate the content of reindeer herds in the perimeter fences of 100-200 km. This will increase the productivity of reindeer herding. In addition, the rounding method of content there is a new business. Horn of young deer can be used in pharmaceutical production. Raw materials produced in the field, is sent for processing in Norway. We are currently working hard to increase supplies.”

If such a plan were to be carried out, it would dramatically alter reindeer husbandry in the region.

In other regions in which fencing has been introduced (Scandinavia), the Saami have shown that fencing is related to herd control by the authorities (and thereby reducing the flexibility of migratory movement of the deer and herders). Fencing also has a dramatic impact on the landscape and breaks up traditional migratory patterns.

On fishing he says, “Capacity in Murmansk is enough to produce about 200 000 tonnes of fish, but actually currently produces less than 30 000.”

On the development of the Shtokman natural gas fields he says: “Full development suspended for three years and an investment decision postponed for six months: from November 2010 to March 2011, however we have already in full swing… The problem is that there is a lot of gas, but the cavities are small, so you need to constantly drill. How it will be economically attractive, we cannot know, because we have no experience of such developments.”

Note: Shtokman field is one of the world's largest natural gas fields, lies in the central part of Russian sector of the Barents Sea, 600 kilometres (370 mi) north of Kola Peninsula. The Saami reindeer area in Russia is in the arctic Kola Peninsula, and the Barents Sea is a part of the Arctic Ocean. The Barents Sea has a high biological production compared to other oceans of similar latitude. The area is rich in bio-diversity including The zooplankton feeders include young cod, capelin, polar cod, whales and Little Auk, harp seals, and seabirds.


Original Interview:

Today is the Opening of the Reindeer Ferry

In the high arctic, summer pastures for reindeer are often located on the coastal islands of Finnmark and Troms provinces. Traditionally, reindeer swim across from the mainland to the islands but with increasing pasture losses and migratory route fragmentation, since the early 1970s, have caused many Indigenous Sámi herders use a reindeer ‘ferry’ to transport reindeer over distances that have now become too far to swim (reindeer are excellent swimmers).

Last year it carried about 15,000 reindeer in the spring season. Just under 20 Saami siidas (clans) in Troms and Finnmark are using this means of transport this year. The vessel runs 24 hours a day, which means that there are departures even at night.

The vessel will this runs from April 20th to May 9th.

Original Article

Another Source

National Geographic featured a short article on this unusual form of transport in collaboration with the International Centre for Reindeer Husbandry. Read more.