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Russia: Administration orders mass reindeer killing and fast-tracks gas extraction

September 17 2016

Nenets reindeer herder camp during summer

Nenets herder crossing a river with his herd

Nenets reindeer herder camp during Winter
On Yamal Peninsula, the administration has announced that it wants to slaughter 250,000 of the currently 700,000 reindeer living on the peninsula. At the same time, the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources is speeding up the development of new gas fields in the Arctic. Between June and September, a subsidiary of Russia’s second gas producer "NOVATEK" has received 4 licenses for areas located on the Yamal and Gydan Peninsulas in the region. Many herders may lose their means of existence.

After the anthrax outbreak on the Yamal Peninsula this summer, which claimed the life of one boy and 1,200 deer and caused persecution of the group Greenpeace, which was visiting the Yamal Peninsula at the time, the spiral events surrounding the fate of the Yamal reindeer herding has taken an unexpected turn for the worse. On August 23, an article entitled "Moscow demands to reduce number of reindeer on Yamal" quoted Federal agencies blaming the abnormal heat which melted the old animal graveyard, the lack of veterinary services and the excessive number of reindeer for the epidemic.

On September 12 another article appeared, entitled "After the anthrax Yamal natives are ready to slaughter deer for the sake of apartments". It says, that “in Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Area, complex negotiations about the slaughter of 250,000 deer are underway and overgrazing may be an indirect cause of the spread of the infection. All sides proposed options how to make reindeer-owners give up a large portion of their livestock for slaughter. Early last week, Governor Dmitry Kobylkin announced the intention of developing a programme to reduce the number of deer by 250,000 within one mont",the news agency URA.RU writes. The Vice President of the Association of Indigenous Peoples ‘Yamal-potomkam’ (‘Yamal for our descendants’), Sergei Khudi proposes to increase the purchase price of the reindeer meat, but the money should not be given to the herders, instead they should be "transferred to a bank for mortgage pay-off."

Reindeer herders neither informed nor consulted

In the meantime, private reindeer herders and owners know nothing about these plans. "According to the order of the Governor, the measure has to be executed before the end of September, and if you start to gather the herders now, it will be impossible to complete in time, because it is quite difficult to gather the private herders", says private herder, Eiko Serotetto. To smooth interaction between officials and nomadic herders, he suggested appointing a ‘universal herder’, who will, on behalf of the herders, communicate with representatives of the city administration and the regional government. Eiko Serotetto sent his proposal to the administration of the Yamal district. In the reply dated 2 September, he is asked to come to the district centre Yar-Sale for discussions. The reindeer owner intends to visit the Yamal district within one month",URA.RU says.

The idea of paying off mortgages from subsidies for the mass slaughter is not supported by the President of the Association of Indigenous Minority Peoples of the North and the far East (RAIPON), Grigory Ledkov. The State Duma Deputy is convinced that "the nomads need appropriate conditions where they live and all the herders have to be integrated into the region’s economy", URA.ru quotes.

Traditional reindeer herders already suffered big losses

"In connection with these plans I am very worried about the fate of the private herders, who still perpetuate the tradition of family and clan based reindeer herding. It is not clear how many of the reindeer herders may have mortgages. Most of them have small herds of about a hundred deer. They have no property, that would qualify them for a mortgage. The deer of the private herders are neither counted nor insured. Only the deer of the big collective farms (Sovkhoz) and those owned by wealthy urban Nenets close to the administration", anthropologist Olga Murashko says . Many of them had lost much of their reindeer during the icing-over of 2013-14, which was caused by the abnormally warm winter. About 70,000 deer perished in the famine, of which about 45,000 belonged to private traditional herders. This year, according to official data, the traditional herders, lost 1200 deer; an unknown number is still ‘quarantined’, she continues.

"In the whole of the Yamal Nenets Area, there are 3000 private reindeer herding households, keeping 63.1% of the total deer population. Only 36,9% of the deer are in the property of agricultural enterprises. Yamal and Tazovski districts in the Arctic have the highest proportion of deer in private ownership: 53.3% and 81.1%, respectively".

Environmental ministry speeds up gas development

Also troubling are another news that appeared these days, entitled "The Ministry of Natural Resources proposes to encourage the extraction and processing of gas in the Arctic".  The Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology of Russia, Sergey Donskoy said at a meeting of Russian the President with the government: "The Resource potential of the Arctic regarding natural gas (up to 20 billion cubic meters of proven reserves) with a unique degree of concentration requires special measures to encourage their fast development. Otherwise, Russia may not be able to use this potential according to its own interests." The Ministry is actively pursuing the licensing of areas on the Yamal Peninsula. Accordingly, between June and September, NOVATEK-Yurharovneftegaz", a subsidiary of Russia’s second gas producer "NOVATEK", has received licenses over hydrocarbon deposits in the region, including the Syadorsky area in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Area, the Zapadno-Solpatinski, Severo-Tanamski and Nyavuyakhski areas on Gydan peninsula, RIA Novosti reports.

"The coincidence of those news on the plans to urgently reduce the reindeer population in Yamal by over one third with the rapid issuing of licenses for gas extraction in the same region causes the greatest concern over the fate of the reindeer herders, with continue their traditional family-based nomadic way of life and which have managed to defend this way of life throughout the Soviet era and who continue to defend it", Olga Murashko says. “This means that a huge number of nomads on Yamal and Gydan peninsulas will lose their means of existence and opportunities to maintain their traditional way of life. Additionally, it is clear that within the short time frame given, the indigenous reindeer herders cannot be properly consulted on the administration’s plans to annihilate a large number of reindeer”.