Norway and Sweden are locked in a spat over border-crossing reindeer

Controversial border crossers.
Controversial border crossers.
Image: Reuters/Scanpix
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Borders pose all sorts of problems, from tit for tats between friendly neighbors to full-blown immigration crises. You’d expect a dispute between Norway and Sweden about line-crossing reindeers to fall a lot closer to the harmless end of the spectrum.

Yet Jon Georg Dale, Norwegian agriculture minister, has threatened to cull Swedish reindeer that make their way into his country if Sweden does not quickly sign a new agreement to regulate grazing.

Though reindeer herds from either country have been crossing the border since ancient times, Sweden has been hesitant to sign an update to a 1972 agreement that expired in 2005.

Since then, grazing rights have been decided by the rules set down in the 1751 Lappekodicillen (Lapp Codicil in English) agreement. Norway says that the codicil, which formalized the right of the Sami people to continue with cross-border reindeer herding, gives those on the Swedish side greater rights than Norway wants to grant.

Over the past century, reindeer herding has become a big economic driver for the Sami, and about 10% of their families make their living exclusively through it. Products include handicrafts made from hides and antlers.

Per Mathis Oskal, a herder and a member of the Norwegian Sami parliament, told Bloomberg that, while regulation of reindeer herding was strict in Norway, “there seems to be a free-for-all in Sweden.”

Swedish reindeer are thus crowding out their Norwegian counterparts—and may also be spreading a chronic wasting disease. Dale met his Swedish counterpart today (June 27) to attempt to resolve the dispute, Bloomberg reported. “We can’t have it like this anymore,” Dale said after the meeting.