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Applying a resilience framework to the Yamal Tundra pastoralist social-ecological system
The anthrax outbreak of late summer 2016 on Yamal Peninsula, West Siberia triggered an urgent discussion on the state of tundra reindeer rangelands, which were deemed severely ‘overgrazed’. The narrative of ‘overgrazing’ on Yamal is hardly new, and extends back through Soviet times until at least the 1940s. This synthesis will briefly introduce the historic and recent discussion of Yamal reindeer rangeland trends in phytomass and erosion, the use of lichens as indicators of pasture condition, a comparison with Finnish reindeer management as suggested by the region’s governor and, lastly, the likely causes and implications of increasingly intense rain-on-snow (ROS) events over the past decade on Yamal Peninsula. Recent ROS events have further exacerbated polarization of the Yamal ‘overgrazing’ debate among the region’s rangeland scientists and administrators. Based on a literature review and time-series remote sensing data, we argue that the ‘overgrazing’ narrative is too narrowly grounded in set of agricultural norms, i.e. carrying capacity. Carrying capacity is the incorrect framework needed to properly deal with the complex suite of issues facing contemporary of the Yamal Tundra social-ecological system (SES). Here we attempt to broaden the scope of analysis to encompass SES resilience over decadal time and regional spatial scales. We conclude that post-Soviet fragmentation of the collective system of managing reindeer migration has demonstrated the necessity of a new way forward to manage the Yamal Tundra SES. We suggest a participatory methodology involving herders, scientists and administrators is critically needed.