The Golden Eagle scheme rewards the Sami Reindeer herding community in Finnish Lapland for the successful establishment of Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) nests and territories. The scheme was introduced in 1998 and replaced a former scheme that based payments to reindeer herders on the number of reindeers killed by the Golden Eagle. It is financed by the Finnish Government and a regional centre administers payments to the participating communes (sub-divisions of the wider Sami community).
The scheme was set up and is overseen in close collaboration between public authorities and Sami communes through the Eagle reimbursement group. This consists of the Natural Heritage Services, environmental authorities, reindeer owners and regional council of Sami, as well as researchers. The payment level for successful nests and territories changes annually in relation to the market price for reindeer meat and ranges from €708 to €3,540 depending on the zone (tundra or forest) and result (territory or nest).
The scheme is generally regarded as a success and since the late 1990s there has been an increase in the national population of Golden Eagles. However, it is difficult to determine if this increase is a result of scheme implementation or improvements in survey and monitoring of Eagles.
Attitudes of herders towards Golden Eagles are reported to have changed dramatically with the species now being seen as a resource rather than a pest. Poaching of Golden Eagle by reindeer herders, which was a serious problem since the species is responsible for a high proportion of overall reindeer mortality, has all but disappeared. Effective collaboration between the Sami herders and officials has been a key success factor in the scheme.
The scheme is specific to the areas of Sami reindeer herding (or Poronhoitoalue) in the north of Finland. The area covers around 12,293,600 hectares, or about 36 per cent of Finland's land area. These are typically remote and natural areas consisting of wildlands, forest and tundra.
Scheme selection process and entry requirements
Only reindeer herders in Sami villages are eligible to participate in this scheme.
The result indicator for this scheme is the observation of Eagle territories and nests containing chicks as well as their location in either tundra or forest. These act as a proxy for the reproduction success of the birds. Nests are usually checked from mid June to mid July in order to provide a more reliable chance of observing a chick.
Nature of payments and their structure
Payments are based on indicators of species reproduction success: number of territories and nests. In 2013, the payment was €708 per territory in a forest zone and €1,416 in a tundra zone. For a nest, it was €2,124 in a forest and € 3,540 in a tundra zones. The payment is higher in tundra because research indicates higher damage and predation rates of Reindeer occur in tundra areas. The payments for territories and nests are added together to form the overall payment to the commune. For example, a Sami commune in a forest zone may get €2,124 for one nest containing a chick and an additional €1,416 (2x €708) for two confirmed territories.
The payment for the number of territories and nests is a proxy for species reproduction success. Previously the scheme provided payments based on the number of dead livestock animals. However, there was a risk of participants abusing the scheme under this approach, as the control mechanism (the number of dead livestock) was not contingent on conservation outcomes. In addition, this approach had higher transaction costs for the herders.
The payments are made to the Sami communes as a common pool resource. The payments are financed by the Finnish government, data are managed by the State Forest Agency and payments are paid by the regional centre of Lapland (the same organisation that manages agri-environment payments).
Description of control mechanisms
Evaluation and monitoring
There has been no specific scientific evaluation of this scheme in relation to improving Golden Eagle numbers. However, awareness about the Golden Eagle population in Finland has increased dramatically and population numbers have been shown to have increased from the late 1990s. In 1998, only 294 territories were known while 498 had been identified in 2013, although it is unclear if the increase in population numbers is as a result of better conservation or better monitoring procedures.
The monitoring framework is comprehensive and requires annual inventories of nests and monitoring of their success rate (for example, occupation rate of the known territories and number of chicks per nest). This is undertaken in cooperation with the Reindeer herders, rangers and volunteers. However, confirming fledging success is logistically very challenging and not normally possible within the normal monitoring framework.
The monitoring results are stored at the national Golden Eagle register run by Natural Heritage Services of the State Forest Agency. This information is used to estimate species protection success. The relationship between herders and officials is an important factor in ensuring the monitoring framework is effective.
Observed ecological results
There has been an increase in the national population of Golden Eagles although it is difficult to establish if this increase as a result of better conservation efforts through the scheme or as a result of better survey efficiency.
Observed socio-economic results
Golden Eagles are a serious predator of reindeer accounting for around 50% of all Reindeer deaths and 80% of all predator kills. Despite the clear threat that Eagles place on Reindeer numbers, attitudes towards this predator have become more positive and they are now being seen as a resource rather than a pest and illegal hunting in reindeer regions has all but disappeared during the operation of the scheme.
An estimated 10% of reindeer herders’ income comes from the state payments for damage (this includes road kill in addition to that from predator kills). In general scheme participants regard the principles of such payments as fair, however some issues remain unsolved. For example, due to a loss of a particular reindeer, a herd's structure may suffer causing a greater economic impact than at first thought. In addition some herders have personal attachments or place other values on particular reindeer individuals that are impossible to compensate through payments.
The scheme has been developed collaboratively between reindeer herders and the Finnish State Forest Agency. Stakeholder engagement continues to be an important part of scheme operation and good relationships between the herders and officials have been highlighted as particularly important for the schemes monitoring framework. To help improve collaboration, a so-called ”Eagle reimbursement group” with representatives from the Natural Heritage Services, environmental authorities, reindeer owners and regional council of Sami as well as researchers has been overseeing the running of the scheme.
Barriers to implementation / challenges
The annual inventories are time-consuming but involvement of herders and volunteers is seen as important. The search for nests is still preferable than a search for killed reindeer.
Some individual reindeer may be more valuable to the herd than others and as yet this is not accounted for fully in the scheme payment process.
Nieminen M, Norberg H and Maijala V (2011) Mortality and survival of semi-domesticated reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus L.) calves in northern Finland. Rangifer, 31(1), 71 – 84
Pohja-Mykrä M (2014) Psykologinen omistajuus. Riistapäivät 21.-22.1.2014 (presentation, available online, in Finnish)