The reindeer plays a major role in Sami life and culture, and reindeer husbandry rights are protected by the Constitution of Norway, in international law and in national statutes.
In 1968 Supreme Court lawyer Bjørn Dalan, after whom the current firm is named, represented the reindeer herders in the Altevann case (Rt-1968-429). This judgment is considered to set the precedent for the reindeer Samis’ protection under expropriation law against invasive disturbance in grazing lands. Dalan currently represents many reindeer grazing districts in a number of cases, including where these lands are under threat of impact from power transmission lines, wind power installations, mines and hydroelectric power plants.
Reindeer husbandry is a central element of Sami culture. The right to reindeer husbandry is protected by the Constitution of Norway, international law and by national statutes, including Section 4 of the Reindeer Husbandry Act which stipulates that the Sami people have the right to practice reindeer husbandry in those parts of the counties Finnmark, Troms, Nordland, Nord-Trøndelag, Sør-Trøndelag and Hedmark, where their ancestors have done so since time immemorial. Reindeer husbandry law confers consolidated rights of usage that consist of grazing rights, migratory rights, the right to own and have plant and equipment, the right to firewood and timber, as well as the right to reap nature’s benefits through hunting and fishing.
Reindeer husbandry rights co-exist with many other rights to natural resources and this may give rise to disputes. Major development projects such as power transmission lines, wind power plants, mines, roads and holiday cabin sites can greatly impact reindeer lands. Such developments raise questions as to whether they constitute a real threat to the livelihoods of those dependent on the reindeer and violate the protection afforded to the sector by international law. If one or more reindeer owners run the risk of having to terminate their activities as a result of the development, this would be a breach of international law. The development would then be illegal and would not be permitted. If the development does not breach international law, consideration must be given to whether the development, as a whole, will bring greater benefits than drawbacks. Only if the answer is in the affirmative, may an expropriation permit be granted.
If the development is permitted, the reindeer husbandry interests, like other expropriated persons, shall be paid full compensation for the damages and detriment the development causes them. Their right to compensation following an encroachment of their rights is explicitly stated in Section 4 (3) of the Reindeer Husbandry Act. If the parties are unable to reach agreement, the compensation shall be determined by a court of assessment. Such cases are often marked by disagreement as to what the actual impact on the reindeer amounts to, and how the impact of rights of usage are to be assessed. A thorough presentation of the arguments by expert witnesses, along with a comprehensive examination of the case, are of great importance if the court of assessment is to reach a broadly justified conclusion.
Reindeer grazing interests have long experienced increasing pressures from many sources on their traditional lands. The cumulative impact of previous interventions has made the sector more vulnerable to new invasive developments.