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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2019

Forest Fire and Indigenous Sami Land Use: Place Names, Fire Dynamics, and Ecosystem Change in Northern Scandinavia

Cogos, Sarah; Ostlund, Lars; Roturier, Samuel


During the last two centuries, fire suppression has critically modified boreal ecosystems in northern Scandinavia and has undoubtedly affected indigenous Sami land use. We inventoried Sami toponyms referring to fire in a municipality located in Swedish Sapmi, and investigated their past and present meanings by analyzing Sami dictionaries and conducting semi-structured interviews with Sami reindeer herders. We use toponyms based on the Sami word roavve' - a lichen-rich pine-heath that has burned - as a description of past ecosystems to inventory understory and tree vegetation and date the last occurrence of fire in 15 roavve' places. The inventories showed that some roaave' places have developed a late succession vegetation type, reducing their suitability for reindeer grazing. We argue both that fire suppression strongly influences the ecological trajectory of these sites and that one must take into account ethnoecological considerations when using toponyms as ecological markers to fully understand their meanings and avoid misinterpretation.


Toponym; Fire suppression; Sami reindeer husbandry; Indigenous knowledge; Boreal Sweden; Forest history

Published in

Human Ecology
2019, Volume: 47, number: 1, pages: 51-64

    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG15 Life on land

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Forest Science

    Publication Identifiers


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