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Nick Mott This season of Threshold was underwritten by the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting. 

Amy Martin Welcome to Threshold, I'm Amy Martin, and this is a season two extra. We're going to follow up on the story of a Sámi reindeer herding family in northern Norway, Risten and Reiulf Aleksandersen, and their kids. We met them back in episode six, and I think you'll get more out of this extra if you listen to that episode first. But even if you did hear it, it might have been a while back, so here's a reminder the basic outline of what's happening. 

First: the Sámi are the indigenous people of northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and western Russia. Reindeer herding is a very old Sámi tradition. The Aleksandersens herd their reindeer on an island called Kvaløya, about an hour outside of the city of Tromsø. 

And for years, they've been struggling with the effects of climate change on their reindeer herd. Warming temperatures are disrupting herding traditions in a variety of ways; you'll hear more about that in just a few minutes. But, over the last year, the Aleksandersens have been fighting off a new threat, too – and ironically, this is something that’s often trumpeted as a climate change solution. It’s a new wind farm that's going in on the island. It will have 67 turbines, making it one of the biggest on-shore wind energy projects in Europe.

And it's radically changing their reindeer grazing area. In fact, it could make it impossible for them to continue herding at all. I'm going to play you just a few minutes from the previous episode to remind you of where we left the story. This is Risten Turi Aleksandersen.

Risten Turi Aleksandersen It's so changed. And it's so challenging to work with the reindeers now.


Amy Martin Risten says she's spending countless hours writing letters, attending meetings, and trying to get the different parties involved to listen to her family's concerns. She doesn't really have hope that they can stop the development; she's just trying to mitigate the impact. 

I talked to the Norwegian government and one of the companies involved to get their perspectives, and they say that the permitting process for this project followed all of the rules for public input. But Risten says the published plans don't always match what's actually happening on the ground. 

And things keep changing. In July of 2018, they found out another wind project is going in, with a different owner. This one is small – just four wind turbines. But the plan is to put them right where the Aleksandersens gather their reindeer -- in the very spot where I spent the day with Reiulf and the kids the year before. Risten says news of this additional project hit the family hard.

Risten Turi Aleksandersen Right after we received the letter, you know this letter with the four new windmills, I really just felt like I fell into a big black hole.

Amy Martin Risten says they'd been clinging to the idea that they were at least going to be able to keep this one area protected from the development. But if these last four turbines go up–

Risten Turi Aleksandersen We wouldn't have a place to gather the herd anymore. And if we can't gather the herd, then the reindeer herding is's not possible, if you can't gather them. Ah, so, actually right now I can't even think about that.


Amy Martin As we prepare this episode for release, the Aleksandersens are waiting to find out if those additional four turbines will be built. Risten says if that project is stopped, they are going to try to keep herding, even with all the changes happening around them. But, if those additional four turbines are approved, she doesn't see how they can continue.


So, that's where we were back in the fall of 2018. The Aleksandersens thought they might hear about those four last turbines in October, but by December, there was still no decision. So, Risten and her husband Reiulf decided they had to start talking to their three children about what it would mean if the four additional turbines were approved. Risten told me about that when I met with her a few months ago, in January of 2019.

Risten Turi Aleksandersen Now we were like, okay, we prepare the children. And we just said, okay, if the four additional come, the windmills come, we, yeah, we, it's actually, we don't know if we can still continue to have our reindeers here and we need to really just sit down and figure out what shall we do. Are we able to be living as reindeer herders at all? And of course that was a sad talk to take with the children. And so, but we, I thought that we need to do that because they need to know the reality. 

Amy Martin What was that talk like, where there tears?

Risten Turi Aleksandersen Yes, it, I guess we cried, every one of us. 

Amy Martin Risten said they had that big family talk around Christmas time. But then, a couple of weeks later she got a phone call from a friend who has been working with her on this issue. 

Risten Turi Aleksandersen And she was like, “Have you heard?” And I was like, no!

Amy Martin Her friend said the project for the additional four turbines had been cancelled.

Risten Turi Aleksandersen Yeah, and I was in the food store. So I just had to stop and stand in the food store and just read the mail and, okay, it's true. So yeah, that was an amazing feeling.

Amy Martin It wasn't only that these four last turbines would not be going in, Risten says. It was also the reasoning behind the decision that made her feel so good. The Norwegian energy department said the permitting process hadn't been handled correctly. They said directorate for this area had granted the developers extensions without explanation, and let the project grow and change without providing enough opportunities for the public to weigh in.

Risten Turi Aleksandersen That's what we've been saying all the time, that there is something wrong with the way that this directory has been dealing with these issues. 

Amy Martin The Aleksandersens have been trying to make about this whole project: not just that this wind park is a threat to them, personally, but that they believe the process behind it has not always been fair. For over a year, it seemed no one was listening to them.

Risten Turi Aleksandersen Now, they suddenly said, “We just stop the whole project.” And that was like a big victory for us.

Amy Martin To be clear, she's referring only to the side project, the four additional turbines. That's the only thing that was stopped by this decision. The main project continues. And the Aleksandersens are still living with a lot of uncertainty. The turbines that have been approved will be 85 meters high. That's almost 93 yards. The rotors will be 142 yards wide. These things are big, and there will be 67 of them. The Aleksandersens don't know yet how their reindeer will be affected by all the new infrastructure. They'll find out in just a few months, when the turbines go up.

Risten Turi Aleksandersen This summer, yeah, they're really working on the, I think they're working 24/7 now.

Amy Martin And Risten says the relationships with the companies involved in the wind park construction have become very contentious. She feels the developers haven’t treated them with respect, or shown a sincere desire to listen to her family's concerns, and work with them on solutions. 

We asked for an interview with the project manager, Stephan Klepsland, because we wanted to hear his side of the story. He declined to go on tape. He would answer questions via email but not if they were directly about the Aleksandersens, or any other private individuals. He wrote, “What I can say in general is that we feel committed to a smooth relationship with the reindeer herders in the area.” He said the companies have complied with all agreements, and added, “As project owner, we develop and build the project according to existing permits and regulations, but of course listen to local stakeholders when doing detail planning.”

Risten and her husband Reiulf see it differently. She says they are treated like an annoyance, and gave examples of having to petition the company repeatedly to follow through on their agreements.

Risten Turi Aleksandersen I don't expect them to personally feel sorrow for us and so on. If they don't do that, it's okay with me in one way. But what I don't respect is that they don't have any like ethical rules for how to act when they come into indigenous people's land. Because we are in a desperate situation because of their work and because of what they do in the mountain, and if they have no reflections around that, that is very frightening for me.

Amy Martin Risten says one way for companies and governments to build that ethical framework is to start the decision-making process for every new project with a simple question: how is this land being used now? 

Risten Turi Aleksandersen In every project where you take land or need land, you need to look at who are using the land before you start there. Because, I guess almost every spot on the world is being used by someone. Even though the rural areas don't have so many people, it doesn't mean that it's not being used. It just means that the use is different from the big cities. And so that would be like the first thing, that, how does this project fit in to the use that is already there? And how do you value the use? Because even though there can be few people or it can be a use that you don't see, it doesn't mean that it's less valuable. It just mean that it's different.


Amy Martin Do you feel like you can keep herding the reindeer there, or are you still kind of wait and see?

Risten Turi Aleksandersen In one way, it's still wait and see. Because there are many research projects that said that says that the reindeers will go away from the wind turbines because they make noise and they move. Uh, so we will see when they're finished with the building and making of these wind turbines, then we will have to try out and see if it's possible to herd the reindeer there. We don't know. So, but we will just have to see.


Amy Martin Do you think that wind farms negatively affect reindeer?

Anna Skarin Ah, yes. They do.

Amy Martin Anna Skarin is a researcher at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala. I spoke with her via Skype. She studies how reindeer are impacted by wind farms.

Anna Skarin They decrease the use close to the wind farms. And then they also decrease the use of areas in open habitat – areas where it would be possible to see the wind farms.

Amy Martin She says there's some variety depending on the area, and the season. For instance, in the spring, when the reindeer are having their calves, they steer clear of anything that indicates the presence of humans. But later in the summer, when it gets warm and the reindeer are being pestered by flies and mosquitoes, they sometimes prioritize finding windy places where they can get some relief from the insects, even if that brings them closer to humans.

Anna Skarin So during summer when its severe insect harassment, it's also known that the reindeer do not bother as much, towards human activity and disturbance because it's more important to get away from the insects.

Amy Martin Between the two pests, humans and insects, they'll pick humans. 

Anna Skarin Yeah. 

Amy Martin But in general, Anna says, her research shows that reindeer don't want to live next to or even be able to see wind farms. In one of her studies, she tracked a reindeer herd for six years before, during and after the construction of two wind farms that were built in their grazing area. She found evidence that the reindeer were affected by both the sight and sound of the 18 turbines there. She speculates that as prey animals, reindeer want to get away from moving things on the landscape. But as grazing areas get chopped into smaller and smaller pieces by logging operations, roads, trains, mines and other development, there are just fewer and fewer places for the reindeer and the herders to go. 

Anna Skarin All in all it, it's not a lot of land that is actually good land available for the reindeer to, to graze on.

Amy Martin And then you have to add in the impacts of climate change.

Anna Skarin So we usually talk about this cumulative effects, or like the sum of all the effects, in relation to the, to the land use. 

Amy Martin It's death by a thousand cuts, and it goes all the way back through the centuries, starting with the colonization of the Sámi homeland. And the Aleksandersens say that colonization of the Sámi is definitely not over: from their perspective, it's still playing out here, on the island of Kvaløya, just outside of Tromsø, Norway. 

Amy Martin It's Thursday morning, and on my way across Kvaløya. And the last time I was here was in the summer of 2017, and it was just past the solstice and everything was flooded with light constantly, and everything was green. Now it is a beautiful, snowy world. It's the kind of place that, um, just makes it actually hard to drive cause you want to stop every five minutes and take pictures. Just dramatic mountains, sparkling fjords. Yeah, it's just, it's a gorgeous place.

Amy Martin We're going out to meet the herd right after this short break.



Amy Martin Welcome back to this Threshold season two extra, I'm Amy Martin, and I've just arrived at the Aleksandersens' home on the Norwegian island of Kvaløya. When I get out of the car, I'm greeted by one of the dogs I met in the summer of 2017, plus a new puppy.

Amy Martin Hey, hi puppies, how are you?

Amy Martin It's a cold January morning. Risten is at work in Tromsø, the kids are at school, and Reiulf is about to head out into the mountains on his snowmobile to feed the reindeer. 


Amy Martin Hey, it's great to see you again! How are you?

Reiulf Turi Aleksandersen I'm just fine.

Amy Martin Yeah?

Amy Martin Two of Reiulf's friends are there, too, They're planning to go with us, to help out with feeding the herd. After he gets me suited up in warm clothes, we all hop onto snowmobiles and take off. 


On my first visit here, I had one of the more exciting four-wheeler rides of my life on this mountain. And it's no less exciting on a snowmobile, clinging to Reiulf with all my strength as we charge up the steep mountains, plunge through deep drifts and dodge tree branches, until we arrive at a fenced-in area, where dozens of reindeer are waiting inside. Reiulf drops me off at the gate, and he and his friends drive off to pick up the food, which is stored in a shed nearby. 


Amy Martin OK, I'm coming up to the gate.



Amy Martin A few of the reindeer wear bells around their necks, that's the sound you're hearing there.


Amy Martin I'm standing in a herd of reindeer [LAUGHS]. 

Amy Martin They're milling around.

Amy Martin They swirled around me in a big circle, and I felt like I was in the center of a living whirlpool of reindeer. 

Amy Martin They're so beautiful, they're brown and grey. White and tan and cream and ivory. 

Amy Martin It was 10:30 am, but the sun hadn't come up over the horizon yet. Their warm breath lifted up into a collective cloud in the chilly morning air. 

Amy Martin They're running past me. 

Amy Martin During my reporting for season two of Threshold, I'd learned a lot about reindeer, but I'd only actually seen a few here and there, from a distance. So this was my first time to actually see a herd being a herd. And I wasn't just seeing it. I was in it. They were so close that occasionally one would step on my toes. It was a challenge to prevent the cord from my headphones from getting tangled in their big branched antlers. I managed to grab a few pictures and videos before my phone battery died from the cold. You can check them out at our website. 


Amy Martin Here comes Reiulf with the food.


Amy Martin Reiulf had loaded up a trailer with big plastic barrels full of the pellets he uses to feed the herd. His friends began spreading them out on the ground, and the reindeer lined up to feed. 


Amy Martin Well, can you educate me about reindeer a little bit while they're all around here? Can you like teach me some stuff? 

Reiulf Turi Aleksandersen Yeah, you can. There's something I can say, like we have a males, females, like this big one with the white nose, he hasn't any antlets. That's because he has been, after they make those calves in the September and October, then they lose the antlets. 

Amy Martin Antlers.

Reiulf Turi Aleksandersen Yeah. After. And now they are on the lowest. Now it's the female who are running this store. They are, uh, like, and they calves, they are also in a higher level than those big males. 

Amy Martin Really? 

Reiulf Turi Aleksandersen Yes. Because they are, like, just supposed to, like dig, dig and dig and dig. Now they don't have to dig because I give them food. But in the, in the normal reindeer life, they dig every day. And those guys, those, they dig every day and when they're finished digging, coming down to the, to the lichen or the food, then there comes a big female stick her antlets in his ass, and has to jump and make a new one. That's how it works.

Amy Martin Yeah. Really, she could, she's like pushing them off like you do the work I need to eat, I'm growing a baby.

Reiulf Turi Aleksandersen Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Amy Martin Interesting. And the guys just do it. Yeah.

Amy Martin So both female and male reindeer grow antlers, and shed them each year, but on a slightly different rhythm.

Reiulf Turi Aleksandersen The female, they lose their antlers after the calves get born. A week, two weeks after they lose it and they start to make new, immediately. The male are losing after the making process. (laughter) And uh, then he's skinny. He stops eating so much when he's–

Amy Martin He's got other things on his mind.

Amy Martin I asked Reiulf what he's looking for when he's trying to assess the condition of the reindeer, and he described nuances in the color and texture of their fur, the shape of their backs, and other details you would only notice if you spent day after day, year after year, getting to know these animals.


Reiulf Turi Aleksandersen This is a, this is a nice one. This is a nice male with a nice shape. The antlets means a lot, see when the antlets are similar on the both side, it's a, it's a really healthy reindeer. 

Amy Martin Oh, really?

Reiulf Turi Aleksandersen Yeah, they should be similar. My, uh, my father-in-law told me that, uh, when you choose those males for making calls then the two balls should be hanging the same. Not the second one hanging more than the other one. 

Amy Martin Wow. So, symmetry.

Reiulf Turi Aleksandersen Symmetry, yes, and also symmetry in the, in the antlets. So uh, yes. 

Amy Martin I'm not sure that all humans would pass that test. [LAUGHS] I mean, I don't, I wouldn't know. [LAUGHS] 


Amy Martin Although it's fun for me to get to see the reindeer all together like this, for Reiulf, it feels wrong. As he mentioned earlier, reindeer didn't traditionally need to be fed. They've evolved in the Arctic, and know how to dig through the snow to survive in the winter. But, because of warming temperatures, there's often a layer of ice covering up the lichens they need. They can't dig through that ice, and sometimes it's even so thick that it blocks the smell of the food, so the reindeer don't know where to dig at all. So for Reiulf, feeding the reindeer is a sign of nature falling out of balance.

Reiulf Turi Aleksandersen This animal belongs to this Arctic area. You know, they are not bringed here, like sheep, you can't have a sheeps outside in the time of 40 minus or, but these guys, they can dig through two meters snow, but there should be something. There shouldn't be three centimeters of ice. That's the thing.

Amy Martin So the Aleksandersens have had to feed their reindeer in winter for several years now, but they've never had to keep them locked up behind a fence before. They always let the herd roam free in the mountains, and just supplemented their diet, by bringing them some food out in their natural habitat. 

Reiulf Turi Aleksandersen And I will be feeding them there, and I think they will have more fun, or more like a normal life.

Amy Martin But this year, the whole mountain has been turned into a construction site, with new roads being built, and lots of heavy equipment around. The reindeer don't like all the noise and commotion, and Reiulf was concerned they might scatter, or even get hit by one of the many trucks constantly on the move now. So he decided to gather the herd here inside this fence for the winter, and feed them every day. It's expensive, and time consuming, and it's an example of what Anna Skarin was talking about: the cumulative impacts, that start to pile up and exacerbate each other. Reiulf points out one female calf who doesn't look like she's doing so well.

Reiulf Turi Aleksandersen Here you can see this calf on the backside there is some shit. 

Amy Martin Yeah, like it's got diarrhea. 

Reiulf Turi Aleksandersen Yeah.

Amy Martin This is another cost of feeding the reindeer: their stomachs aren't made for processed food, and sometimes it can be hard on their digestion. Reiulf has actually built a small pen behind their house, on the other side of the mountain, so he can take extra care with any of the reindeer who are struggling to adjust to the new diet. As we talk, Reiulf keeps his eye on this one sick-looking calf.

Reiulf Turi Aleksandersen So, that one I need to take home with the others by the house. So this one I take with me. Maybe I can do it now.

Amy Martin In one quick, confident movement, Reiulf grabs the reindeer by the leg, tips her onto the ground, and straddles her between his knees to hold her still. It was a silent, undramatic process that took him less than five seconds. She was down before either she or I knew what was happening. 

Amy Martin I can't believe how fast you got her down.

Amy Martin Reiulf gets busy tying her legs together, so she stays snug and secure for the snowmobile ride home over the mountains.

Reiulf Turi Aleksandersen This, this is the knowledge. You have to, you can't just tie her and you have to know which, which side she's going to lie on. 

Amy Martin Which side to lie on meaning, like–

Reiulf Turi Aleksandersen She, she should, reindeer have to lay on the right side. 

Amy Martin He says if reindeer lie too long on the left side, they have a hard time circulating their blood properly. But if she's tied so she's resting on her right side–

Reiulf Turi Aleksandersen She can lie in this in many hours it'd be okay.

Amy Martin He wraps her up in an old reindeer hide, so she stays warm. Then he looks up at the herd feeding in the long lines of pellets his friends had spread on the ground.

Reiulf Turi Aleksandersen We have more female reindeer, which are not pregnant this year then what's naturally and usual. So I, I can't like know why, but–

Amy Martin Do you think it has anything to do with the wind park?

Reiulf Turi Aleksandersen I didn't want, I don't want to think about it.

Amy Martin The last time I'd talked to Reiulf was the summer of 2017, before construction of the wind park had begun. Since then, I'd spoken with Risten several times online, but this was my first chance to hear directly from Reiulf about how it’s been affecting him.

Amy Martin How has it been for you since they've been putting this in?

Reiulf Turi Aleksandersen That's been like a hell. It has been the most emotional, tough time or what should I say? But it has been hard. One thing is that, they make it, but it's the way they do it. The way they treat us, the way we are. They don't take care of our, our uh, life or our rights.

Reiulf Turi Aleksandersen It's bad. It's really bad. They are like walking on us. 

Amy Martin Can you give me an example?

Reiulf Turi Aleksandersen Like in other big projects in Norway, in Sámi reindeer areas, there's one thing which is, uh, is a normal, that you stop any kind of work when... the calves are getting born in May. But this project, they haven't any, any, any, nothing stops them. Nothing. You can't, you can't. It's like I asked one guy, one of the bosses, don't you?  Don't you have a heart? Why can't you think about us for a minute? Can you see how I struggle? He said, no, I just doing my work. You know what I said to him? I said to this man, “You're going to remember me for all your life. You going to say sorry one day. I'm sure.”




Amy Martin How are the kids doing with all this?

Reiulf Turi Aleksandersen I don't even know what to answer. They are doing their best. You know, kids are fantastic to, to, to manage changes. But you can see like sometimes in the eyes, you can see that they are sad. But I can't complain so much because when I think about some, sometime you have to think about other people, how they struggle with other things and I think my problem is my problem, but we all have something. 

Amy Martin Yeah, yeah. This is a lot though. 

Amy Martin Reiulf says he'll take me to see some of the construction on the snowmobile ride home, later.

Amy Martin You know, when we were together up there in that spot, it felt so pristine. And, and does it feel different now? I mean–

Reiulf Turi Aleksandersen Yes, of course. It's, I don't know. It's hard to talk about, and hard to think about it. I don't know, I'm, you know, when you're like, when you like, when you want something so badly as I do, for me it's like a, it's only thing I want to do. That's, that's my life really. Nothing else. So I can't think about anything else to do.


Reiulf Turi Aleksandersen I think I'm like the other reindeer people or people who are like, I have to work in the nature. I do everything I can do to, to fit in changes. When changes comes, I do whatever I can do to, to fit. So that's what I'm doing every day. It cause me a lot of trouble, but I'm always, like, thinking I'm gonna manage, I'm gonna manage, but I don't know, for how many, uh, how many years, or I don't know if those who comes after me have the same guts or skills or whatever to manage. I don't know. I hope so, but uh–

Amy Martin Cause it's just taking so much determination to keep going. 

Reiulf Turi Aleksandersen Yeah. It's uh, it's just bad.


Amy Martin Do you feel like you've been pretty depressed from all this? 

Reiulf Turi Aleksandersen No. I know that when I'm, something is running against me or working against me, I get stronger. But also harder to, myself to others. That's not a good feeling, but that's who I am. That's probably why am I am here. As I said, I get stronger. 

Amy Martin When the feeding is done, Reiulf tends to the calf who needs to be taken back home. He wraps the reindeer hide tight around her, and then wraps her again in a tarp to make sure she doesn't get too cold, then he tethers her onto a trailer, and his two friends return home, pulling her behind. He and I get on his snowmobile and head for the top of the mountain. We're soon out of the trees and racing across wide-open alpine terrain. 

But ahead of us, I can see the blinking lights of big machines on the move. The turbines aren't up yet, but there are roads curving up and around the mountains, and a new building, and I try to imagine how this spot will feel with 67 turbines spinning here. Then Reiulf cuts the motor, and points down at a flat spot just below us. 

Reiulf Turi Aleksandersen This is where they planned the four extra wind turbines which we are now hopefully, ah, made stop. 

Amy Martin We're looking down on the place where the family gathers their reindeer. This is where I spent the day with the family last time I was here. This is where Ulf Isak, their son, tried to teach me how to lasso a reindeer, and Sara Katrine, their daughter, talked about her passionate desire to keep her family's traditions alive. Reiulf points to the wooden poles of a teepee-like structure which are standing on the spot – it's a moveable Sámi shelter, called a lavo. 

Reiulf Turi Aleksandersen But one of the wind turbines was planned just by this lavo down here. I have the left this, like the trees we use to make the lavo–

Amy Martin Like the frame.

Reiulf Turi Aleksandersen Yeah we have, I have left it as a sign. When we finished the work in September, I said to my wife, we will leave it. I don't want to, it's like a mark. 

Amy Martin As the climate warms, the Arctic is getting more attention than it ever has before. Some people see the region as a harbinger of our impending doom. Others see it as a blank spot on the map, rich in resources, and ripe for exploitation. But for four million people, the Arctic is simply home. Again, this is Risten Turi Aleksandersen.

Risten Turi Aleksandersen You know, it's hard because, that's what for me, that's what I grew up with and not being able to pass that onto my children, or to have done it and just like started and, and then be forced to stop. It's really sad. and it's really, you know, I get this feeling that why, why is the way I want to live my life, why is that less important than the way others want to live their lives? 

Amy Martin We're going to continue to follow this story. If you'd like to receive updates as the wind turbines go up, please join our mailing list at our website, I also want to mention that although we're focused on the experience of the Aleksandersen family, they are of course not the only people in the area affected by the wind farm. And if you can read Norwegian, or if you're comfortable with Google translate, you can find lots of local reporting that fills out more of those details.

This Threshold extra was produced by me, Amy Martin, with help from Nick Mott. Big thanks to Rachel Cramer, our outreach manger for more than a year – you might remember her as the person who ate crickets to inspire you to donate during our fall fundraising campaign. Rachel has joined the news team at Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, and we're excited to hear her reporting from that area. Thanks for all your great work, Rachel, and welcome to Michelle Woods, our new outreach coordinator. If you're in Washington DC on March 18, you can meet Michelle, and Cheryl Skibicki, our development director, and Nick Mott and me. We'll be at the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital, as part of a special night sponsored by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. We hope to see you there, and you can find all the details about that at our website.

Special thanks to Frank Allen, Matt Herlihy, Rachel Klein, Ulf Nilsson, Montana Public Radio, the Park Foundation and our major sponsor for all of season two – the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Our music is by Travis Yost.