Wild reindeer live in mountainous areas stretching from Trøndelag in central Norway to Setesdal Ryfylke in the south. The population is divided into 24 herds that are pretty much isolated from each other. Setesdal Ryfylke Wild Reindeer Area is the southernmost wild reindeer area in Norway. It stretches from Hægebostad Municipality in the south to Vinje Municipality in the north. The wild reindeer area borders Hardangervidda Wild Reindeer Area in the north and Setesdal Austhei Wild Reindeer Area in the east. The wild reindeer often used to migrate between these areas. Today, however, this only happens occasionally due to roads and human activity.
The population in Setesdal Ryfylke consists of approximately 3000 animals. In practice, the population is divided into two herds, with around 1500 animals both north and south of Steinsbuskardet in Bykle.
Due to its proximity to the coast, Setesdal Ryfylke Wild Reindeer Area is affected by a lot of wet weather. This means that there aren’t many typical winter grazing areas consisting of large lichen beds. Compared to other wild reindeer areas, the wild reindeer here must also find alternative grazing plants during winter such as crustose and foliose lichens that grow on rocks and trees. These types of food can cause a lot of wear and tear on the reindeer’s teeth. Large amounts of snow in the north-western parts of the wild reindeer area can also cause difficulties regarding access to food. 4 meters of snow during winter is not uncommon in places like Blåsjø.
The winter grazing grounds can sometime freeze solid during years when there is lot of wet weather and temperatures shift between plus and minus. During years like this, the wild reindeer in Setesdal Ryfylke have to migrate to lower lying areas in order to find food. The winter of 2020 was particularly critical. The grazing grounds in the higher lying areas were frozen beneath a layer of ice for most of the winter.
Setesdal Ryfylke is affected by the large hydropower developments that have taken place in the area, including several large reservoirs, construction roads, dams and power lines. As a result, many of the old wild reindeer migratory routes have been flooded and are now under water. This has made it difficult for the wild reindeer to migrate between the various seasonal grazing grounds and calving areas.