Conservation efforts have secured the partial recovery of Europe's wild reindeer, although only in 24 separate fragments of their original range, now separated by resorts and roads. Full recovery of the original range will require restoration of migration routes across developed or disturbed areas. We analyzed distribution of around 3500 Rangifer tarandus tarandus (reindeer) during winters (1984–2005) in relation to 10 alpine resorts and prior to and following relocation of ski trails and cabins in Norway done to restore use of former habitat.
Reindeer used areas within 15 km of resorts, which is less than expected based on the availability of habitat, most likely as a result of cross-country skiing activity surrounding the resorts, limiting their access to other ranges and historic migration corridors. Reindeer abundance declined and mean distance between reindeer groups and resorts increased with increasing resort size. No apparent habituation to resorts was observed during the 20-year study period. However, when ski trails and an associated tourist cabin were removed to restore access to historic habitat, reindeer moved into the area. No such change in reindeer distribution was observed in the 10 years preceding relocation, or at the other nine resorts where no such experiments were conducted. Regulation of human traffic, relocation of trails, and removal of infrastructure and cabins are apparently effective in restoring access to and use of historic ranges and migration routes. However, restoration of historic migration routes between ranges will likely require the removal of hundreds of recreational cabins in order to become effective.