Friday, February 5, 2016

Forest Volunteering 101: 横浜森づくりボランティア入門講座体験記

So, Yokohama Citizen Forests need volunteers who can thin the undergrowth in the forests. On the other hand, Yokohama sits next to Tokyo and not many people have experience with even a small gardening. But, natural environment turns out to be essential even for city dwellers, and they can be eager care-givers of neighborhood forests, if they know how. Ideal condition for “Human Development” program, huh?

Yokohama Forest Volunteering 101 started in FY2012. It is a part of seminar series organized by the City with a help from civil society organizations that provide technical experts in urban forestry. Since 2014, the seminar is held once in a year in Niiharu Citizen Forest. The course consists of 3 weekend 9:30-15:00 seminar and practice sessions. Anybody who is 18+ years old and lives/works/studies in Yokohama can participate, free-of charge, provided s/he can attend all 3 days. Although the City organizes many other seminars for Forest volunteerism, this is the only course open to a person who has not started forest volunteering yet. The number of seats is limited at 30 on first-come-first-served basis that could be in full soon after the registration period begins. This fiscal year, for the seminars on October 17, November 14 and November 23, the application was accepted either by email or FAX between September 17 and October 2 at the Support Center for Civic Activity in Environmental Issues that belonged to the City’s Creative Environment Policy Bureau 環境創造局環境活動支援センター (FAX045-721-6356, email: 30 Yokohama people of aged 20+, male and female, attended and had a weekend fun. I was one of them. J

A rainy October weekend
in Niiharu

All 3 days were made of a combo of lectures and labo (i.e. forestry volunteering exercises). Lectures in the first two days were held in the Main Room (Hiroma) of the Okutsu House. That was a splendid venue. Although it was either rainy or misty for all three training Saturdays last fall, the pure traditional room with tatami floor was warm and very comforting, or even therapeutic. I learned that in1994 the last patriarch of Okutsu Family rebuilt the house as “a traditional Japanese wooden house standing at least for 100 years without a problem.” The 3m main pillar, Daikoku-bashira 大黒柱, is zelkova, other pillars and liangs are cypress all of which do not have a knot. They were selected carefully from all over Japan. The sliding doors that partition rooms are one-wood panels (I mean, not plywood) from cedars of Akita and Yakushima Island (UNESCO World Heritage site). The carpenters were specialists of Japanese traditional architecture so that they built the Okutsu House with almost no nail. During intermissions, we all spread our legs on comfy cushions and said “If this were my house …” The grandpa of Okutsu Family commercially grew flowers in glasshouses stood on the land where now regular farmers’ Saturday market is held. Mr. Okutsu did not have an heir and donated the estate to the City. Niiharu Park and Citizen Forest were open in March 2000. Mr. Okutsu passed away in the fall of 2000. He was really a person.

Okutsu House
Sculptured window for a storage door
in the Main Room of Okutsu House.
Ideal café table
for intermissions during seminars
The traditional Japanese room is comfortable
with Powerpoint presentations.

The first morning lectures in October started by the people from Creative Environment Policy Bureau explaining Yokohama Green-up Plan and the biota of Yokohama. Then, Ms. Mihoko Yoshitake of NPO NORA introduced us the important and exciting roles of forest volunteers in the Green-up Plan. She is a veteran of civil society participation in Yokohama’s environmental policy. According to her, the 2010 change in national land legislation for agriculture facilitated the rental contracts of farm land, and clarified the role of volunteer organizations in urban forestry. Her story about the early days of forest volunteering in Yokohama was entertaining, but very educational. She pointed out 3 kinds of diversity in a forest of the City. Actors of urban forestry are many; landlords, neighborhood urbanites, hikers, municipalities, etc. with lots of crash of egos. Yokohama is in Japan where original biodiversity is very high so that the living creatures in the forests are various; sun worshippers, light haters, wet-soil lovers, drier-preferred, and don’t-care. This is the world of Darwinian “the survival of the fittest” in microenvironment. Finally, the place is so near to Tokyo and Kamakura that the area has rich geography and tradition; Tama Hills, Miura Peninsula, Sagami Plane, the yesteryear’s land usage, an incessant urbanization, legends and fairly-tales, village custom … come to think of it, we are in the birthplace of Mega-cities in the post-WW II era. Coordination Saves (Forests') Lives.  (“Coordination, coordination, coordination!”) The role of volunteers in Green-up Plan is to be facilitators and participants in planning, doing, monitoring and evaluation (“Project Cycle Management”) of urban forestry, with (“this is important”) finesse in a community. Hmmmmmmmmmm.

The second morning lectures in November discussed first the Guide Line for ForestCreation and Management 横浜市森づくりガイドラインと保全管理計画. The overall concept of the Guide Line is to aid a project cycle by volunteer organizations in a forest. First, the research about a forest is to be done (What are living inside? Who are coming to the forest for what? Is there any conflict of interest? …), and the result of the study must be shared by all the actors connected to the forest. Next, everybody is to agree with “the future of the forest,” zoning of the area, and the ways to manage the forest. Then, set a (short-term) target that is understood by all the participants: for this, the consideration for historical approach to the land management and the result of hearings from community elders should be shared by all. After all of these preparations, actual forest management activities begin, with continuous monitoring by all the members in forest management. The works in a forest are also subject to periodic evaluations, and if necessary changes in target and methodology are introduced for reaching to “the future of the forest.”

It seems to me the reason why the Guide Line takes this approach is from the experience in early days of forest volunteerism in Yokohama. It is funny when urbanites found the joy of forestry, the most exciting thing was to cut trees and clear vegetation no matter what (and lots of beer afterword), which left the mess on the ground … is it some kind of karmic thing of humans? Anyway, now many have realized it was not productive for peaceful neighborhood. In Green-up Program, the activities of volunteers should consider 5W2H always:
  • Why must it be done? To make the hiking road nice? To facilitate natural succession? …
  • What should be done for the objective? Research? Thinning? Clearing? …
  • When will we do it? E.g. Is it the right timing of work for nurturing the reproduction of owls? …
  • Where do we work? This particular point, or the entire area? …
  • Who will do it? Isn’t it better to leave it for professional? …
  • How will we do it? Do we use chainsaws? How many of us do it? What is the risk in activities? …
  • How long do we do it? For 1 hour minimizing the noise for raccoons? For several years? …

In this area of Niiharu, forest management is done by
Lovers of Niiharu Forest and local elementary schools.

As each forest has its own background, every work plan will be order-made. There is a strong merit of attentive and continuous works by volunteers coming from the neighborhood. Having said that, volunteers need to be well-versed in the management of the forest, intellectually and technically. So, the 101 seminar includes several sessions for very practical aspects of forest works. This part of the seminar was instructed by Mr. Ken’ichiro Jinbo of Kanoko Kankyo Produce Co., consisting of lectures about the basics of works in forest, such as about safe attire, about the necessary tools for works, where to procure poison removers against hornet stings (; it’s sold at Tokyu Hands), simulation technique for predicting dangers during forest works, and so on. We also had labos in the Niiharu Forest to learn the methodology of preliminary study / monitoring of forest sections. There was an exercise for the usage of sickles and ropes, a kind of scout training but specialized in forestry. I learned leaving weeded sasa bamboos or thinned trees on the ground could be harmful when the objective of a work is to enhance the biodiversity of the location. As the darkness of the ground is the main culprit making the neglected Yokohama forests less diverse, the work is to let the sunshine coming to the soil. If we leave the debris in the forest, since it is a humid city, mildews, molds, etc. can prosper at the “cleared” place and no light reaches to the ground. No mission accomplished, or worse: diseases can spread from there. After weeding and thinning, we have to carry out the cut branches and undergrowth to a designated compost heap. Hence rope works, such as Otoko-musubi, become very important.

Mr. volunteer lecturer from Lovers of Niiharu introduced
 us this part of the Forest as a spot being monitored
after weeding 3 years ago.
The work continues for several more years …
Monitoring exercise sheet I’ve done
with the field in the Forest
Quiz: Which rake is for forest works?
Answer: None.
All of them will destroy the dormant flora in the soil.
The best tool to rake forest floors after weeding is
a piece of wood.
How to use a traditional Japanese machete
We use this rope for putting together cut sasa bamboos.
Once the grasses are arranged
in this way, it is easy to carry.
Now, our turn!

The third day started with an actual exercise on a slope near the C-5 entrance ofNiiharu Forest. For about 2.5 hours, we worked to weed sasa bamboos and other bushes with Japanese machete and scissors. The objective of the exercise was to create a space for anemone nikoensis and anemone flaccida whose seeds were dormant in the soil due to the overgrown sasa bamboos. “Let there be light!” During the labo, the instructors taught us the practical surveillance methodology, (“Such bushes could hold wasps’ nest. So, first check the place gently if dangerous creatures come out.” “Do you think the distance between the working place and the creek below is enough?” …), proper work postures (“Always draw back your leg which is in the direction of your machete movement” …), safe positioning (“Start from the bottom, then go up gradually.” “Maintain enough space between team members to avoid any injury” …), division of labor (“At least one of the team members must act as a sentry to warn members to keep safe distance, possible fallen objects, etc” …), how to weed (“the roots of sasa bamboos are to be disrupted as much as possible by inserting the machete in this way.” “Cut the stumps to the subterranean level. The hikers could stumble if a remnant pokes out.” …) It was a November day of misty cold rain … and such a fun! I was amused the concentration came naturally for all of us. 2.5 hours were so short, and at the end we admired the cleared space from many directions, imagining a new flower meadow next spring. In Kanagawa Prefecture, Hakone (National Park) has the richest biodiversity. Second position is held by Tanzawa Mountains (Quasi-national Park). The third one is (surprise, surprise) the area around Niiharu Forest. Well, people are really taking care of these places, men.

Our working site is over there.
First, check the safety of the place.
”Let’s do ropes!”
After the work,
there was a lesson to care the tools.
“Grindstones are to be soaked
in water overnight.”

The seminar was concluded with a networking session between the seminar participants and forest volunteer organizations. Kanazawa Mori-dakusan no Kai かなざわ森沢山の会 told us their activities in collaboration with Kanazawa Zoo and Botanical Garden. Japan Bamboo Fun Club is now piloting a quasi-business scheme to develop new health foods using very young tip of bamboos. (“Unlike a standard forest, bamboo forests require annual thinning. We have to think how to dispose regularly occurring tons of deforested bamboos, in the most efficient and eco-friendly way.”) Lovers of Niiharu Forest work with 3 other volunteer organizations and surrounding communities active in Niiharu Park and Niiharu Citizen Forest, according to the Niiharu Forest Preservation and Management Plan 新治市民の森保全管理計画. Telling you the truth, I did not expect much from the seminar before attending. “Well, it’s organized by boring bureaucrats …” WRONG. The people from the City were very knowledgeable and good teachers. The lecturers and instructors from the civil society had wealth of information and experience to restore the biodiversity in the City. My fellow participants, comrades, and people from forest volunteer organizations were very friendly and eager to enjoy the forest. I had wonderful rainy weekends last fall. J

Powerpoint everywhere
Networking with
chocolates and rice crackers

The City Office who’s in charge of execution of Green-up Plan is

Yokohama Municipal Government Creative Environment Policy Bureau 横浜市環境創造局
Phone: 045-671-2891
FAX: 045-641-3490

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