Friday, March 11, 2016

Coordination Saves Niiharu Forests’ Lives

So, Niiharu Forest of more than 70ha in the middle of Metropolitan Tokyo is managed by a tiny local bureaucracy and THE army of citizen volunteers. We Japanese are ordinary humans who can quarrel for stupid things, and if a large number of us gather randomly the chaos is ensured. The key for the success here is, “Coordination Saves Niiharu Forests’ Lives,” honestly. Just like OCHA being under the international law, having something written to begin with is handy. Niiharu Forest has one: Niiharu Conservation and Management Plan 新治保全管理計画. It’s a documentation completed in 2011 for the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Niiharu Citizen Forest. To make it, many actors for the Forest such as the civil society organizations, academics and mandarins bumped their heads each other for several years (ha, ha, I told you Japanese can quarrel), and reached an (хорошо!) amicable agreement for the long-term management of the Forest. Forest cannot argue. Forest cannot be in a hurry according to fickle human demands. The very basic premise of the Plan is, it seems to me, it is we, humans, to be considerate for the Niiharu Forest. Do you remember we visited Niiharu Charter of 2000 last April? The Plan is about how to achieve that goal.

“We, the people in Yokohama, love the Niiharu Forest of beautiful nature, and appreciate the blessings the Forest provides us.
Niiharu Citizen Forest would be one of the wonders in a big city. It has been maintained by ordinary life of people in Niiharu for generations.
Now, we open the Forest as the place for every citizen to protect, nurture, and carry the memory of traditional scenery of Yato.
We define our motto for Niiharu such that we revive and re-energize the Niiharu Forest through the cohabitation between the nature and human life, in order to pass this treasure to our children and beyond.
We declare Niiharu Charter such as
  1. Passing the cultural climate of the nature of Niiharu, and its Satoyama that has been nurtured by Niiharu people , to our next generations,
  2. Fostering the nature of Niiharu and the next generations of ours to develop more powerful co-habitation between the nature and the humans, through activities to take care of the Forest, and,
  3. Co-owning all the images of ideal forest for any forest lovers, and cooperating each other in order to create the Forest for every citizen.
At the opening of Niiharu Citizen Forest, by all the Lovers of Niiharu Citizen Forest

March 2000"

Before Niiharu became a park or a citizen forest the place has been for ordinary Japanese farmers to live peaceful lives. i.e. The Niiharu Forest has landlords whose family tradition keeps knowledge of land management of the area. “Rice cultivation? It’s to be done in yato valley.” “Deep in that part of the forest is home for wild silkworms whose cocoons can produce the best quality (and profitable) silk so that we have to keep the place good for them.” “Beneath this space runs a complex system of water stream. If we dig holes randomly, the land will collapse. We must be very careful.” So on and on and on … There are variety of reasons why each location became a part of the Niiharu Citizen Forest and Park. “Er, the inheritance issues, you know?” “Our family wants to keep planting rice here, but we don’t have enough labor …” “Our family has been working with the neighborhood organization xyz for decades to manage this place. We want to keep our arrangement in an improved way.” Etc, etc, etc. Adding scientific assessment to these conditions by academics and the 3 pillars of Niiharu Charter, the Plan has made a zoning over the entire Niiharu Forest.

A plum orchard the Lovers volunteers planted
several years ago,
after clearing the mess due to a long neglect.
(By the way, the landlord is a temple nearby.)
Now the trees give us a sweet scent
and beautiful flowers in every March.
Beneath is a natural canal of water.
A veteran volunteer told me laughing
“Don’t jump! Your foot will give away,
and you’ll drop down straight!”

The declaration of Niiharu Charter tells us the Niiharu Plan should achieve (1) Nurturing the community who appreciate the natural environment, (2) Transferring traditional knowledge of Satoyama life to the next generation, and (3) Protecting the ecosystem of the area. The historical relationship between the Forest and people is reflected in these 3 pillars, and correspondingly the Niiharu Plan has 3 zones with the set outcome and priorities for each. Zone A is in the northeast of the Forest whose set outcome is for nurturing public knowledge about the environment of Niiharu. Zone B is in the northwest where the outcome emphasizes the continuation and knowledge transfer of Satoyama management. Zone C is the rest of the forest with the outcome for the natural ecosystem conservation. Then, each zone is divided into sub-zones with the decided sub-outcomes and implementation plans to obtain the outputs contributing to the sub-outcomes. From here that the Plan turns into a wonky but extremely practical reference book.

As you may have expected, Okutsu House is in Zone A.

For example, Zone B has 4 subzones. Among them, Zone B-2 includes Asahi Yato rice paddies next to Zone A. B-2 has its own set outcome: the forest is managed to restore and maintain traditional yato rice cultivation landscape which is a continuation of rice paddies and the surrounding slopes climbing to the ridge with forests. The Niiharu Plan records the baseline condition of B-2.  As of 2010, the area consists of 1 forest of overgrown deciduous broadleaved trees (; an indication Satoyama forestry has not kept coppicing), 1 place of shrubs and vines for mantle vegetation (; probably an abandoned spots for commercial forestry after the Satoyama trees were cleared), 2 large coniferous forests (; saying these spots have been commercially planted in the 1940s, and the forest floor is very dark), 3 forests of pin oaks (; wonderful! They keep the remnants of Satoyama), 2 bamboo forests (; ditto for the continuation of Satoyama landscape), a colony of silver grass along the rice paddies (; i.e. the paddy management does not have enough hands to maintain footpaths), a forest of quercus myrsinifolia (; i.e. the place has reverted to the vegetation of 2000 years ago with limited sunshine = little biodiversity), a grass field left by a recent deforestation, 3 orchards and the Yato-da rice paddies. For the B-2 outcome to be materialized, the Plan sets 4 outputs. One is reducing the acreage of coniferous forests and expanding the pin oak forests. Second is to thin a forest of monotone quercus myrsinifolia to turn it into a forest of various trees including small deciduous trees and grasses. Third is to maintain and nurture the pin oak forests with timely coppicing. Finally the forth is to repair the canals + footpaths in and around the rice paddies, and to thin out trees immediately standing along the paddies for more sunshine to rice cultivation.

Looking at the bottom of Yato-da rice paddies.
Beyond the paddies is one of the fruit orchards in B-2.
The trees along the paddies are too tall that can block sunshine.
It becomes dark around 16:00 even during the high-summer,
and rice at the sides of the paddies cannot grow well.

The indicators to achieve these outputs are the lists of vegetation, animals and insects who once lived in the area and could return when the Plan is successful. If humans maintain traditional rice cultivation in order, the slope surrounding the paddies will have more diverse vegetation that helps yato to gather naturally cleaned water. The paddies will host abundant aquatic insects, including fireflies. Rana ornativentris werner, rana japonica and venomous rhabdophis tigrinus are expected to come back. Strategic coppicing create the hills of young and vigorous deciduous trees where many insects, meadow buntings and small animals such as hares will enjoy lots of food. Then, lanius bucephalus and buteo japonicas should thrive in the area with enough food to sustain themselves. So, here we have a clear list of programme outcome, output, baseline, indicators and targets for B-2 management. The Niiharu Plan then proceeds to explain the meticulous implementation plan with lots of graphics.

The footpath of the yato paddies
after plowing in the spring. Lots of flowers!

Take coppicing in the forest of pin oaks. The Niiharu Plan explains in step-by-step the methodology to coppice the forest by monthly and multi-year schedules of works for the climate of Yokohama. Coppice quercus serrata and sawtooth oak once in 10 to 15 years during January to March. How to cut trees depends on the ground condition: if it’s flat, cut them from the root, but in slopes it’s OK to leave 30-50cm from the ground to make the work safer. The new shoots will come anyway if sunlight and water are enough. Start the work from the southeast as this will facilitate the spread of sunlight over the area during this long-term project. 3 years after the coppicing, in August and September, do “Moyakaki” which is a thinning of new suckers to keep only the vigorous tillers that have survived typhoon and heavy snow. Then, annually in summer, thin the congested lower branches of the young trees, which will promote the healthy growth of the tree. Summer is a good time as the cut wounds will be healed by saps. After coppicing, weeding of the forest floor is in the annual to do list. It will help baby serrata and oak to receive enough sunshine without being covered by bamboo grass or evergreen aucuba japonica. But never weed the forest in May and June because bambusicola thoracicus are breeding at that time. July and September are suitable, and cut the grass in 0-20cm above the ground; i.e. do not mow monotonically, as the variegated weeding will maintain the biodiversity of the place. Don’t forget scraping the fallen leaves in February, by 1 or 2 people per 3000 m2. It will stimulate the germination of cymbidium goeringii and anemone in April. The work is to be done by small number of people in order to avoid compacting the soil. After thinning, weeding and scraping, carry out the sheared vegetation from the forest for recycle. If we leave them in situ, it will block new sprouting …

Sickles for weeding

All the other areas (coniferous forests, swamps, area next to colony of detached houses etc. …) have equally detailed instructions of works to reach to the output stated in the Plan. Moreover, all the explanations are accompanied by location-specific simulations for “the case when the place is not sufficiently taken care of” and “the case where too enthusiastic intervention has been done.” As you can imagine, the Niiharu Conservation and Management Plan is a bulky tome that can help urban amateurs to be active in eco-friendly forestry. But can anyone, an individual or one group, do it alone? Here comes the matter of coordination among actors in the Forest.

There are bright pink flowers of peach trees
in one of the orchards in B-2.

For instance, in B-2 area the works in and around Asahi Yato rice paddies are done by the Organization for Promoting Niiharu Satoyama Community. They have a project to restore and preserve historical Satoyama rice cultivation for Yato-da rice paddies. Before Niiharu became the Citizen Forest and the Park, the Organization was already collaborating with the landlord of the paddies who was troubled by acute labor shortage. Then, after the new Agricultural Land Act of 2010 became effective and the taxation on ag-products was modernized, their collaboration evolved into a pure conservation effort for the culture of traditional organic rice cultivation in yato geography. The volunteers of the Project engage in repairs of footpaths and canals, thinning the surrounding trees to obtain enough sunlight to the paddies, seeding rice in an adjacent dry farmland, ploughing and tilling the paddies non-mechanically, planting by hands the seedlings transferred from the farmland, weeding, controlling the water, treating pests and diseases (organically, of course), harvesting by hand, drying and threshing without motorized machines, … i.e. everything of traditional rice cultivation including the regular November party for cooking new rice at the charcoal cooking stoves in Okutsu House.

Early March, volunteers for Yato-da paddies sow seeds of rice.
I didn’t know seedlings of rice could come from dry farmland
... The textbooks in my elementary school said all were in rice paddies
 … The leader of the volunteers of Asahi Yato told me
this is their traditional way.
And in the same day they are mending
the footpath along the yet dry paddy.
Such prep works are very important
for successful rice cultivation.
The traditional stoves with old-style
rice cookers  in Okutsu House

The orchards in B-2 are basically owned and taken care of by the members of the Association for Niiharu Bounty Community whose product will come out for the Farmers’ Market when it is in season. The rest of the B-2 area is the territory of the Lovers of Niiharu Citizen Forest where many members have observed the improvement of the area for more than 20 years (i.e, before the Forest became the Citizen Forest). The members of the Niiharu Council coordinate the huge menu of works at once a month meeting, and help each other when the things go rough. In the 2000s, the Lovers of Waterside of Ipponbashi Bridge Medaka Plaza engaged in educational activities about rice cultivation for the schools in and around the area. Unfortunately, the Lovers of Waterside encountered the problem of the volunteer staff shortage. The work was transferred to the Council for Fun Learning along Umeda River, with a technical support by the Organization for Promoting Niiharu Satoyama Community. The arrangement enabled the educational rice paddy adjacent to Zone A to maintain its mission to “nurture the community who knows the value of taking care of the biodiverse traditional environment.” The veterans of Lovers of Niiharu Citizen Forest who are in charge of the Forest Atelier teach at Okutsu House when the Organization holds seminars for traditional handcrafts such as bamboo basket weaving, or accessary making with the materials from the Forest. These cross-over activities contribute to the Outcome of Zone A where Okutsu House Stands. Coordination Saves Niiharu Forest’s Lives, mate.

Ipponbashi Bridge Medaka Plaza
The flat hill top is an educational rice paddy
the Council for Fun Learning inherited
from the Lovers of Waterside.
In winter the place is dormant,
waiting for the kids to return coming spring.
The hill of this part belongs to Zone A-4
whose sub-zone outcome is to provide the environment
where kids can play and learn Satoyama
and its ecosystem.
The thinning and weeding of the slope has been done
by professional landscapers hired by the City,
as the place had too much bamboo grass and huge trees
which were a bit tricky to be handled by the volunteers.
It is a result of a coordination between the civil society and the City.

If you find a problem in the Niiharu Forest, please make a contact with
Office for the Park Greeneries in the North 北部公園緑地事務所
Yokohama Municipal Government Creative Environment Policy Bureau 横浜市環境創造局
Phone: 045-311-2016 (I guess in Japanese only)
FAX: 045-316-8420 (I hope there is somebody who can read English …)

Niiharu Administrative Office / Satoyama Exchange Center 新治管理事務所・里山交流センター
Phone: 045-931-4947
Fax: 045-937-0898

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