Friday, April 22, 2016

Perpetual Summer, in a forest: the Niiharu Conservation and Management Plan 新治保全管理計画

According to the Yokohama Citizen Forestry Guideline and Conservation / Management Plan 横浜市森づくりガイドラインと保全管理計画, the Niiharu Citizen Forest was unique from the beginning. Yokohama had many volunteer organizations with the name “Lovers of Forest” 森林愛護会. The majority of them were mainly consisted of landlords of the place. The composition of the Lovers of Niiharu Citizen Forest 新治市民の森愛護会 was opposite: the number of landlords in the organization was smaller than that of the volunteers who simply loved to take care of the Niiharu Forest. Moreover, the Lovers was not the only organization who had activities in Niiharu Forest. There were the Organization for Promoting Niiharu Satoyama Community 新治里山「わ」を広げる会, the Association for Niiharu Bounty Community 新治恵みの里準備会, the Council for Fun Learning along Umeda River 梅田川水辺の楽校協議会, and the Lovers of Waterside of Ipponbashi Bridge Medaka Plaza 一本橋めだか広場水辺愛護会. i.e. The current members of the Niiharu Council. Many people understood for some time the Niiharu is the focal point of the north forests of Yokohama. Already before the first Green Up Plan, the demand was growing among them to establish a guideline for coordinating activities in Niiharu. When the Plan was actually started in 2009, the volunteers for Niiharu Forest saw a chance to coordinate the activities by drafting the Niiharu Conservation and Management Plan 新治保全管理計画 (Niiharu CMP). From the inception, the Plan considered the forest as a continuous environment from the remnants of agricultural Satoyama to the Citizen Forest. 

To make a CMP, the city supported the activity of these volunteers who later became the members of the regular Niiharu Council. Not only the Office for the Park Greeneries in the North, but also the offices who were in charge of planning coordination for the Green Up Plan and the department for agricultural policy joined. The CMP drafting council was officially inaugurated in 2010 with the members of the embryonic Niiharu Council, technocrats from the city, academia, and a consultant with whom the city contracted for administrative coordination. First, they had several workshops and a symposium to decide the contents of the CMP. The process included open field survey meetings with the public, whose results were reported in newsletters distributed among the volunteers and the neighborhood communities. The participants of the discussion agreed to conserve Niiharu as a wholesome environment of Satoyama that consists of rice paddies in yato valleys climbing up to hills with trees and grass fields in-between. So, the zoning in the Niiharu CMP was based on Asahi Yato 旭谷戸 (for Zone A), Yato-da 谷戸田 (for Zone B) and yato valleys south of Kamadachi 鎌立 and Mujina むじな Yatos (for Zone C). The indicator species for each of sub-zones were strategically chosen to represent the connection within an ecosystem so that birds of prey such as buteo japonicas and lanius bucephalus are regulars in many zones.

Joken Yato 常見谷戸 in Zone C

During the field surveys, the technical experts noticed there were several places where too much mowing made the ridge of the forest ecologically unstable. … My “a-ha” after observing enthusiasm of freshman forest volunteers about chainsaws. J Line census for wild birds and researches of fireflies were also a part of the surveys that revealed the timing of volunteer activities was not right to produce the maximum impact for improving the Niiharu’s biodiversity. These lessons learned created the detailed forest practice guide according to the vegetation in the actual forest. The Niiharu CMP explains not only the target ecology of each sub-zone but also the timing, the optimal man-power, the methodology, how to process the debris …etc.  Niiharu’s CMP experience also let the Green Up Plan include training programs for forest volunteers to learn ecology of animals and plants that would help volunteering being more careful and effective. The bird watching training I attended last February was a part of the scheme. Next week, I’ll report you what I’ve learned in the spring training about wildflowers. J

Moreover, the discussion produced a concrete agenda for the Niiharu Council meeting. The people who made the CMP decided to meet about once a month to coordinate each activity, to know the result of follow-up researches in Niiharu, to harmonize scientific studies in the Forest proposed by academia, and to share the concerns and solutions about the problems such as garbage damping, arson (oh, yeah), manners of visitors, and complains from surrounding residential areas (e.g. the issues of fallen leaves in the neighboring houses). Have you noticed the internet version of Niiharu CMP does not show the entire pages of “Direction of Conservation and Management Plan for each sub-zone”? It explains the points of B-2 sub-zone only. There is a reason. As the CMP is a working guide for volunteers, it has meticulous data of ecology in each zone where some fauna and flora can be a fortune through e-Bay or YouTube. Niiharu is located within 5km from the Yokohama Exit of Tomei Freeway which is 20 min from Shibuya especially after midnight. The Niiharu Forest is the nearest biodiverse place from the downtown Tokyo. Thieves come. 2 years ago, the volunteers found an entire colony of a wildflower was taken away overnight. The vegetation hosted caterpillars of certain butterfly near-extinct in the Kanto Region. Then, within 24 hours, the flower with a caterpillar appeared in an internet auction site. The police involved, but the lost flower bed and babies of butterfly did not return. Or take accipiter getilis fujiyamae in Niiharu. It’s a near-threatened species that survives on the borderline of the Red List. Several overly enthusiastic videographers tried inserting their cameras in the known nest in the Forest. The bird is very sensitive, and they never return to a nest where they find a human intrusion. But where can they go to nurture their babies? The information of such incidences has been shared among the Council members promptly, and the necessary actions were taken with the consensus. Blacked-out part of the internet version of the CMP is one of them.

In the recent activity morning,
the volunteers found one of the open spaces was trashed,
with a mark of fires.
The incident was alerted for all the members of the Council.

The Niiharu CMP and the regular Niiharu Council became operational in 2011. At the same time, the city started to offer free follow-up trainings for volunteers to upgrade their skills such as for ecology monitoring, rope-work techniques, and the usage of logs and other materials collected after forestry works. In 2013, the Green Up Plan has entered in its second phase, and the volunteer-work in the Niiharu Citizen Forest continues according to the CMP. 2014 activity report for Lovers of Niiharu Citizen Forest lists the things the volunteers did in that year.
  • Patrols in the Forest at least once a week to check the safety of trekking roads. “Is there any dangling branch over the route?” “Is that cliff stays OK for hikers after the storm?” “Is there any spot trashed?” …
  • Forest management through thinning, coppicing, mowing invasive undergrowth, and maintaining the wet lands with controlled reaping of reeds. Recording the progress of ecology at the site of volunteer activities.
  • Monitoring of the ecology of several Yato valleys and coppiced forests for the restoration of Satoyama.
  • Management of the border areas between the Forest and the farmland of the Bounty Community members.
  • Recycling the harvested logs and bamboos into kitchen utensils, fashion accessories, and picnic benches in the Forest.
  • Organizing and participating educational events in the neighborhood and the downtown near the Port for forest ecology and traditional Satoyama life. Supporting biology classes in the neighborhood schools and boy/girl scouts.
  • Night watch of the Forest with the nearby communities to prevent arson and theft.

All were identified as a part of national project, Promotion of Multi-functionality in Forestsand Mountain Villages 森林・山村 多面的機能発揮対策交付金制度 by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. So, for 2014-2016 Lovers’ activity is receiving a national grant from the Ministry, in addition to the fund from Green Up Plan budget. After learning these, I’ve a kind of understood why my senior Lovers’ volunteers are so knowledgeable and having atmosphere of fun and camaraderie … They’ve been volunteering in the Niiharu’s pure and calm air for many years + receiving (often free) help from professionals to hone their skills. Niiharu Citizen Forest is like an eternal weekend college campus for volunteers, with scholarship. Phew.

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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