Friday, September 30, 2016

Forests and water sources for Kanagawa Prefecture

Last year, in 2015 when I attended the introductory course for Yokohama Forest Volunteers, there were at least 2 secretly enthusiastic water cooler topics among volunteers. One was about the chainsaws. Another was for Forest Instructor Training Course organized by Kanagawa Green Trust かながわみどり財団. Yeah, that’s organization for Koajiro Forest. The training is for volunteers to take care of forests in Kanagawa Prefecture, including in Hakone National Park and TanzawaQuasi-National Park. What’s notable for this program is (a) it’s free, whose opening is once in 2 years, (b) it’s 1.5 years’ course of 24 days, held in weekends, (c) upon completion, the volunteers are certified by the Governor as Kanagawa Forest Instructor and will organize educational nature activities throughout the Prefecture, and (d) there are a screening process for attending the course, and exams to receive the certification. I was taken aback. Screening and exams for volunteer activities? “Oh, yeah.” ”Well, it’s a serious staff, you know.” “Yes, Yes. Will you apply for the next opening?”

Last year’s trainees for Yokohama’s Forests 101.
Oh, by the way, this year’s Forest Volunteer 101 by the City
will be held again in October and November.
For reserving the seat, please check here.

I google-searched the course, and found 2016 is the opening year for the class of 15th session. And screening … a submission of an essay by the deadline to proceed to an interview at the second round … wow.  I applied it, and (to my surprise, honestly) I was called for an interview at Yokohama Port Opening Memorial Hall 横浜開港記念館. The number of trainees for the class of 2016 would be 35. Each applicant was allocated 10 minutes’ slot for an interview held by 2 examiners. The Kanagawa Green Trust used 3 rooms that held the interviews simultaneously. The first meeting started at 10:00, and the last one ended at 16:00 with 1 hour lunch break from 12:00. i.e. There were at least 90 interviewees for 35 chairs of the training course … hmmmm. When my turn came, two gentlemen of the Trust asked “Well, this course is demanding. It has several practical sessions of forestry using tools in steep mountains of Tanzawa and Hakone. Could you cope with it?” “The contents cover large area, such as CPR methodology for emergency, ecology of our mountains and more. Are you OK for this?” etc. etc. To my second surprise, I received a letter from the Trust saying “Congratulations. Please attend the first session at Kanagawa Natural Environment Conservation Center 神奈川県自然環境保全センター.” So one August weekend morning, I went there on the foot of Tanzawa Mountains.

Yokohama Port Opening Memorial Hall is
designated as an Important Cultural Property
by the national government.
During the early 20th century,
it was a town hall of Yokohama built
solely by the donation of citizens of the City, not by tax.
Inside we can admire very Japanese stained glasses.
It’s one of them.

Kanagawa Natural Environment Conservation Center is in a town that  is somewhat known for Nanasawa Onsen hot spring 七沢温泉, and a huge prefectural medical center forrehabilitation 神奈川リハビリテーション病院 to the patients of serious ailments, such as circulatory failure and spinal cord injury. Almost sandwiched by 2 large campuses of the medical center, there is the Natural Environment Conservation Center that is in charge of the environmental policy implementation for Kanagawa Prefecture … The relationship between the city of Yokohama and the Kanagawa Prefecture is a bit complicated. Yokohama is designated by the national cabinet order as somewhat independent entity even though we are within the border of Kanagawa Prefecture. According to an insider of the prefectural government, Yokohama is a kind of “… er they’re different, you know” category: FY2014 revenue for the prefecture was JPY 1.98 trillion, whereas Yokohama had independent revenue of JPY 1.48 trillion. I was a bit surprised to know during the interview for this training course that the people of the Green Trust, an important actor for prefectural environment policy, did not know Citizen Forest System of Yokohama. Even though, roughly 3.7 million citizens of Yokohama are a part of 9.1 million people living in Kanagawa Prefecture, and paying prefectural taxes. One component of the prefectural levy for citizens of Yokohama is yearly 300 yen per head Forest Environment Tax. Yokohama’s 900 yen per head Green Tax is to protect remaining greenery in a large city of Yokohama where people live very close to polka-dotted forests within the city. Aside from cultural values of the forests, the prosaic objective of the Yokohama's policy is to reduce disaster risks for residents from landslides, fallen trees, floods, etc., emanating from abandoned forests. Prefectural environment policy with another earmarked tax tots up the additional mission to culture and disaster risk reduction: preservation of water resources. (Oh, by the way, Yokohama’s water system is the oldest in Japan as a modern water system.)

Kanagawa Natural Environment Conservation Center

The first day of the course this year was comprised of 2 lectures. One is about National Trust system of Japan which encompasses Kanagawa Green Trust (more about this in the next post). Another is about prefectural policy about forests and water resource protection. Our tap of water in Yokohama is coming from Lake Sagami 相模湖, Lake Tsukui 津久井湖, and Lake Miyagase 宮ケ瀬湖 all of which are surrounded by the forests within Kanagawa Prefecture (and Yamanashi Prefecture 山梨県 along with Doshi River 道志川 to Lake Sagami: I’ll post about it more later). That’s one of the reasons why the entire Kanagawa Prefecture including Yokohama is not in sync about drought with the other prefectures in Kanto Regions such as Tokyo. (All of them are dependent on Tone River Water System.) It sounds very well and secure, so I thought. Wrong. According to Mr. Kazuyoshi Mashiko of Kanagawa Prefectural Government who gave the lecture, although the volume of greenery in the forests of Kanagawa Prefecture is OK for now, the quality is deteriorating rapidly. The main reason is the same as the problem for Satoyama in Yokohama. The forestry as industry, in terms of gross product and labor force, reached its peak in Kanagawa for 1952 - the early 1960s, and declined steadily to the bottom of 2003. Although it is getting better slightly (“Labor force has recovered from 313 personnel in 2003 to 351 in 2014!”), viability of economic activity in the forests is grim unless we count eco-tourism. As such, not many people take care of the afforested area of middle elevation in Hakone / Tanzawa mountains. Many plantations of coniferous trees have been abandoned for decades now. Trees without thinning and pruning are now collapsing …

Near the Natural Environment Conservation Center,
there is the office of Atsugi Forestry Cooperative
According to Mr. Mashiko, these days the majority of forestry job
in the Prefecture is done by such cooperatives.

Moreover, the higher elevation of Kanagawa’s forests which is the National and Quasi-National Parks has another problem. When Japanese thinking of environmental protection was in infancy, there was a policy not to control the population of cervus nippon in the park areas. It was OK until the 1980s when the forests in Hakone and Tanzawa had large snow fall during winter. Many Japanese deer could not survive in the snow-covered mountains with little food. Then, the planet is warming and the Parks do not have much snow anymore. Surviving deer ate, ate, and ate the vegetation in the protected area to proliferate. They caused massive deforestation of fagus crenata and their forest floors that once covered the top parts of Hakone and Tanzawa mountains. Finally, the lowest part of the Kanagawa’s greenery, i.e. Satoyama, is almost in siege by urbanization. Uncared forests with these backgrounds erode large amount of soil. They could not retain water as before. The volume of water we can use is decreasing now. The washed away soils made the entire mountain fragile against earthquakes and storms that would cause large landslides and massive floods running down the rivers. The dirt reaches to the beach which makes the Sagami Bay murky, with less fishes to catch for fishermen, and of smaller beaches for important tourism industry. In conclusion! The forests in Kanagawa Prefecture need help for maintenance in order to maintain the entire ecosystem of the prefecture. If left untreated, the amount of greenery in the entire prefecture will shrink. Smaller biodiversity in our parks, more polluted air from the window …

Japanese deers in stamps
Shichirigahama Beach in August 2009,
which was still wide … but …
Shirigahama Beach in August 2016.
The beach becomes too narrow so that
the prefecture is applying preventive measure to keep the coast line …
global warming and deterioration of forests … sad.

Who’s gonna take care of these actually then? 351 forestry people alone cannot cover 95 thousand hectares of greenery in Kanagawa. True, there are forest rangers for National Parks, but the absolute shortage of helping hands remains the same. Here comes the thinking of National Trust. I’ll report you next about the Japanese National Trust in Kanagawa Prefecture.

Beyond the houses is the beginning of Tanzawa Mountains.

The contact address for Water Source Environmental Conservation Division of Kanagawa Prefecture is,

Water Source Environmental Conservation Division, Environment Agricultural Administration Bureau
Phone: 045-210-4352

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