Friday, July 21, 2017

Japanese sniper: Wild life and ecological restoration in Kanagawa Prefecture

Could you figure out footprints here?


In 1993, Kanagawa prefecture initiated a 3 year project to collect environmental data in Tanzawa-Oyama Quasi-National Park 丹沢大山国定公園. This was the first scientific and comprehensive monitoring for deer problem in Japan, and became the basis of 180° turn of Japanese policy for wild animals. For tackling the problem I told you last week, the 1993-1996 study recommended the prefecture to systematize coordinated policy among prefectural bureaus for tourism, primary industries, and environment. Following the proposal, the prefecture made in 1999 the Conservation Plan for Tanzawa-Oyama Area 丹沢大山保全計画 which is the blueprint for the currently ongoing efforts to tackle the ecological problems in Kanagawa. Next year in 2000, Kanagawa Nature Conservation Center 神奈川県自然環境保全センター was established and the offices who were in charge of the above 3 policy subjects situated themselves under the same roof in Atsugi City. Such coordination was the first attempt in Japan. Then, they drafted and implemented the 1st Conservation and Management Plan for Deer 二ホンジカ保護管理計画 for 2003-2006. As a part of the plan, the office asked Kanagawa Hunting Club to cull the herds in the entire Kanagawa. At that time, reducing the deer population in this way was indeed revolutionary in Japan since the popular idea was dominated by “wild life protection.” Though, the policy had limitations. They asked the hunters to act within the framework of traditional “environmental conservation” that limited the hunting season from November 15 to February 15, and required to avoid killing does.


Kanagawa Nature Conservation Center


At the turn of the century, not many young mountaineering types joined the hunting club. “Oh, killing cute Bambi is barbarous!” became a cool mantra among Japanese by the 1990s … In 2003 Kanagawa, out of approximately 3500 licensed hunters roughly 1700 were over 60 years old. Though the mountains are not large in our prefecture, the terrain consists of very steep and often fragile cliffs and slopes. Deer are cautious animal. They normally move around in thick undergrowth and dark afforested area of congested trees. Now majority senior citizen hunters in Kanagawa were asked to stay put for hours in frozen bushes in craggy mountains to hunt for deer, with so-so emphasis on animal protection. Inevitably, the result of the 1st Plan was … limited at best. The estimated Kanagawa’s deer population reached its peak in 2006 at about 6000. The deer crowded in the national park area ate up the vegetation and started to die in starvation. In the middle of the last decade along popular trekking roads of Tanzawa, many hikers encountered dead deer whose ribs stood out of their body … Meanwhile the prefecture did an additional and detailed scientific study for 2004-2006, and formulated the 2006 Basic Framework for Nature Restoration in Tanzawa-Oyama Area 丹沢大山自然再生基本構想. Consecutively in 2007, the prefecture introduced a tax earmarked for water resource environment conservation 水源環境保全税 that solidified the funding for the 2006 Framework. The Conservation and Management Plan for Deer was included in the Framework and the 1st Plan was took over by the 2nd Plan for 2007-2011.The Deer Plan is now in its 4th from this year, which includes Japanese macaques as a target. 2006 Basic Framework is also revised periodically, and the current 2017 Basic Framework is its 3rd. The most importantly, the methodology established in 2006 Framework has started to yield results these recent 2-3 years.




So, what’s the difference between the 1st Plan and the consecutive ones? With 2006 Study as the scientific foundation, the prefecture took a holistic approach with 4 pillars to deal with the ecological problem. First, the botanists, including Dr. Jun Tamura 田村淳 of Kanagawa Nature Conservation Center, began to build walls against deer as much as the budget allowed. Unless the defense is just right, creative deer and the other wild animals invade into the protected space from a less than 20cm-high crack, and have lunch as much as they want to. With trials and errors, the scientists are tinkering the design of traditional fences, for its height (“About 1.5m is enough”), density of wire mesh, how deep the bottom should be (“Dig 30-50cm to tack in the hem of mesh”), how much width between the mesh-supporting pillars should be, suitable materials, colors, the way to twine the meshes to the pillars, etc. etc. Next, the prefecture has expanded civil engineering projects in mountains to stop soil erosion. Mobilizing forest volunteers to thin and mow the abandoned afforested areas is a part of the plan to restore the natural vegetation preserving the soil. The office also has been constructing small and big earth-retaining structures with whatever material suitable and economical within deep mountains. Thinned trees and rocks from screes in Tanzawa are one of the favorites. They also locate grating floors here and there to stop thin-legged deer approaching to the critical environment. These incessant improvements in defense against deer have started to produce the result. Within the walls the seedlings escaped the predation by wild animals and grow taller as we have seen in the Forests of Growing in Yadoriki . Kanagawa’s approach is becoming a standard against deer in Japan. … Though, in contrast, the third and fourth pillars are more difficult to implement.


An old kind of deer fence,
or probably against hare.
The current deer fence.
The structure is definitely sturdier than the above photo.
In Mt. Oyama, a scene of land slide.
Grating floors near the peak of Mt. Oyama.
This is to protect the seedling of fir.
People say when the tree reaches to 2-3m high
so that its canopy cannot be reached by deer,
it’s safe to remove the protective fence.
This one needs a bit more nursing.
These trees have stomach bands.
They are to protect the trunks from deer grinding their antlers.
Babies are in the cradle …
Could you see the difference
between the area within the fence and the outside?
Soil retaining structures in the back of this photo?
They were constructed in almost bare forest floor
along Mt. Oyama Urasando
大山裏参道.
This one is in Hakone region.


The third column about ecological problem is hunting. In the end, unless humans act as the pinnacle in the food chain, wolf-less Japanese mountains do not have predator for deer. Effective deer walls simply push the herds to somewhere else and spread devastation in forests, or, at best, create boom and bust cycles of deer population. Hunting Club of Kanagawa Prefecture has been asked to kill more. From the 2nd Deer Plan, does are positive target. The hunting season has been gradually expanded, and this year it becomes really all year round, for every Wednesday and Saturday. On the other hand, aging in the hunting community advances relentlessly. The active 65 years old hunters in 2006 are now 75. They are requested to keep wading in leech-infested summer bushes in Tanzawa. Actually it is a serious issue nation-wide. Although Japan Hunting Club and each prefectural Hunting Club are enthusiastically recruiting young hunters, nowhere is succeeded in increasing its membership. For example, Kanagawa Hunting Club has several public events, such as gibier BBQs, all year round to promote their activity and to persuade novices to train themselves for deer hunting. (Their coming events can be checked here.) Though, according to my fellow forest trainee who is a member of Kanagawa Hunting Club, the hurdle is VERY high to be a hunter in Japan.


A yesteryear notice for “Wild Life Protection Area,” in Yadoriki.
The Hunting Club’s ground this year can be checked here.
Even when the place is designated as a “Protected Area,”
if it’s also a “Deer Control Area,” hunting takes place.
Like this in Yadoriki, if hunting is on-going in a Protected Area,
a special notice is posted at the entrance of hunting ground.
When you hike in Kanagawa,
you’d better being attentive these notices.
You can enter the area, but knowledge is power.
And don’t deviate from the route.
You may be tempted to wade in the bushes,
and the hunters are waiting for
any animal moving through non-road.
Save your life,
and keep the environment of our national park as is at least.
A red hunting banner in the outskirt of Hakone region.
The flags like this are also an important sign for hunting area.


First of all, you have to have a permit to have guns in Japan, issued by police. Hey, we are not Americans, but the nation of the Constitution declaring “The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.” For you to carry guns in Japan, (0) you have to attend training sessions instructed by police in lecture and practice (; this year’s detail is here with Kanagawa Prefectural Police) for handling guns in Japan and pass the exam at the cost of approximately USD 200; (1) you have to submit the police all the necessary official documentations including the detail of your assets, income, family, and any proof you have no motivation to kill people; (2) your family members must pass the interview done by police to vouch your family life which does not have any possibility for murder, and (3) your neighbors and acquaintances must pass the interview done by police to make it sure your reputation is impeccable and they do not have problem living in a community with guns. Next, you must have a license for hunting in each prefecture. i.e. Your license in Tokyo is not valid in Kanagawa. When you want to hunt in several prefectures you have to go through the similar procedure for each place you plan to go. Now, to obtain license, you have to pass another exams that take one whole day to sit, and medical clearance emphasizing clinical appraisal of your mental stability. The cost? When you try to obtain full-license for Kanagawa, you have to pay about USD160 + documentation fee for your doctor that costs normally at least USD 50. (The detail of Kanagawa’s hunting license can be found here.) Next, of course you have to have your gun that is normally in the range of USD 5000 per rifle. You need bullets with price tag of at least USD10 per shot. Finally, you have to renew your gun permit and hunting license every 3 years with similar process including interviews by detectives about your current family and community life. My fellow forest instructor trainee said, “In the end, hunting in Japan is a typical status symbol!” It should be difficult finding a 20-something who can stay in snowy or leech-dominating mountains for days, AND satisfy these requirements. So, rich senior citizens are toiling this summer in hot and humid bushes of Tanzawa with vampire leeches to be the pinnacle of a food chain.


A poster for Kanagawa hunting license exams of 2016


Having said that, it is undeniable that the aging hunters engage in very important role to restore ecological balance in Tanzawa. Not only culling, they also record the ecological data of deer and environmental condition of the place where the hunting occurred. Their data is the basis for monitoring the progress in the Nature Restoration Plan for Tanzawa-Oyama. Since around 2015, it becomes more and more uncommon for hunters to record starved deer. The average annual number of deer culled is around 1500 these 2 years, which yields with a Bayesian estimation the current deer population in Kanagawa would be 3000-2000, or 20-30 deer per km2. This is a decrease from 6000, or 50-60 deer per km2 in 2006. It is the nation’s first scientifically confirmed decrease in deer numbers. Furthermore, the prefecture has a secret weapon: Kanagawa is the first prefecture who hires professional snipers to control deer population. They are called the Wild Life Rangers who are in 2017 a team of 6 snipers-cum-public servants of Kanagawa Prefecture. Their standard skill is ability to bring down a smallish doe within 300m range in deep forests + physical fitness to keep their skill for about a week in Tanzawa mountains of freezing winter, or of leech-fiesta of summer. Needless to say, they must have gun permits and hunting license of Kanagawa. The major location of their job is the places where senior citizen Hunting Club members cannot go, i.e., very harsh terrain. They also act as instructors for Hunting Club, and collect scientific data of the environment in their field. They are paid by tax payers and entitled to have sponsored health insurance, pensions, and any other perks public servants can enjoy. Observing a success in Kanagawa, many other prefectural governments started to employ Wild Life Rangers. Now, all the snipers of the world, if you are sure to pass every requirement to be a hunter in Japan + for your fluent communication skill in Japanese, this is your chance to have a stable job in Japanese nature! Job openings are often posted at the homepage of Japan Hunting Club.


A notice on a route from Kotakuji Temple 広沢寺 to Mt. Oyama:
“A bear was spotted around here in September 30.”
Er, it does not say which September 30,
but it’s not surprising to encounter bear in Tanzawa.
 
Oh, by the way, the public toilet in Yabitsu Pass
was closed in May due to drying-up wells.
I don’t know if it’s related to soil erosion because of ecological havoc.
Actually at the entrance to
Ninoashi Forestry Road
二ノ足林道 from Kotakuji Temple,
the prefecture has posted this notice for hunting.
It also says
“In order to avoid meeting with bears,
choose your route with clear view.
In case you encounter with a bear,
never panic, and move away from the individual
as quiet as possible.”


You may have noticed all the pillars I’ve explained so far for 2006 Basic Framework in Kanagawa are symptomatic treatments. Indeed. The prefectural office knows it of course. And so, the forth, and probably the most difficult, pillar for the Deer-Macaque Plan comes in. It is in the end the problem of a weakened community management for human life in nature. Meanwhile, by killing-off wolf in Japan humans are responsible to act as the apex of the food chain in Japanese mountains. The duty includes maintenance of reasonable distance between the territory of wild lives and human community. It’s like an ultimate nobles oblige … The current chief for the prefecture in charge of wild animals is Mr. Kiyoshi Tanigawa 谷川潔, who quit his job about 10 years ago as a national park ranger to come back to Kanagawa from the Shiretoko Peninsula 知床半島, a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site. He is a sort of sanguine about the fundamental cause of “wild life problem” in Japan. The other day, he told his situation assessment to us forest instructor trainees. “We should regard all the slopes of Tanzawa and Oyama we can see from the Odakyu Line are home for Japanese bears. The community situating themselves along the border with the forests must maintain at least 100m wide clearance from the forests. Otherwise, not only deer, but also bears, boars, monkeys, and any other animals can use the poor view with bushes as a safe corridor for foods in human settlements. Once an animal learns the passage, it is extremely difficult to stop the individual to come back other than by killing it. I don’t like calling those repeater-animals pests to agricultural damage. They learned their animal road because humans were negligent for the land of our own livelihood. The animals are not at all guilty.”


Near Hinata Yakushi Temple 日向薬師.
These rice paddies are surrounded by high-voltage fences
to repel invading animals, including humans.
If you spot these during your walk, never touch it.
Few years ago, a similar kind of structure
electrocuted to kill several people in Shizuoka Prefecture.
Though it was an accident,
the owner of the fence killed himself afterward.
The 21st century tragedy in Japanese mountain …


Mr. Tanigawa’s office is engaging in the execution of the fourth pillar. They financially and technically support aging rural community of Kanagawa to restore at least a semblance of populated Satoyama community of the yesteryears. In addition to the activities of Wild Life Rangers and monitoring in the national park areas, the people from the Nature Conservation Center go round the villages to encourage senior citizens to clear all the fruits of the orchards without delay before animals approach. They coordinate community meetings to nudge members to organize community-wide Satoyama maintenance activities, and clear bushes encroaching from the forests. They promote membership campaign for Hunting Clubs especially in villages right next to the national parks. Actually, with the help of prefectural budget, the townships of Yamakita 山北 and Matsuda 松田 have fairly generous subsidy for newly relocated folks from the metropolitan Tokyo to obtain gun permits and hunting license. (“And that’s unfair, I think,” so my fellow forest instructor trainee living in Kawasaki 川崎 said.) Probably because of Mr. Tanigawa’s office’s endeavor, Kanagawa Prefecture in recent memory does not have an incident where wild animals kill or seriously harm humans. But the situation stays critical. For one thing, restoring Satoyama management with fewer and older residents is something our society has never done before. The aging is the fundamental problem for Japanese society. Heroic community coordination efforts by officers whose main job is about wild animals have their limitation. Moreover, stabilizing national park ecology is showing the new phase of problems.


The agricultural community near Kotakuji Temple.
This place has maintained clear view for their orchard from houses.
That’s the way.
And you may notice it along the community road
from the Kotakuji Onsen
広沢寺温泉 bus stop;
 the forests and human settlement is demarcated
by high voltage fences for at least 500m.
In Kotakuji community.
Beyond the fence is a passage for wild animals including boars.
An anti-animal noizer in Kotakuji community.
It is set at near the end of the community road,
and reacts whatever moving object
(animals, humans, cars, bikes, etc.) approaches.
The sound of it is disquieting and, I would say, very sad.


These days, the wall-protected areas have unnaturally dense vegetation within the cage, whereas the outside remains under the deer pressure. If the environment is in balance, wild animals including deer would eat some of the plants without making the place bare so that artificial mowing of undergrowth by forest voluteers should be unnecessary. In such a case, deer fences can be removed altogether. Since the situation has been improved, can we do away the deer fences now? “No, no, no. The animals will come back to devour our forests again. Besides, the neighboring prefectures and beyond, Tokyo, Yamanashi, Shizuoka, … are some 20 years behind from Kanagawa. If we relax our guard now, the animals from there will enter into our land and the same thing will occur.” So Mr. Tanigawa said. The most devastated areas around Mt. Hirugatake 蛭ヶ岳 and Mt. Tanzawa 丹沢山 still have not recovered its former glory with centuries’ old beeches. Mr. Tanigawa added “We don’t know yet the timing of withdrawing vegetation protection or Wild Life Ranger activities … perhaps, having this human system would be the 21st century way of being the pinnacle of food chain.” Japanese snipers are here to stay for foreseeable future in our forests.


This May, in Zizohdoh 地蔵堂 community in Hakone area,
we’ve encountered with this scenery.
A total of 7 wild boar hides were sun-dried along the community road.
According to a resident guy there,
the community did a traditional group hunting this winter,
and caught a family of boars by driving them into a pit.
The largest hide had at least 1m length.
“You see, it’s dried and shrunk this small.
The original was at least 1.5m long!”
North exit of Odakyu Hon-Atsugi Station.
You may ponder if it’s feasible to introduce wild wolves
from Siberia where genetically closer wolves
to extinct Yezo wolves are surviving.
There is a group who actually proposing this method.
According to Mr. Tanigawa, the prefecture simulated
an introduction of Siberian wolf at the north-most point of the prefecture
where Kanagawa, Tokyo and Yamanashi meet.
An individual set loose there late morning will come here within 2 hours.
The prefecture thinks Japan has too small territory
for very active Siberian wolves to co-exist with humans.


If you find environmental problems in mountains of Kanagawa Prefecture, please make a contact to
 
Kanagawa Nature Conservation Center 神奈川県自然環境保全センター
657 Nanasawa, Atsugi City, 243-0121 2430121 厚木市七沢657
Phone: 046-248-0323

You can send an enquiry to them by clicking the bottom line of their homepage at http://www.pref.kanagawa.jp/div/1644/



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