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Bear management in Iwate Prefecture

10.5 Bear management in Iwate

10.5.2 Bear management in Iwate Prefecture

Formal policy and systems for managing the bear date back to the late 1980s in Iwate. Between the years 1987 and 1989, Iwate Prefecture took an important initial step towards a programme to monitor bear populations and habitat in the prefecture, when it undertook its first survey of bear populations and habitat.75 However, at this time, the procedures and criteria governing the culling of ‘problematic’ bears remained vague and imprecise: while local authorities had to obtain permits on the basis of actual damage or imminent risk to human safety before a control-kill of a bear could take place, often no confirmation of actual damage occurred and permits were issued simply on the basis of claimed damage. Permits were issued with no consideration of such factors as harvest numbers to date.76 In 1995, Iwate Prefecture became the first prefecture in Japan to establish criteria and by-laws pertaining to permits for the control-killing of bears.77 The Prefecture again took on a pioneering role when, in 2001, it issued a ‘Relocation Techniques Manual’, outlining procedures for the relocation of captured ‘nuisance bears’ (though there are issues with carrying out relocations in practice, as will be seen).

In March 2003, following the revision of the Wildlife Protection and Hunting Law in 1999 (outlined in Chapter Six), the Iwate Prefectural Government published an ‘Asiatic Black Bear Conservation and

Management Plan’ (Tsukinowaguma hogo kanri keikaku ). This is the

second such plan to be established by the Prefecture, following one created for the management of a population of deer in southeast Iwate. Nationally, it was the fifth plan to be established for the bear.78 This was the first major step in forming a comprehensive framework and policy for the management of Iwate’s bear population.

The overall objective of Iwate’s ‘Asiatic black bear conservation and management plan’ is to ‘plan towards the co-existence of humans and bears through the maintenance of stable populations of bears in Iwate Prefecture over the long term, the prevention of attacks on humans, and the reduction of damage to agriculture and forestry caused by bears.’ 79 The plan was to be implemented over four years from 2003 to 2007. As background to the plan, the document states that ‘human-bear conflict, in the form of agricultural and forestry pestilence and attacks on humans, is a major social problem, and appropriate measures for the prevention of damage have become urgent tasks’.80 According to the document, the two distinct regional populations of bears—one in the Kitakami mountains and one in the northern Ōu mountains—are to be managed as individual populations. As part of the plan, the Prefecture has established maximum harvest limits for the two regional populations, as noted earlier. The limits are reviewed annually, based on population estimates; distribution; agricultural and forestry damage; harvest figures for the previous year; and the previous harvest limits.

Figure 40: A zoo-keeper at Morioka zoo demonstrating telemetry techniques for tracking a released ‘bear’. (Photo: C. Knight) The plan is applicable to Iwate Prefecture only. This is a limitation to its effectiveness, as the Ōu Mountains—and therefore their bear population—also cross into the neighbouring prefectures of Akita and Aomori, which currently have no management plans for the bear. There is no coordinated inter-prefectural approach to the bear’s management and conservation at this stage, and this lack of coordination between prefectures is clearly a drawback of the current prefectural approach (rather than a wildlife population-based approach) to wildlife management. As a result, Iwate Prefecture has only attempted to ascertain the bear population of the section of the Ōu mountains within its prefectural borders, not for the entire Ōu mountains.81 Such an estimate is of dubious relevance given that the bear’s range is, of course, not bound by prefectural boundaries, and some ‘Iwate bears’ are also likely to be ‘Akita or Aomori bears’. The plan does recognise the need for an inter-prefectural approach to bear protection and management, and while it identifies such an approach as an objective for the future, it fails to specify how this objective will be achieved. There is, however, an inter- prefectural initiative to create a natural forest corridor over the length of the Ōu Mountain Range, and although not specifically relating to the bear, it will, if successful, have a significant part to play in conservation of bear habitat.82

The plan states that the Prefecture aims to prevent human injury caused by encounters with bears through communication strategies: by encouraging city, town and village offices to provide guidance to citizens, particularly to sectors of the community most likely to encounter the bear or bear pestilence, such as farming communities and the leisure and tourism sectors. Such communications outline how to avoid encounters with bears and how to

avoid attracting bears, through such precautions as the appropriate disposal of organic waste. However, awareness campaigns are limited to only a few media—most often the prefectural government website and inter-office memos to regional and municipal offices.83 Though the distribution of flyers was being recommended by the Prefecture in 2006, it is not clear how common this is in practice, and how the initiative was to be funded.84 Owing to the lack of budget

allocated to wildlife management, awareness

campaigns are not conducted through media (e.g. newspaper, TV, radio) likely to capture a larger audience. Beyond requesting that the regional and municipal offices provide guidance and raise awareness, the Prefecture’s strategy does not include

Figure 41: An apple orchard near Morioka. This orchard is frequently visited by bears which eat the apples and damage trees. The surrounding hills and forest are clearly visible, showing how unclear wildlife-human boundaries are. (Photo: C.Knight.)

initiatives on the part of the prefectural government itself, such as prefectural-level education and awareness campaigns or the provision of one-to-one guidance and advice to farmers. Activities to raise public awareness about the bear or the prevention of bear damage tend to be conducted on a small scale, and to be undertaken by non-governmental organisations such as research organisations or zoos. For example, Morioka zoo carries out occasional presentations to zoo visitors about the bear, its life-cycle, habitat and current bear management and research (see Figure 40).

Thus, efforts to make citizens more aware of how to avoid bear pestilence and encounters in Iwate Prefecture to date appear to have been largely ineffective.85 For example, although orchardists can cheaply and simply avoid attracting bears by burying spoiled apples from their orchards, few take these measures—whether it be through lack of awareness or other factors. Additionally, simply making information available to citizens is not always sufficient to change deeply ingrained behaviour. For instance, when dispatched to see one orchardist just outside Morioka who complained of bear pestilence, a volunteer team from Iwate Prefectural University advised that he dig a pit and bury any apple waste to avoid future visits from the bear. The team then proceeded to dig the pit and dispose of the apples for him. However, only a few months later, on a follow-up visit, it was found that he had reverted to disposing of apples in the prior manner, in a pile in the woods adjacent to the orchard.86 In another orchard nearby, where bear damage had also been reported, the orchardist had actually had an electric fence installed around the orchard, but had left a gate- sized gap in the fence. It is likely that the bear or bears causing the pestilence entered through this gap. In another example, when the owner of a pig farm in Yahaba-chō complained of pestilence, a bear trap was installed to capture the ‘problem bear’. However, because the source of the problem was not removed, bears continued to be attracted to the food source, and were subsequently trapped and killed one after another. In this particular instance the municipal government had recommended the farmer install an electric fence, but clearly this recommendation had not been followed.87

There are limitations evident in other aspects of the Prefecture’s bear management also. As mentioned, Iwate was the first prefectural government to trial aversive conditioning and relocation, and the

‘Relocation techniques manual’ published by the Prefecture in 2001 has since been utilised throughout the country. However, in practice, bear relocation is fraught with difficulty. The problem of finding suitable places to relocate a captured bear means that few relocations actually take place.88 When this problem was discussed with the official responsible at the Tōno City Office, it was explained by the phrase ‘okuyama ga nai’ (a phrase which literally means ‘there are no deep mountains’). In other words, what is ‘away from the village’ to one group of residents is ‘near our village’ to the next village. This sense among rural people that there is no longer anywhere suitable to release bears is not limited only to Iwate. It has been reported to be a common response in western Japan also.89

Any successful relocations rely heavily on the support and time of local researchers, veterinary surgeons and hunters. Therefore, in reality, the only major role the Prefecture plays in this process is the provision of permits to hunters or persons applying to capture the bear. For example, while the prefectural government has veterinary surgeons on its staff, it does not allow them to participate in the capturing and relocation process (for tasks such as the application of anaesthetic) for legal reasons (i.e., avoidance of liability). The process therefore relies on the services of veterinary surgeons in the private sector to volunteer their services.90

According to the ‘Asiatic black bear conservation and management plan’, the Prefecture is also committed to the maintenance and regeneration of indigenous broadleaf forest. However, it does not specify to what extent and how this is to be achieved.91 Subsequent reports on initiatives taken as part of the Prefecture’s plan indicate that some progress had been made to replant and regenerate an area of broadleaf forest, dominated by konara (Quercus serrata, a type of oak) and other masting trees. In 2004, the area of replanted forest amounted to 122 hectares, and the area of regenerated forest totalled 774 hectares. As a percentage of the total forested area of Iwate, this amounts to less than 0.1 per cent.92 However, as the first initiatives on the part of the Prefecture to replant, regenerate and maintain natural forest, it should not be dismissed as insignificant.

On the other hand, as noted earlier, in some important respects, Iwate prefectural government can be regarded as a pioneer in bear management in Japan. In 2006, Iwate also became the first prefecture in Japan to take the initiative of issuing a pre-emptive warning of the likelihood of high bear appearances/incidents in the coming year (Tsukinowaguma no shutsubotsu ni kansuru chūihō

). This warning is based on data gathered from a study conducted from 1993 to 2006 in the Ōu mountain region. The study found that there is a close correlation between mast levels of beech and the subsequent incidence of bear appearances and pestilence in and around farms, towns and villages. The 2005 beech mast in this region was good, and historical data

gained from this study show that the likelihood of a poor mast occurring in the year following a good mast is high. In addition, due to high nutrition levels of pregnant sows going into hibernation in the previous year, a high birth rate is also likely. Thus, as a result of both a high number of sows with cubs and a poor mast in the year following a good mast, there is likely to be a higher level of bear activity around human inhabited areas, particularly over summer and autumn when bears tend to move farther afield to find food. In the warning, which was distributed as a memo and posted on the Prefecture’s website in March 2006, shortly before bears emerged from their winter dens, citizens were urged to take particular care in the disposal of spoiled fruit, crops and other waste.93 Indeed, these predictions were borne out: in 2006, there were 516 sightings/incidents, twice as many as the previous year.94 On the other hand, there were fourteen incidents involving human injuries (slightly less that the previous year’s figure of sixteen).95 Though it is problematic to form any conclusions regarding the success of the early bear warning system, it is possible to conclude that it was at least a partial success, given that the rate of injury was similar to the previous year, despite a much higher number of appearances.