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Bear management at the municipal level

10.5 Bear management in Iwate

10.5.3 Bear management at the municipal level

Currently, where an incident of pestilence occurs or a bear is perceived as a threat to safety, the municipal government (village, town or city) or other individual or organisation wishing to cull a bear on these grounds must apply for a consent to capture (and cull) the bear from the Regional Development Bureau for that area.96 (See Figure 42.) The Regional Development Bureau must in turn consult with the Nature Conservation Department at the prefectural head office to ensure that permits for cullings do not exceed the prescribed maximum limit for that year. (As can be seen from the 2006 example, when the actual cull exceeded the maximum harvest limit by over 100 per cent, this process is not necessarily effective in practice.) While such permits are usually provided within 24 hours of

the application and

applications are rarely (if ever) refused, some local authorities have expressed dissatisfaction with the process, and would like to be delegated the authority to provide such permits in

order to deal more

expeditiously with bear

incidents, particularly when human safety is threatened.97

The prefecture’s bear

management plan sought to accommodate the concerns of such municipalities by providing that, in emergency situations, municipal governments may by-pass this consent process and deal with the imminent risk posed by the bear or bears, provided that they report the case to the prefectural authority (the Nature Conservation Department) after the capture/culling has taken place.98

The Prefectural plan, as noted above, provides procedures, standards and limits in the management of Iwate’s bear population. However, provided they work within that framework, municipal governments may to a large extent determine their own approach to the management of bears in their area. Indeed, there is a high level of variability in the approaches taken.

For instance, the town of Shiwa located south of Morioka has engaged in a project to replant publicly owned forest land with broadleaf trees, in an effort to provide bear habitat and to curb bear pestilence over the long term.99 The town hopes also to gain the cooperation and involvement of private forest owners in the area. This is the first, and only, such replanting project undertaken by a local government in the prefecture, but follows precedents set in Wakayama and Hiroshima Prefectures. The town took this more ecologically-oriented, long-term approach against the background of two main factors: the reduction of broadleaf forest as a result of the national government’s past forestry policy favouring afforestation with coniferous species; and the attraction of bears into human- inhabited areas as a result of the inappropriate disposal of food scraps and agricultural waste. The town authorities opted to approach the problem from a wider ecological perspective and with an emphasis on environmental education.100

Tōno City, on the other hand, takes a highly managed approach. This is largely in reaction to historically high rates of pestilence and a fatality as a result of a bear attack in June 2001, which led to extreme public anxiety concerning the issue of bear pestilence and appearances. Tōno City is a city of about 30,000 people, located in the southeast of Iwate. It is situated in a basin at the foot of the Kitakami Highlands. Agriculture is the primary economic activity in the area, in which 25 per cent of the local people are engaged.101 Rice-farming and cattle raising (for both dairy and meat) are the major forms of agriculture.102 The city is also attempting to develop tourism in the area, mainly on the basis of Tōno being the home of the collection of folk-tales recorded by Yanagita Kunio (1875–1962),

Tōno monogatari, which are well-known throughout Japan (the town’s logo is the fictional kappa, which appears in the tales).

The level of anxiety among residents of Tōno heightened considerably following a fatal attack in 2001. Since that time, the city office has assigned a member of its staff to the responsibility of dealing with bear pestilence and incidents (and deer pestilence over the winter season, when the bear is not active). However, as is often the case with these positions, this officer had no expertise or training in

wildlife management, nor did he have a particular interest in the area. His role was mainly to deal with cases of pestilence once they have occurred, as opposed to initiating preventative measures in wildlife management.

The city has implemented a comparatively thorough process for dealing with reports of pestilence. When there is a report of bear pestilence or a request for culling, the official goes to the site, obtains details about the circumstances, including any preventative measures the victims have taken (such as electric fences), takes photos of damage and notes other information. Based on bear-related reports over the course of the year, the city office produces a map annually, on which is indicated all incidents of reported pestilence, sightings and attacks. An electronic version of this map is also posted on the city office website.

The city has also adopted the central government-funded system for the subsidisation of electric fences for a limited number of farmers each year. However the annual budget for the scheme only allows for a small number of these to be installed each year.103 In 2005, for example, a total of eighteen fences were installed in Tōno.104 The city official responsible for managing bear pestilence stated that he does not actively promote the subsidy scheme because demand far outweighs supply even without doing so.105

There are eight kujotai (culling teams) in the Tōno area. In discussion with the various interested parties (the victim of pestilence, hunters, municipal officials etc), an application is made for a permit either to trap and cull or to relocate a bear. The culling permit is issued to the leader of the relevant team by the Regional Promotion Bureau, usually within twenty-four hours of the application. There are about forty hunters in the Tōno Hunters’ Association, but not all hunters are willing and able to deal with bears, and only a few are called upon when there is culling request. Thus, because only a limited number of hunters are prepared to take on this responsibility, it tends to be the same hunters who are asked to deal with a bear-culling time and again.106 Mr Kikuchi, the hunter mentioned earlier, is one of these individuals. In Tōno, the busiest time of year for trapping and culling requests is in August and September, and over this period, he is sometimes called out every day. According to Mr. Kikuchi, the crops most frequently targeted by bears are corn, fruit (particularly apples) and rice. Not all incidents to which he is called out are ones of pestilence. He is sometimes called out to deal with the carcass of a bear hit by a car or train; incidents which are quite common, particularly at night. All carcasses he deals with are incinerated.107 One aspect of the process of dealing with bear incidents which should be noted is that, according to both the city official who deals with bear incidents and Mr Kikuchi himself, much of the process aims to make the victims feel reassured, rather than to have any real effect in terms of dealing with the bear. For example, Mr Kikuchi notes that he often deliberately

sets the trap so that bears don’t actually enter. In his words: ‘Because it’s we humans who are at fault’

( ).108

Another notable aspect is that, according to the Tōno City official, farmers who experience bear pestilence on an annual basis tend not to report damage. It appears to be the people who have rarely experienced pestilence in the past who most commonly report it. This is clear also from the maps of the area indicating reported damage: most reports are for sites located very close to the city and residential areas. Very few are for sites in the hills surrounding Tōno, and yet this is where most pestilence is likely to occur. Thus, there appears to be two distinct ways of reacting to bear pestilence among rural people, depending on geographical location and occupational background. Farmers who are from families who have traditionally farmed in the upland areas have come to expect visitations from bears and other wildlife, and are resigned to it in much the same way as they might be bad weather: a nuisance, but something to be expected every once in a while. The other group are those who live or farm closer to urban areas and are experiencing bear pestilence or visits for the first time. For them, it is disturbing experience—the manifestation of some strange phenomenon against which they want to be protected. This pattern concurs with the pattern described in Chapter Seven.