The effect of forestry on the environment and rural society

In document The bear as barometer: the Japanese response to human bear conflict (Page 52-55)

An economic sector which has had a significant impact on both rural society and bear habitat in the post-war years is forestry. The forest has long been an important source of resources and livelihood for upland communities. Before the advent of modern plantation forestry, Japan’s natural forests were used as a source of fuel wood and timber. Not only the ‘forest proper’, but also the satoyama forest was traditionally a source of fuel wood and charcoal, green fertiliser for crops, and foods such as mushrooms, bamboo shoots, nuts and edible plants. Changes in fuel sources have also been a driver in changes in forest use. Since the 1950s, when charcoal and fuel wood were replaced by modern forms of energy such as electricity, oil, and gas, forestry production was switched from the hardwood trees suited to the production of charcoal to softwood timber species to supply housing, construction, paper mills and civil engineering markets.19

However, the use of forests and the nature of forestry was to change dramatically in the twentieth century. As Japan stepped up its military activities during the pre-war and wartime periods, forests were exhaustively logged to provide timber for the war effort.20 This high level of felling had major environmental consequences: causing landslides and extensive flooding in many downstream districts of Japan, and transforming much of Japan’s forested countryside into an expanse of scarred and denuded hill slopes. It also left Japan with a serious timber shortage. A nation-wide reforestation movement was launched by the government in the post-war years to restore tree cover to bare mountain-sides and to further replace ‘unproductive’ and ‘low-quality’ natural broadleaf forest with coniferous forest.21 The slogan for this post-war forestry effort reflected the single-mindedness of the

policy: kakudai zōrin, daikibo zōrin ‘expanded plantation forestry, large-

scale plantation forestry’—a policy which resulted in large areas of mature broadleaf forest and other areas of natural but ‘unproductive’ forest being cut and replaced with coniferous species such as Japanese cypress (Chamaecparis obtusa, or hinoki in Japanese) and Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica, sugi in Japanese).22 This policy was further underpinned by the introduction of a self- funding financial system for the Forestry Agency in 1947, which meant that the Forestry Agency’s focus was on maximizing profit above all else (including environmental considerations).23

The objective of this intensive programme of reafforestation was self-sufficiency in timber supplies, but this was not to eventuate: as Japan experienced shortages of timber in the course of its post-war recovery, it filled the gap between demand and domestic supply by importing large quantities of timber from Southeast Asia and other parts of the world, especially from the 1960s onwards. In

subsequent decades the scale of Japanese timber imports has increased enormously: in 1965 imported timber accounted for only 13.3 per cent of timber consumed in Japan, but by 2003, imported timber accounted for approximately 80 per cent.24 The effect of the importation of large volumes of timber was to displace home-grown timber from the market, depress domestic forestry, and ultimately, to lead to the neglect of the forests themselves. This neglect of forest has been further exacerbated by a shortage of silvicultural workers, a consequence of the general trend of rural out-migration, and the concomitant increase in the cost of labour. As is the case with farming, silvicultural work has become less attractive to younger generations of workers, given its physically demanding nature and low wages comparative to the secondary and tertiary sectors.25 Owing to the cost and scarcity of forestry labour, basic silvicultural tasks such as pruning and thinning are in many cases not being carried out sufficiently to produce high quality timber. The timber harvested from these forests therefore tends to be low-quality, knotty timber, and as a consequence, is less likely to be harvested, as its poor quality is unlikely to make the returns necessary to cover the costs of harvesting.26

It was particularly the foresters and farmers in upland regions who, following the government’s encouragement in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, converted their land to coniferous plantations, and it is also these communities which have been disproportionately affected by the subsequent decline of the forestry sector.27 In his research in Hongū (a rural area in Southern Kinki), Knight (2003) found that the foresters in upland communities tended to blame the government for this decline of plantation forestry. They believed that the Japanese government, which in previous decades encouraged foresters to plant their land with coniferous plantation species, has a moral responsibility to support forestry families today—one which it has failed to honour.28

Plantation forestry practices also have environmental impacts. Large-scale logging disrupts the original pattern of rainfall run-off and can lead to downstream floods, landslides and river silting. Plantation forestry also acts to inhibit other forms of life: the growth of grass and undergrowth, and by extension the creatures which live on these plants. This has been particularly accentuated in recent years due to the neglect of thinning. Additionally, forestry destabilises the habitat conditions of forest fauna because of its cyclical nature. The effect of the sequence of clear-felling forest and then reafforesting is first a significant increase in food supply for forest herbivores owing to the growth of plants on the forest floor (referred to in Japanese as rinryokukōka ), and then, some years later, a sudden decrease in the food supply when the plantation canopy forms and undergrowth is shaded out. As a result, wild herbivore numbers multiply in the earlier phase, but face a food shortage in the later phase. The ‘surplus’ animals respond by feeding elsewhere, whether in other younger plantations or on village farmland.29 For bears, and to a lesser extent, many other animals, the major impact of post-war plantation forestry has been the destruction of mixed natural forest containing nut- bearing (mast) trees such as beech, oak and chestnut trees, which are a prime source of nutrition.

The construction of forestry roads has also had an impact on forest-dwelling wildlife and its habitat. In the last decades, forestry roads have been constructed through much of the mountainous interior of Japan. For example, Knight reports that since 1970, the length of forestry roads in Hongū has more than doubled.30 The building of forestry roads has not simply been to facilitate forestry: Hatakeyama (2005) discusses how the building of forestry roads has been used as a tool to ‘lift’ local upland economies from economic stagnation, by attracting subsidies and financial assistance for their development; by providing employment; and as a form of ‘compensation’ following natural disasters or droughts.31 However, the expanding network of forestry roads has taken a toll on the natural forest environment and its wildlife: they act to fragment habitat and inhibit the movement of wildlife, and by providing better accessibility to previously remote areas of forest, human activity has encroached further into wildlife habitat. (Some experts suggest that roads do not act as a barrier to the movement of wildlife such as bears, but it is undeniable that wildlife crossing roads are susceptible to road- kill.)32

There are three main categories of forestry ownership in Japan: privately

owned forests (shiyūrin );

publicly owned forests (i.e., under the

jurisdiction of prefectures or

municipalities) (kōyūrin ); and state owned forests (kokuyūrin

). A relatively small portion is also owned by what is known as the Japan

Green Resources Corporation

(Ryokushigen Kōdan ), a

public corporation (see Figure 4). The category of ‘publicly owned’ forests is the most complex, and includes forestry managed by prefectural governments, cities, towns, villages and hamlets. Ownership is a significant factor when considering wildlife and habitat conservation and management issues, particularly in relation to natural forests. Only about 30 per cent of all forests are state-owned, while 55 per cent are owned privately, with the remaining fifteen per cent are under the jurisdiction of prefectural or municipal governments or the Japan Green Resources Corporation.33 The composition of forest ownership has obvious implications for wildlife management in natural forest habitats, which comprise just over half of forest-land: even if more effective measures for managing natural forests in ways more conducive to wildlife conservation were implemented by central government, these would be likely to be limited to state and ‘public’ forest. (As the case of national parks, examined in Chapter Six, demonstrates, it is problematic for governments to force private land Figure 4: Forest ownership in Japan (2000)

owners to restrict the use of their land for wildlife conservation purposes.) Thus, the participation and cooperation of private landowners in habitat preservation and wildlife conservation is essential if wildlife conservation measures are to be successful.

In recent decades, as forestry has become less profitable, forested land has been increasingly converted to land for other uses, such as quarrying, road-construction, agriculture, and sites for building of resort or leisure facilities, golf courses, housing development or industrial areas. According to Forestry Agency statistics, permits issued for conversion of forestry land peaked at 1,735 in 1982, and though declining since, have remained steady. The land-use to which forested land is converted has undergone change concomitant with developments in the economy. In 1991, 59 per cent of the 924 forest conversion permits issued were for the conversion to golf courses. However, following the recession of the early 1990s, the construction of golf courses slowed, and was rapidly overtaken by conversion to quarrying sites: by 1998, golf course conversions had dropped to fifteen per cent, while permits for quarry conversions had grown to 44 per cent.34

4.5 The development of upland areas for tourism, leisure and infrastructural

In document The bear as barometer: the Japanese response to human bear conflict (Page 52-55)