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The development of the National Park system

6.2 The legislative framework for wildlife management

6.2.2 The development of the National Park system

As of 2002, there were 28 national parks (kokuritsu kōen ), 55 quasi-national parks (kokutei

kōen ), and 308 prefectural nature parks (todōfuken kōen ) in Japan,

constituting about 14 per cent of the total national land area.13 The key law regulating the establishment, administration and use of natural parks in Japan is the Natural Parks Law, which replaced the National Parks Law (Kokuritsukōenhō ) in 1957. The original law, the National Parks Law, came into effect in 1931 and was the first law relating to national parks in Japan. Its aim was to ‘…preserve areas of outstanding beauty, while contributing towards the health, recreation and cultural education of Japanese citizens’.14 Japan’s first national parks were established in 1934, closely followed by several others, and by 1936 twelve parks had been established. While the

objective of these parks was, ostensibly, to preserve nature, they were for the most part selected for their general appeal as places of scenic beauty and their potential to contribute to national prestige and tourism, rather than for their ecological value. The two exceptions to this general rule were the Akan and Daisetusan Parks of Hokkaidō, which were selected because they were places characterised by primeval nature regarded as worthy of preservation.15

After the Second World War, calls to create more national parks for recreation and tourism escalated. However, there were few places left which fulfilled the criteria set down in the National Parks Law (discussed below). A system was therefore adopted whereby nationally designated ‘quasi-national parks’ could be established, particularly near the main cities, for the primary purpose of recreation. These became officially recognised by law in 1957, when the Natural Parks Law came into effect. This new law provided for three types of natural park: national parks , quasi-national parks

, and prefectural nature parks and became the basis of the current park system.16

The Natural Parks Law was enacted against a background of government initiatives and policies to encourage the development of the tourism and leisure industry. Natural parks were seen as an important aid in the development of tourism, particularly after World War Two when a key priority was the rebuilding of the economy.

The emphasis on scenic beauty and recreational value in the legislative framework governing natural parks is underlined in the selection criteria for parks set out in the Natural Parks Law. For example, Criterion One states: ‘The area must be representative of Japanese scenic landscapes, while at the same time boasting outstanding natural scenery of a world class standard’. Criterion Four states: ‘The area must be suitable for utilisation by a large number of people, as judged by its accessibility; capacity to accommodate a large number of visitors; variety of uses; and its special characteristics.’17 As can be seen therefore, the legislative framework is geared for utilisation and development, as opposed to conservation of natural environments. Many areas, such as the Shiga Heights National Park, have undergone unprecedented development, including the construction of numerous hotels and ski resorts, since being designated a national park.18

A further weakness of the Japanese natural park system is that the Ministry of the Environment (formerly the Environmental Agency) does not have sole jurisdiction over these areas. Areas designated as natural parks may include private land, or areas over which the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry or Ministry of Construction have primary jurisdiction. Conflicts of interest between agencies which have an economic interest in a park (e.g., through mining and forestry) and the Ministry of the Environment are common, further compromising the conservation function of natural parks.

On its establishment in 1972, the Environmental Agency attempted to strengthen the conservation function of the national parks, by way of the Nature Conservation Act, modelled on the United States’ Wilderness Act 1964. This law, which was enacted in 1972, was intended to be an over-arching law, bringing a systematic unity to all the legislation concerning the preservation of the natural environment. In particular, it would have seen greater protection from development and industrial activity for national and natural parks. However, due to fierce opposition from the then Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the Ministry of Construction, the law was to become watered down to such an extent that most of its original intention was lost. For instance, the Natural Parks Law remained in place (rather than the Natural Environment Preservation Law, which was intended to supersede it); forest reserves were not designated as primeval environment preservation areas as it was originally proposed; forestry activity continued to be permissable within natural environment

preservation areas (Shizen kankyō hozen chiiki ); and city reserves

(Ryokuchikankyō hozen chiku ) came under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Construction.19

The Natural Park Law was revised in 2002, in response to ongoing criticism that it unduly emphasised the value and preservation of scenic beauty, while largely neglecting ecosystem protection and species diversity. The following clause was inserted: ‘Government and public organisations must take into consideration the fact that the conservation of the plants and animals which inhabit, breed and develop in natural parks is important to the preservation of the natural park’s scenic value, and with the preservation of the diversity of both the ecosystems and the living things of the park as an underlying principle, should take measures to preserve the scenic value of the natural park’.20 While this provision urges government and public organisations to take the preservation of ecosystem and biological diversity into consideration, it does not specify any process or standards by which organisations should do so, nor does it stipulate any penalties for failing to do so. Furthermore, as can be seen from the wording of this clause, the preservation of ecosystem and biological diversity is only to be taken into consideration because it is important to the overall scenic value of the park, not because it is important in itself. This reflects the position that the preservation of the scenic value of natural parks is still paramount under the law. Thus, while the significance of the addition of this provision should not be dismissed, the overall aim of the law (to utilise natural parks for maximum public benefit) remains unchanged.

Few areas in Japan remain which fulfil the narrow criteria set out for national parks (Kushiro Marshlands in Hokkaidō became the last national park to be designated in 1987). There have been efforts to designate more quasi-national and prefectural nature parks in order to preserve areas of

nature closer to urban centres, but this has met with the resistance of government agencies and ministries such as the Forestry Agency; the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport; the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries; as well as private or corporate landowners—groups which tend to resist controls being put on the use of the land over which they have ownership or jurisdiction. As a consequence, little progress has been made in the expansion of natural parklands.

There are a number of issues relating to the designation of natural parks, particularly concerning their potential to support wildlife conservation. Firstly, as has been seen from the wording of the law and the criteria it sets out for natural parks, the scenic beauty of an area is the foremost consideration when selecting a candidate for designation. If this criterion is applied strictly, an area which is valuable from an ecological point of view but which is not perceived as ‘scenic’ is unlikely to be selected as a natural park.

Secondly, natural parks are expected to fulfil two primary, but conflicting, demands: utilisation on the one hand and preservation of ‘nature’ on the other. In fact, as was discussed above, one of the main criteria for the selection of a natural park emphasises that a candidate’s suitability is based on such considerations as its accessibility from the main urban centres, its capacity to accommodate a large number of visitors, and its suitability for recreational use. This clearly demonstrates the emphasis placed on utilisation and the potential for conflict with its nature conservation function. This aspect has particularly serious implications for potentially dangerous species such as the bear. Because parks exist primarily for the purpose of tourism, the visitor’s pleasure and safety is tantamount. Where a bear is observed, and believed to have the potential to threaten visitor safety, it will be the bear, rather than the visitors, which will be removed (‘removal’ usually involving culling).

Another issue is the prevalence of industrial activity which takes place both within, and adjacent to, natural parks. It is not uncommon for clear-cutting of forest, land reclamation and quarrying to be carried out on land immediately adjacent to natural parks, and these activities have adversely affected Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu, Kushiro Marshlands and Iriomote National Parks.21 Even within the parks themselves, there are only limited controls on industrial activities such as forestry, mining and quarrying—and on the contrary, the building of infrastructure such as roads or leisure and tourist facilities has been actively encouraged by the government, because they enhance the accessibility and utilisation of the parks.

There is provision under the Natural Parks Law to designate areas of natural parks as ‘special protection zones’,22 or type one, two or three ‘special areas’, designations which offer greater protection for wildlife and wildlife habitat. About thirteen per cent of the total park area of national parks (not including quasi-national parks) is designated as ‘special protection zones’, the zoning

which offers the highest level of habitat protection. However, this area is for the most part made up of high altitude areas above forest cover, and therefore of limited biodiversity. Few areas of higher biodiversity, such as wetlands or lowland forest areas have been designated.23

The lack of emphasis on wildlife conservation is not only reflected in the designation of parks, but their management also: in 2001, Ishikawa reported that Japan had a total of 210 park management staff (including rangers) for its 28 national parks, and most of these were primarily engaged in administrative tasks such as the issuing of permits. This amounted to one staff member per 10,000 hectares of national park area, in comparison to 1,488 in the United States, 1,968 in New Zealand, 2,600 in Kenya and 930 in South Korea.24