The following news summaries are by Jeff Durbin. They are based mainly on information taken from The Asahi Evening News (AEN), The Daily Yomiuri (DY), and The Japan Times (JT).
State-owned forests, which make up 30 percent of Japan's total forest area, will be 3.3 trillion yen in debt at the close of March. Self-supporting in the 1960's, state forests first went into debt in 1975, and their financial condition has steadily worsened. With smaller timber cuts and lower prices due to imports, the forests no longer generate much income. The work force has shrunk from 89,000 in 1964 to 17,000, but economists say more must be done. Some are calling for privatization of non-protected forests, though it is not clear who would manage business operations. Half of state forests are protected, and cannot be logged. (DY 13 Mar)
Okinawa Prefecture, the Environment Agency, and a nearby village have all stated their interest in turning the U.S. military's Northern Training Area into a national park if the property someday reverts to Japan. The training area, 75 square kilometers, is heavily forested and is home to rare birds and other animals. The Environment Agency may have a more detailed proposal ready in time for President Clinton's visit to Japan in April. Japan and the U.S. are in the middle of negotiations over the future of Okinawa's military bases. (JT 13 Mar)
The Aichi prefectural government will submit its bid to host World Expo 2005 to the Bureau International des Expositions in Paris. The Exposition site covers an 80-hectare area in Seto city, near Nagoya, and a local conservation group objects that Expo construction will destroy valuable forest, harm wildlife, including the endangered northern goshawk, and cause erosion. Since the original plan appeared in 1994, the Environment Agency and Finance Ministry have already forced a downsizing to preserve forest and save costs. Organizers estimate 25 million people would attend the Expo. The only other Expo 2005 contender is Calgary, Canada. The deciding vote will take place in June. (DY 3 Apr)
Japan has loosened its import rules to allow two-by-four lumber to enter with fewer restrictions from the U.S. Japan will recognize the stamp of approval of the Western Wood Products Association (WWPA) on two-by-fours, which are used in building houses. According to the Minister of Construction, the move is part of a gradual deregulation of the Japanese housing industry. Robert Hunt of the WWPA said, "Japan is our producers' largest market and favorite customer." U.S. lumber imports in Japan totalled $3.25 billion in 1995. (DY 17 Apr)
The Forestry Agency, over 3 trillion yen in debt, intends to sell 100,000 hectares of forest during the next 20 years to raise cash. Since 1991, it has sold about 13,000 hectares, and leased another 14,000 for ski areas and golf courses. In addition, it will cut its workforce to 10,000 employees. The agency claims that it makes prudent sales in order to preserve the environment, but in fiscal 1994, 60% of the land sold was used for industry, farming, housing, and damsites. Now the agency is trying to lease a Gumma Prefecture forest, home to endangered golden eagles, for a ski area. Critics also complain that there is little cooperation between the Forestry Agency and the Environment Agency; at present, endangered species have no protected habitat in national forests. A senior agency official said, "to tell the truth, we don't want areas within national forests to be placed under the management of the Environment Agency. If we're accused of defending our turf, we won't deny it." To solve the debt crisis, several proposals have been raised: imposing a conservation tax; shifting around budgets; or giving the Forestry Agency, or at least those forests slated for ecological conservation, over to the Environment Agency--in that way, fresh funds from the national budget could eliminate the need to sell off national forests (AEN 7 Apr). In its latest survey, the Environment Agency reported that 70,000 hectares of natural forest and 180,000 hectares of secondary forest have been lost to development since 1990. About 70% of Japan is covered by forest (JT 27 Apr).
Japanese environmental groups are countering Aichi prefectures's bid for the World Expo 2005. They claim that an important forest in Seto, the proposed Expo site, will be destroyed. Expo promoters travelled to Paris in early June to make a presentation to the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE), but they were preceded by the president of the Mount Monomi Watchers Association, a leader of the opposition to the Expo bid, who met with the BIE president. Expo promoters say the theme of the 2005 Expo would be "environmentally sound urban development," and that only 80 of 540 hectares at the site will be developed. Replying to charges that 11 Red Book-listed plant and animal species live in the forest, a prefectural official said the species live throughout central Japan. In September and October the BIE will visit Seto and Calgary, Canada, the only other Expo bidder. Environmental groups will answer by handing the BIE an environmental assessment. (JT 18 June)
The presence of a U.S. military base in Okinawa, the 75,000-hectare Northern Training Area, has left the subtropical ecosystem nearly undisturbed since 1945. About 40 researchers from the University of Hawaii, Ryukyu University, and other institutions will survey the area for the first time, and expect to find one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world, containing over 80 endangered species, such as the Okinawa rail (Yambaru kuina, Rallus okinawae) and the Yambaru long-armed scarabaeid beetle, the largest in Japan. The U.S. Defense Department budgeted 245,000 dollars for the survey, based on a 1991 U.S. law that requires it to manage important ecological sites on both U.S. and foreign bases. According to this April's agreement between Japan and the U.S., half of the Northern Training Area will be returned to Japan. Some local officials and residents want to develop the land, but the Environment Agency is campaigning for a national park. The survey team will spend 2 or 3 years studying plants, insects, birds, soil, and water, and their data will eventually be turned over to the Environment Agency to help write up a management plan (JT 28 May; DY 22 June). The April agreement will also close Futenma Air Station within 7 years, and move Futenma's heliport and golf course to Kadena Ammunition Depot. Last October, however, researchers completed a 20-month ecological survey of Kadena. After finding 490 plant species and 690 animal species in a 1880-hectare forest, including 15 on the endangered list, the survey team recommended that the area not be developed. Constructing the heliport and golf course would likely wipe out the forest. The Japanese government requires an environmental assessment before any construction can begin (AEN 24 May).
The Forestry Agency will go deeper into debt, and must be radically restructured, according to a Board of Audit report that will be submitted to Prime Minister Hashimoto. The Agency's massive debt, over 3 trillion yen at the end of fiscal 1995, is not likely to improve with declining lumber prices and high labor costs (see March 13, 1996, April 27, 1996). The Agency workforce has been nearly halved in the last five years, to 17,000, and there has been some restructuring. But the board concluded that major changes, such as separate accounting for lumber product forests and public benefit forests, are necessary. (DY 16 Nov)
Delegates from the Bureau International des Expositions in Paris have completed their tour of the proposed World Expo 2005 site in Seto, Aichi Prefecture. About 100 protesters waited at the entrance to the Kaisho forest to demonstrate their opposition to the plan, which would develop 80 hectares in the forest and affect 11 Red Book-listed species (see June 18, 1996). After blocking the bus route into the site, protesters tried to persuade the delegation to walk through the forest. In the end, the delegates inspected the site by helicopter. The delegation will continue on to Australia, a late entrant, for its final inspection. Calgary, Canada is the third candidate for the World Expo. Reports on the three bids will be completed by December, and the Bureau will decide next June. (JT 20/22 Nov)