The dramatic growth of Japanese economy, mainly brought about by numerous development programs or building operations nation widely, has sacrificed natural beauties and wildernesses such as coastal lines, river flows and forests.
Environmental protection movements therefore inevitably confronted pro- development policies of the central and local governments.
The first enactment of the national Environmental Impact Assessment Act which was finally enacted in 1997 after a twenty-year battle, may be a clear proof of reality or circumstances of Japan.
In this paper, by looking through two examples, Id like to clarify some reasons why Japan has had poorer systems and records regarding protection of endangered species and natural heritages than those of other developed countries.
Defects of Japan forest management system
Geographically, Japan is about 3000 km long from the far-north to the far-south, and therefore has climate-diversity, from subarctic to subtropical zone. As a result, Japan had enjoyed its biodiversity for a long time up to recent years.
Most Japanese people over the age of 40s have some good memories of their childhood when they were surrounded by rather rich nature or wilderness, taking it for granted. These natural sites, inter alia, forest-lands and natural coasts have been being damaged or lost under the pro-development policies for nearly 40 years. Japanese forest lands, except its northern part, used to be covered by broad-leaf trees represented by beach trees.
The Forest Agency, however, from the early 1950s until very recently, employed a very persistent policy of cutting broad-leaf trees to plant conifer trees for a quick harvest. The agency has had enormous authority or power over the all forest lands even though the national forest lands consist of only 31% of the whole forest lands in Japan. The agency carried out this policy not only over the national forests, but also over the private forests, using its variety of tools including incentives and subsidies.
During these 40 years, broad-leaved forests including old growth ones were hence nation widely turned into conifer/soft wood forests, which caused massive loss of biodiversity.
The latest Agencys report says more than 40% of forest lands have now become such planted soft wood forests in Japan. It is undoubtedly clear that the agency has aimed to plant economically valuable trees to get as much revenue as possible and has turned a blind eye to other aspects of forests, despite its recent policy change in which it emphasizes environmental and common interest aspects of forests.
The main reason why it has so keened on its revenue lies on the self supporting accounting system where the Agency has to pay the whole expenditure from its own revenue. Besides, the forestry operation has not been successful, and it became deeply indebted for decades with the deficit of more than 3,000 billion yen (nearly 30 billion US$).
Under such circumstances, the Shiragami Mountain Ranges narrowly escaped from massive potential logging operations and other development projects thanks to NGOs nationwide enthusiastic protesting campaigns which had started from local NGOs.
Battle of environmental NGOs
When local NGOs started their campaigns against the development plan in this area, the Forest Agency, the planner, was upset but showed no intention to change their plan in the early 1980s. The plan, an extensive logging for road construction, was surely to be followed by logging operations on a larger scale. The campaigners claimed that there was no real need for the road and that logging operations would inevitably cause a serious damage on the last remaining and largest old growth beach forests in Japan.
The conflict lasted nearly for five years, while the campaigners received nationwide supports, and the situation finally changed; the agency was forced to give up the plan in 1987. After a while, the agency decided to designate a large part of the area, about 16000 ha, as a primary forest reserved. Nevertheless, NGOs had yet some concerns that the agency might change their mind to open some logging operation again in the near future.The idea that the area should be listed in the World Natural Heritage site was accordingly very welcomed by the campaigners.The 16,000 ha of this area became a candidate of the inventory at the World Heritage Committee, and considering its outstanding universal value, the Committee put it in the World Heritage List in 1994. Environmentalists believed that this would be the most desirable way for the future generation.
However, the reality was somewhat different from what they expected.
The second crisis
In November 1995 a draft of the future management plan of the area was co-formulated by three competent agencies; the Forest Agency, the Environmental Agency and the Culture Agency. The draft was severely criticized by local and other NGOs, especially for its sectionalism.
Sectionalism has long been a main obstacle for environmentalists in Japan when they demand governments to take some concrete measures to protect the environment or natural sites. It always takes a long time and involves a great deal of red tape as such matter often has several departments or sections concerned. The Forest Agency, inter alia, has felt some antipathy against the Environmental Agency because the latter has a power to manage all national parks, while a national park often contains national forest lands belonged to the former. If once forests are zoned into a national park area, logging or other development plans by the Forest Agency will be restricted.
Moreover, due to the Forest Agencys huge debt, many environmentalists and experts nowadays believe that the Agency should give up managing such protected forests areas because it cannot afford to take care of them, and that it should leave them to the Environment Agency.
Therefore, again, the Forest Agency obviously tried to show its leading role to draft the plan in which it maintains its clear intention to keep as many chances for logging operations as it can. In fact, massive cuttings by the agency took place in some bordering areas of this site with no limitation.
The other struggle is a tourism. Thanks to the fact that it is quite remote from Tokyo and other big cities, the Shiragami Mountain ranges was out of public eyes. No sooner had it become a listed natural heritage site than a bunch of people began rushing into the area and walked around regardlessly, which raised some heated debate among local NGOs.
An NGO asserts that limitation of the number of people entering the site is inevitable and that an idea of demarcation should be urgently introduced. Another group opposes, however, remarking that the introduction of such restriction may undermine the good relation between nature and human-being who have been involved in hunting, fishing and gathering non timber forest products. It is a pity for the both sides who had been cooperating to protect the area for years against authorities to become hostile with each other. If the management plan of the area had been completed through full consultations with these NGOs, this kind of argument would have been solved or avoided during the process.
Decrease of their natural habitats
In Japan, birds and mammals at the stage of endangered count 110 species. Tsushima Wildcat, Felis euptilura, is one of them whose population might be about 100. They are only found in Tsushima Island, a small island located off shore of the western coast of the main land of Japan. They are as large as 40-90 cm with a tail of 18-35 cm long. Before the World War II, native hunters often witnessed them almost every time they went into the mountain area. Its population however became dwindling, probably because of logging operations, lack of foods, over use of pesticides and a growing number of stray dogs in this region.
Deficiency of Japanese Endangered Species Act 1992
Japan ratified the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora in 1980 with a lot of reservations.
Comparing to the Endangered Species Act 1973 in USA , Japanese Act was introduced very late, in 1992. In addition, it's content is much poorer than USA's.
First of all, Japanese government has no legal obligation to designate a necessary habitat for endangered species which is vital for their survival. Say, if the Government once lists species in accordance with their present situation as endangered, vulnerable, rare or local populations, the designation of their habitats will not always come together.
Tsushima Wildcat was listed as “endangered” on the ground of the survival numbers, though, no effective or concrete actions to protect their natural habitat have been taken by the Government as of today. Two reasons for this slow progress will be pointed out. One is an opposition by its local people themselves, who are afraid of restrictions to their own development plans, including logging, due to its designation. They have been insisting that they would be able to co-habitat with wildcats without any designation by the Government as they have done before. The other is, again, the conflict between the Forest Agency and the Environmental Agency.
The latter, as a competent body of this designation under the ESA, has certainly tried to find a solution to designate the proper habitat as quickly as they can. While the former, as some small national forest lands are included in the potential designation areas, is reluctant to approve it.
Lack of provision of citizen's suits
ESA in the USA has a provision of citizens suits, which entitles “any person” to file a lawsuit against the Government, calling for an appropriate listing and designation of necessary habitats. To make the matter worse, while Japans ESA has no such provision, no Japanese acts have a proper article which declares the right to the environment for individuals.
I mentioned earlier that Japan has lost its beautiful mountain sites and coastal lines under the pro-development policies of nationwide. Citizens and lawyers, who are concerned about our environment, have filed a number of lawsuits against private or public development plans. Most cases, however, ended in favor of pro-development parties including public bodies on the ground that plaintiffs have no individual or private rights to the environment.
In many other developed countries, they have some acts with articles which allow individuals and/or green groups to be a plaintiff, a standing, in lawsuits calling for protecting the environment. In this wildcats protection , a small NGO, which has been monitoring and feeding those of encountering food shortage for more than ten years, is longing for the designation of natural habitat for survival. The group has only recently caught some public eyes and has got a small money from local government. It is, however, too weak to provide full organized rehabilitation treatment or something fundamental for the species .
If this group sues the Environment Agency for the delay of the designation of the natural habitats for the wildcats, the administrative court will be unlikely to give it a standing for the case , reasoning that it has no individual right to the environment or there is no specific articles which declare a standing of this sort of bodies. As far as Tsushima Wildcats are concerned , the Endangered Species Act in Japan did not work out the current situation at all.
Nevertheless, the Government submitted the National Strategy in October 1995 on demand of the Article 6 of Convention on Biological Diversity, in which it clarifies their basic concepts on in-situ and ex-situ conservation, proudly saying The basic of the conservation of biological diversity is in-situ conservation, which is the conservation of living things in their natural habitats. In Japan, efforts are being made to conserve biological diversity by setting up various protected areas based on laws and regulations relating to the conservation of the natural environment.
However, the populations of some endangered species are difficult to maintain and recover in their natural habitats by simply devising measures on in-situ conservation such as the maintenance and improvement of habitats. Due also to the limited number of habitats, some populations may rapidly decrease in their natural habitats from the spread of infectious diseases and changes in their habitats. In such instances, along with in-situ conservation measures, it is essential to implement complementary measures such as ex-situ breeding, creating new populations by breeding, and restoring wild populations by reintroducing bred populations in accordance to their living conditions.
Environmentalists and environmental lawyers in Japan are still fighting for a stricter Endangered Species Act, revealing the real situation in Japan internationally.