Hokkaido is the northernmost island of Japan, extending from 42°N to 46°N latitude. In its central part is the Daisestuzan National Park,sometimes called the “Roof of Hokkaido”. This park, 230,000ha in area,is the largest natural park in Japan. It preserves multiple marvels−rocky peaks, active volcanoes, grassy meadows with Alpine flora, rapid rivers, waterfalls, tranquil lakes, beautiful forests, and various species of animals. In a word, this park protects the last remaining wilderness in Japan.
Now the Hokkaido prefecture government has a plan to construct a major road named Shihoro-Plateau Road in the park. Thirty years ago, the government decided to construct this road through a southern part of the park to connect Shikaribetu Lake to Shihoro town. In 1972, however, the project was suspended because of public opinion that the road would damage ecosystems and wilderness. They have not been able to proceed with construction of the road since then; so, about 2.6km of the road has been left uncompleted.
In 1994, the Hokkaido prefecture government decided to continue working on construction the road, but in the form of a tunnel instead of an open road. The reason to construct this road is to promote the local economy, especially the tourist industry. However, another road already exists connecting Shihoro and Shikaribetu Lake, but it is 11 km longer.
The new road would shorten the traveling hour by 11 minutes. In 1995, the Environment Agency permitted this new plan of construction.
There are many unique species and many diverse ecosystems in this park which is home to the largest area of cool microclimates in Japan.
Although the park sits about only 800 m above sea level, many alpine plants grow within this area.There is also the Pika (ochotona hyperborea esoensis: living fossil of the glacial period) habitat, which is the largest area of such a low elevation in Japan. There are also some newly identified species of spiders. The presence of this unique diversity of plants, mammals, and insects depends on these cool microclimates. Therefore, members of the Nature Conservation Society of Hokkaido, and environmentalists joined together in a lawsuit against the Hokkaido prefecture government in August 1996. Their objective is to protect the wilderness, species diversity, and ecosystems in the Daisestuzan National Park.
The plaintiffs consist of 21 members including the author of this article. The head of the plaintiffs is Yagi Kenzo, Emeritus Professor of Hokkaido University. This case is to date one of the biggest lawsuits to protect wilderness in Japan. The plaintiffs are technically supported by many botanists, zoologists, entomologists, lawyers, and many active co-workers. The group insists in this case that this road plan violates the mandates of the 1992 Biodiversity Convention signed by the Japanese Government in 1993. Articles 7 and 8 mandate the governments to take measures to conserve this biological diversity, and not to destroy it. Article 4 defines the prefectures authority: prefectures have to promote the protection of ecosystems and natural habitats, and have the obligation to protect wilderness when it would be explicitly destroyed.
This road, Shihoro-Plateau Road, will clearly destroy the structure of cool microclimates, the ecosystem, and the species diversity.
Unfortunately, there arent any effective acts protecting wilderness in Japan. Only 51 species are listed under the Conservation of Species Act in Japan. Pika is not listed. Many species in danger of extinction are also not listed and there isnt any right of petition to list them. As these species and their critical habitats are not legally protected, there is no way to protect them other than under the auspices of the Biodiversity Convention.
This suit is a taxpayers suit. As taxpayers, the plaintiffs insist that it is illegal for the Hokkaido prefecture government to further expend public expenditure, amounting to about 83 million dollars, for a project which violates the Biodiversity Convention. The Japanese Government has not been positive in protecting wilderness and in conserving the environment, and has also not taken effective measures to stem global warming. It admits importing ivory from Africa and hunting whales despite the international anti-whaling campaign. The Japanese Parliament, the Diet, does not enforce environmental assessments under the environmental impact act. The plaintiffs want to win this case and for this reason wish to co-operate with organizations, scientists and lawyers of countries outside of Japan.