By Dan Zukowski
A large chunk of the country’s forests were harmed in 2015 by wildlife—77 percent due to deer. Bringing back an apex predator could help staunch the bleeding.
From the peak of Mt. Rausu, a clear view of the Shiretoko Peninsula opens from the Okhotsk Sea on the west to the Pacific Ocean on the east. Below, a dense green boreal forest of conifers, maples, and birch hides hundreds of brown bears and 590,000 sika deer. Japanese wolves once roamed this wilderness but their primeval howls fell silent here, and throughout Japan, more than a hundred years ago.
Narumi Nambu is working to bring wolves back to Japan.
“An apex predator is essential for sustainability of an ecosystem, and in Japan it was a wolf,” she writes in an email. Nambu volunteers for the Japan Wolf Association. Her work earned her the “Who Speaks for Wolf” award at the International Wolf Symposium in Minnesota, where she recently spoke.
She explained that, without the presence of natural predators like wolves, two-thirds of Japan’s 30 national parks are showing signs of deer-induced injury.
Shiretoko National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has a deer problem, as does much of Japan. According to the most recent annual report by the Japan Forestry Agency, 8,000 hectares of the country’s forest were harmed in 2015 by wildlife—77 percent of it due to deer. All told, deer were responsible for $53 million in damage.
By TODD McLEISH/ecoRI News contributor
While climate change gets most of the media attention these days for the dramatic effects it is predicted to have — and, in some cases, is already having — on coastal communities, it has yet to have serious effects on eastern forests.
Eventually, say local experts, climate change will likely cause a shift in the composition of tree species in the region, due in part to southern species moving into the area and the arrival of new pests and pathogens, which may reduce the abundance of currently common species. The predicted drier weather conditions will also likely play a role in altering woodlands.
But Rhode Island’s forests are already facing what some say is an even greater threat than climate change: an overabundance of deer. That’s the warning from foresters, biologists and ecologists from throughout the Northeast, who say that even without climate change, Rhode Island’s forests are in trouble unless the state’s deer herd can be reduced and managed more effectively.
According to forester Marc Tremblay, outreach coordinator for the Rhode Island Forest Conservators Organization, deer have had a dramatic impact on forest understory by feeding on young trees, shrubs and plants.