By Japan News-Yomiuri
Cherry and peach trees across Japan are dying at the hands of invasive beetles, and one expert warns that in the worst-case scenario, there may be no cherry blossoms to view a few decades from now.
The first report of damage by the kubiakatsuya kamikiri (red-necked longhorn beetle) came in 2012 in Aichi Prefecture. Now, 11 prefectures have been hit, with cherry trees dying in parks and schools, as well as peach trees in orchards.
The beetle, native to China and Mongolia, was designated an invasive species in 2018. It may have arrived in Japan in wooden packing materials.
“No matter how many times we get rid of them, they just keep coming back,” said the office manager at Tatebayashi High School in Tatebayashi, Gunma Prefecture, while pointing out a tree that suffered holes in its trunk.
There were once 29 cherry trees fronting the school gate. They were popular among students and residents.
In July 2015, the trees started to die at the hands of the beetle. The school tried to fight off the bug with pesticide and covered tree trunks with protective nets. But swarms of beetles kept returning. By August, the staff was battling the bugs hands on and killed 350.
But since then, seven trees have been chopped down, and six stand dead. The remaining 16 are blooming poorly, and because large branches can suddenly fall off trunks, the school has given up. By the end of next year, all the trees will be gone.
The beetle’s high fertility and mobility make it especially threatening. While a Japanese long-horned beetle lays 100 eggs at most, the red-necked longhorn can lay more than 500 eggs and travel more than a mile by riding the wind.
With no natural enemies, its population abounds, and the fact that it prefers peach and cherry trees only exacerbates the problem. So far, there is no definitive method for eradicating the bug.
In Tatebayashi, the government is paying residents about 50 cents per beetle killed. Last year, citizens killed 6,249 beetles. Yet the number of damaged trees grew.
“If we don’t act now, we may not be able to enjoy cherry blossom viewing 20 to 30 years from now,” said Ryutaro Iwata, a specialist in forest entomology. “The central government must establish a system to forcibly cut down, crush and burn the damaged trees.”
By Satō Noriko
Japan’s forestry industry has long suffered from low timber prices and a dwindling, aging workforce. Today loggers are increasingly letting woodlands revert to an untended natural state. Small-scale logging is gaining attention as a way to revive the timber industry and better manage the country’s forests.
Forests account for some 70% of Japan’s land area. Intimately tied with the nation’s development, woodlands since ancient times have provided residents with timber for building, raw materials for crafting tools and everyday utensils, and fuel for cooking and heating. Forests have also had a vital role in agriculture, with farmers plowing leaves and brush into fields as fertilizer. However, dependence has frequently resulted in overexploitation, and governments throughout Japanese history have struggled to balance demand for timber with the need to conserve forest resources.
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 Alexa Keefe
Photographer Tomasz Lazar asks us to envision the final walk of those who have died in Aokigahara forest—as well as the spirits that remain.
At the base of Mount Fuji is a dense, verdant forest. From above, the trees swaying in the wind are reminiscent of the sea, giving the Aokigahara forest a second name—Jukai, or Sea of Trees. The ground below is uneven and riddled with small caves, moss-covered roots growing on top of the dried lava that once flowed there. The soil has a high iron content which interferes with GPS and cell phone signals.
This is a very easy place to get lost. Visitors are strongly encouraged to stay on the trails.
There are some people, however, who enter the forest with the intention of not coming out. Signs at the forest entrances remind visitors that their lives are precious, to think of their families. At the bottom of the signs is the number for a suicide hotline.
As wood pellet imports in Japan begin to accelerate, industry professionals offer cautious optimism that an Asian market opportunity for North American producers has arrived.
In July, Japan imported 52,000 tons of wood pellets, eclipsing the previous monthly high of 51, 500 tons set in December 2015. Additionally, monthly volumes in 2016 have been more consistent in contrast to the peaks and valleys that defined 2014 and 2015. As a result, Japan is expected to finish 2016 having imported between 350,000 and 400,000 tons of wood pellets and producers around the world are optimistic that Japan’s wood pellet demand is set to rise steadily to 1 million tons per year within the next handful of years.
The USDA Foreign Agricultural Service recently released a Global Agricultural Information Network report on Japan’s renewable fuel industry, which reviews the country’s renewable fuel mandates/policy and progress toward meeting them.
The report provides an overview of Japan’s current plan to introduce 500 million liters of crude oil equivalent biofuel by 2017, the country’s sustainability standards and incentives for biofuels, and touches on other renewable policies and programs, including a goal to increase Japan’s power supply from renewable energy sources to 22-24 percent by 2030.