Preserve nature

Shirakami Sanchi wo Mamoru Kai’s approach to the movement for the restoration and regeneration of beech forests.

The entire area of the Shirakami Mountains is 130,000 ha. Of this, approximately 17,000 ha (169.7 km²) is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Natural Heritage). The Aomori side of the site covers 74% of this area (126.3 km²), with the remaining 43.4 km² in the north-western part of Akita Prefecture. The registration as a World Heritage Site is due to the fact that it is a rare place in the world where trees, mainly beech trees, alpine plants and valuable flora and fauna, including the natural monument, the black woodpecker, inhabit a vast wilderness area that has been largely unaffected by mankind. However, it is feared that if global warming progresses further, beech habitats will disappear from the Tohoku region. The impact of climate change on natural ecosystems and biodiversity is still undetermined. It is almost impossible to restore ecosystems once they have been damaged. If the current situation continues, the destruction of the ecosystem of the Shirakami Mountains will continue and endangered species will become extinct one after another.

The Earth’s degradation is getting worse every year. At the Shirakami Mountains, one of Japan’s key natural sites, we’ve been giving serious thought to how we can pass on an environment that allows the diversity of life on the planet to exist together. We’re implementing the ‘Beech Forest Restoration and Regeneration Project’ to make this happen. We have been advocating for the safeguarding of broadleaf forests among individuals in Japan and overseas, focusing on the three aspects of plant and animal variation – ‘species diversity’, ‘ecosystem diversity’ and ‘genetic diversity’.

Our nature protection and conservation activities and environmental education activities in the Shirakami Mountains are based on the fact that many valuable plants, such as the Tsugaru-misebaya and Iwakagami, which are species unique to Shirakami, remain untouched. Many forests where beech trees were cut down before the Shirakami Sanchi was registered as a World Heritage Site remain, and we believe that restoring and regenerating these areas as beech forests will help to maintain the habitat for plants and animals.

From the angle of the effects of global warming, in the Tohoku region, the Uetsuki beech borer, which feeds on beech leaves, has moved northwards to Chokai Mountain in Akita Prefecture. In addition, the Kashinonagaki beetle, which is said to destroy Quercus serrata and Quercus crispula trees in beech forests, has moved northwards to the Oga Peninsula and has recently been discovered in Fukaura town in Aomori Prefecture. If it moves further north, there is no doubt that it will have an impact on beech trees in the Shirakami Mountains. No, the oak withering is already noticeable in the Shirakami Mountains.

In collaboration with the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute (FFPRI) in Tsukuba City, we have started research into the development of preservation technology for the safe storage of beech seeds, preventing the extinction of the beech tree and reducing the time and effort of afforestation work, as beech trees only bear fruit every five to seven years, and have also tried to produce multi-tray container seedlings.

The various phenomena that occur in the beech forests of the Shirakami Mountains also affect our living environment.
The year 2023 will be a particularly bad harvest year, with beech bears and Japanese monkeys coming down from the mountains to the countryside and batting with humans in many parts of the country. A lot of damage has been caused. Whether or not beech trees bear fruit is an important indicator of the symbiosis between humans and nature.
We are carrying out a restoration and regeneration project to plant beech trees in the forests where beech trees were cut down before this World Heritage Site.

The conservation of this precious natural heritage of the world depends on human activity and human goodwill. Planting a single beech tree means protecting the planet.
Many young youths from all over the world and from within the country are taking part in the activities on a voluntary basis.

In more detail, oxygen is produced in the leaves of trees. This is because CO2 + water + solar energy in the leaves = oxygen.
These leaves are very important.
There are five ways to remove carbon dioxide in relation to forests and wood

  1. Increase forest area ・・・・100 50-150 billion carbon tones per year
  2. Increase the quantity per area・・・・ increase accumulation by 100-200 billion carbon tones
  3. Increase the amount of wood products such as desks・・・・ harvested 250 billion metric tons
  4. Use of biomass (biological resources) such as industrial waste, firewood and charcoal derived from wood products as a substitute for fossil fuels. ・・・・ The replacement of fossil fuels is significantly larger at 5 trillion Ct.
  5. Reducing the loss of forest area and stocks due to development: ・・・・4-50 billion tones.
    From the 2007 IPCC (Fourth Assessment Report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

The reduction potential of forests in absorbing or reducing CO2 is not as great as other methods such as energy conservation or nuclear power (carbon capture and storage), but the use of biomass energy has the potential to provide significant reduction potential.

The next step in looking at the effects of global warming on the distribution map is that it has been reported that the beech forests in the Shirakami Mountains will have died by 2090.

There is a concern about outbreaks of the Uetsuki beech beetle, which eats beech leaves, and the oak woodworm, which is said to destroy Quercus and Quercus trees, as well as damage caused by the pine beetle. It is said that when the average temperature rises by 1°C from spring to autumn, the marginal habitat of the pine bark beetle, which carries pathogenic caterpillars, also moves northwards by about 1°C in latitude. This has already become a reality. In the Shirakami Mountains, the August-September period of 2023 was also marked by days of over 30°C, causing the leaves of beech trees to sunburn. This has never been seen before.

The insects that invade broadleaved trees are also a little over 100 km away, and if the pine weevil and oak weevil move northwards, the pine landscape will be lost. There is also the impact of oak dieback on beech, which is expected to have a significant impact on natural forests.

The important thing is to ensure that the forest’s public functions, such as preventing landslides, are not compromised and to create an environment conducive to natural renewal.

Tree planting not only reduces carbon dioxide emissions, but also restores the diverse functions of forests.

Plantation forests can be the best method of combating global warming, as they serve as source control measures as well as disaster prevention and environmental protection forests and water source recharge forests, while at the same time trapping carbon dioxide in multi-layered forests of broad-leaved trees, which do not incur management costs. (Akira Miyawaki, Professor Emeritus, Yokohama National University)

In the case of natural heritage sites, such as the Shirakami Mountains, care must be taken to ensure that the source of seedlings used for afforestation does not disturb the unique genetic structure (genetic contamination) by genes introduced by humans. (Guidelines need to be drawn up to ensure that other beech species are not introduced into the natural forest. We would like to leave this matter to the Shirakami Mountain Range Scientists’ Council to conclude.)

In the German state of Hannover, there is a law that states that if one tree over 40 cm in diameter is cut down, the state residents must plant 10 trees. In other words, the restoration of native forests in areas where they have been destroyed is considered to be the fastest way to control carbon dioxide temperatures and to provide ecosystem services such as a living infrastructure for living organisms, and it is also the method by which animals steadily return to the area. As a human act, regenerating an environment that nurtures life for future generations is considered to be an important act of ecological restoration.

Most of the three billion years of human existence have been spent in the sea, where creatures first appeared on land a billion years ago and evolved to become ferns around 300 million years ago. During the next ice age, which lasted for 300 million years while the Earth was buried under the ground due to global change, global warming was balanced, but in the mere 100 years since the Industrial Revolution, fossil fuels have been mined up in no time at all, and carbon (C) has been released and oxygen in the air has been absorbed. The carbon (C) was released and combined with the oxygen (O2) in the air to produce large quantities of carbon dioxide (CO2)

What anyone can do now, anywhere, is to plant trees in a way that mixes and densely plants the original trees of the area, which will eventually lead to multi-tiered communities of forests.

Global phenomena caused by global warming

  1. Wildfires・・・・ warming in southern Europe with a Mediterranean climate, such as in Greece and the Peloponnese, has led to even drier conditions and more frequent forest fires. Russia is also prone to wildfires.
  2. Floods. ・・・・ Over 2,700 people have been killed in the north-eastern Indian state of Bihar, which has been submerged by floods caused by melting snow. The melting of glaciers in the Himalayas is increasing the risk of flooding.
  3. Larger cyclone: ・・・・ Super cyclone hits ‘Sidr’ in Bangladesh, 10,000 dead, cyclone/typhoon said to be getting bigger.
  4. Glacier melting. ・・・・ The Pastoruri glacier in Peru, which is melting at an increasing rate. If the glacier disappears, it will affect water supplies in dry coastal areas.
  5. Island submerged by ・・・・ storm surge, Tuvalu, a coral island in the South Pacific with an average elevation of 2 metres above sea level, sea level rise increases the potential for flooding and coastal erosion.
  6. Coral bleaching・・・・ Shiraho coral on Ishigaki Island, Okinawa Prefecture, is caused by algae zooxanthellae that live symbiotically with the coral escaping. If it continues for a long time, the coral dies.
  7. Drought・・・・ Africa and Kenya have been hit by severe drought. More than 200 million people in Africa have been hit by new water shortages.
  8. In Barrow, Alaska, there is less perennial ice and more ‘one-year ice’. This has increased the risk of seal hunting on the ice.
  9. At night, green auroras sway in the wind and dance across the sky like a curtain. Whale hunting by indigenous people used to flourish there, but catches are now scarce.
  10. Polar bears also live on sea ice and hunt seals, but are less likely to hunt when the sea ice disappears.

We look forward to your participation as a volunteer in the Tree Planting Campaign described above.
For more information, please visit the website of the Association to Protect the Shirakami Mountains. ver.)