A Thoughtful Conversation with Mr. Kosugi

The Wanda Grinda final presentation session was a great opportunity for me to talk with the representatives of local stakeholders in person. After our presentations, I was lucky to be engaged in a conversation with Mr. Kosugi of the Kushiro Salmon Society. Some points that we discussed were very thought provoking. Thus, I would like to share with everyone, who reads this post.

On the Overpopulation of Deer:

According to Mr. Kosugi, the main problem with deer is the fact that currently, they have no predators in nature. Following the extinction of wolves, the population of deer skyrocketed to such an extent, that it is now a major problem in Hokkaido and elsewhere. We must not forget that this was triggered by human intervention, which gradually destroyed the habitats of the wolves. Such history highlights the importance of preserving the ecological system. It also emphasizes the sensitivity of nature, meaning that a solution cannot be as simple as exterminating the deer population by eating deer meat. Every living creature on earth has its role in the ecosystem.

However, increasing the consumption of deer meat is one possible method of mitigating the present harm done to the livelihoods of humans and nature by deer. The problem is that in addition to the absence of a culture of eating deer meat in Kushiro, there are too many deer in the everyday lives of the people in Kushiro. Mr. Kosugi told me that eating the meat of a cute animal they see everyday, is not something a normal person can instantly do. Therefore, the treatment of deer in Nara prefecture may be a case worth looking into.

On Humans and Nature:

Currently, there is a hierarchy wherein humans are superior to nature. However, nature is unchangeable. As Professor Watanabe had said during the course, a straightened river can never stay straight, for this is opposed to the natural character of rivers. Right now, the world economy is characterized by human production. However, nature is not infinite. It is especially vulnerable to human development. Mr. Kosugi’s question was: “Then why can’t the economy be regulated so that it only circulates within the limitations of nature?”

Maybe human beings are naturally selfish and greedy.

How about the relationship between the so-called developed and developing countries?

There are so many things to think about.

Hunters in Hokkaido

On the last day of our journey in Hokkaido, we each presented on our teams’ Wanda Grinda proposals in front of a local group of audience, all involved in the restoration of the Kushiro Wetland. My team (Team Tancho)’s proposal was to create and distribute simple pamphlets on deer meat to increase the demand for deer meat in Kushiro. With this project, we sought to solve the issues surrounding the overpopulation of deer in Kushiro Wetland by increasing the supply of deer meat for consumption. According to my judgment, I believe that our presentation was somewhat convincing, for there were a lot of responses from the local audience on this matter.

The feedback session following our presentations provided me with many new and interesting insights on the issue of the overpopulation of deer. There is an estimate of 2000 deer currently in Kushiro Wetland. It is said that in order to decrease the overall population, 400 deer must be killed annually. It is not strange to think that hunters should take a huge role in the killing of these deer, but this just might not be the case.

This is because according to a hunter, who had also participated in our Wanda Grinda session, hunters can rarely sell the deer that they hunted. I was very surprised by the great amount of obstacles, which need to be overcome by the hunters themselves, just to sell one deer. First of all, to sell deer to any of the deer meat processing companies, hunters need to transport their deer carcasses to the company within an hour after shooting them. This is because after a deer is shot and killed, gas swells up within the deer’s body. Nevertheless, since only the good parts are consumed as deer meat, hunters usually chop the deer up after hunting, and bury the rest in the ground, not knowing any other way. Moreover, to sell deer as deer meat, the deer needs to be shot in a particular place. Lastly, hunters are not even free to shoot deer anytime. They actually need permission from the Hokkaido prefectural government to hunt nuisance deer.

It is not illegal for hunters to personally dispose the deer, which they have hunted. Therefore Mr. Fujiwara, who had captured 80 deer recently by using the kraal method, have processed half on his own and sold it to his acquaintances. According to him, deer meat companies only exchange deer at a very cheap price. Now I wonder: Who is actually aware of all of these problems surrounding deer hunting? Why not all of these actors: Government, farmers, and hunters join hands? What prevents the State from cooperating with the grassroots level? Otherwise, our team agreed on the efficiency of a bottom-up process of making change.

Although the individual disposal of deer by hunters, seem to be a very inconvenient way of diminishing the population of deer, it may not be so when hunters form hunting groups. Creating a community of hunters is one way of preventing the decrease of hunters themselves, as well as to expand the consumption of deer meat. One example of such organization is a women’s hunter group in Hokkaido called, “The Women in Nature – shoot & eat – “ (TWIN).

Here is a link to a very informative article on the group: TWIN — Women’s Hunter Group in Hokkaido

Salmon at Iwabboki Sluice

Today, we went to the Iwabboki Sluice with the guidance of Mr. Kosugi, and then to the “Urai”, which is a contraption to trap salmon for artificial breeding. This “Urai” also prevents salmon to swim upstream to lay eggs.

The organization, which manages the “Urai” was to my surprise, half private and half government organization that is not composed of people of Kushiro. Therefore, workers of the salmon hatchery stays in a dormitory-like building near their workplace during the hatching season.

It was amazing how the whole process of hatching salmon was so artificial. When the salmons are caught, they are separated by their sex, and are left for a while to become fully-grown. Afterwards, the eggs are taken out of the female salmons’ stomach, which is later mixed with sperm from the male salmons to hatch. Lastly, when the baby salmons are born, and grown to a certain extent, they are released back into the water from the upstream. This cycle represents the whole story of the salmon hatching business in Kushiro River.

However, according to Mr. Kosugi, such breeding pattern of salmon prevents the natural selection of partners on the part of salmons. In fact, the sperm of 1 male salmon is used to fertilize 5 female salmons. The act of trapping salmon before they reach the upstream of the river also prevents them from joining the natural food chain. For example, Tancho Cranes are deprived of dead salmon to eat, which can naturally be found in rivers, after the salmons have laid their eggs.

The scale of this hatchery symbolizes the largeness of the salmon industry. According to the people of the organization, there are many salmon-related organizations on top of them, with the ultimate supervision of the governor of Hokkaido. Moreover, Kushiro River and the Iwabboki Sluice are both managed by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport. Although salmon became state property due to a breakout of salmon as a target of huge consumption, and to tackle the Tragedy of Commons, we must take into account of its consequences.

The outside corporation, which currently manages the “Urai” do not want to open the water gate mainly to maintain its business. Limiting access to the commons to just the State might diminish the emotional connection between animals such as salmon, and humans.

Breeding Cows

Yesterday, when we visited Mr. Fujiwara’s Ranch, I had no clue about how the cows were treated in the farm.

According to Professor Ito, cows in dairy farms are fed with mixed feed. Such feed is composed of corn and soy, which are not natural feed for cows. In nature, cows only eat grass. The main reason for farmers to feed cows with mixed feed is to increase the production of milk. Mixed feed allows cows to grow fast. Therefore, they are artificially impregnated much earlier than in its natural state. This benefits the farmers for when cows are pregnant they will produce more milk for breastfeeding. Natural cows live up to 7-8 years, while artificial cows live only up to 4 years.

I could not help questioning the efficiency of such method of breeding cows, for the lives of the cows are shortened to half of the original state. However, in terms of production, it must be more productive for apparently, all dairy farmers in Hokkaido are breeding cows in this method.

Hearing about the situation of these cows made me think about animal rights, especially because of the inhumane way these cows were being treated. However, farmers find it difficult to change back to the natural way of breeding because the Japanese government is promoting an ongoing agreement on the reduction of tariffs on dairy products (TPP). In addition, there are no other jobs in Hokkaido for them to earn their living. I also think that the decrease in the natural environment, due to urbanization leaves farmers with no choice but to produce milk in this way. I saw no grassland in Mr. Fujiwara’s ranch, nor did it have space to revive grasslands. After gaining this eye-opening information, I realized the importance of knowing how our foods are processed, especially because nature now has less to offer.

Free Day in Abashiri

Today was a free day at last!! Therefore, some of the more energetic (?) members and I took this opportunity to go on a short trip to Abashiri Prison Museum. Once we got to Kayanuma station, the train station closest to the hotel, I was immediately grateful for taking this choice, for it was nothing like anything I could see in Tokyo. It was a deserted station, and there was only one train track. The train that came had only one vehicle.

IMG_6974

After a two and a half hour ride on the train, we reached Abashiri station. From there, the Abashiri Prison Museum was only a ten-minutes bus ride away.
IMG_6979

One of my prominent findings at the Museum related to nature was the large number of prisoners, who took part in the development of Hokkaido. In fact, the main purpose of the museum was to honor all the prisoners, who suffered immense forced labor to construct the central highway of Hokkaido. I learned that at least 1200 prisoners were sent to undergo the construction. They were forced to cut down trees all day and all night, without any sleep. At least 8 prisoners died at the site everyday. However, the Japanese government showed no empathy for they needed to compete against the invading Russian army.

IMG_6984

Comparing to such severe situation, we might be living in a context today with a capacity for environmental protection. When we think of war, we tend to focus on the casualties among the human population, and rarely on the nature.

Guardians of Community

Today we heard a lecture by Mr. Tate about the conservation of the Blakiston’s Fish Owls in Shibecha-cho, Hokkaido. Long ago, when the Ainu people occupied Hokkaido, Blakiston’s Fish Owls were loved by the people as guardians of the community. It was said that their low and hollow cries would reach a person’s ear even from a 2 kilometers distance. People believed that this would scare away evil spirits from the community.

However by 1994, these owls decreased to just 70, in all of Japan. This rapid decrease was due to the construction of rivers to prevent floods, and the increasing deforestation in the area. It was only then, that the people stood up to protect these precious birds, and the Nijibetsu Kor-Kamuy Society was established to take the lead in the conservation movement in Shibecha-cho. According to Mr. Tate, the first 20 members of the organization included dairy farmers, independent businessmen, fishermen, and others with various affiliations. After the tradition of worshipping the Blakiston’s Fish Owl as a deity of the community had long withered away, what encouraged these people to gather? Was it the charisma of the founder? I should have asked this, when we were still with him.

In fact, my impression of his story was that it was this variety of the first generation of the organization, which ensured the success of the conservation movement. Shibecha Town, and its neighboring town of Bekkai are both very dependent especially, on its dairy farm industry, as well as the fishermen. Dairy farmers spread manure onto their grasslands for cows, and during times of rain, this becomes a source of pollution in the rivers. Such was an issue, when the people continuously cut down trees to produce grasslands. However, by planting trees, which is the main action taken by the Nijibetsu Kor-Kamuy Society, it prevents the manure from going down into the river. As a result, the water quality of rivers recovered, enabling the production of better milk from cows, as well as increased population of fish in the rivers.

Every year, on the third Sunday of May, the Nijibetsu Kor-Kamuy Society hosts a “tree planting event”, wherein 5000 people participate. The number is amazing. It also highlights how many people are aware of the benefits of protecting the Blakiston’s Fish Owls by planting trees. This aspect of his lecture made me deeply understand the significance of raising awareness.

IMG_6951

Manmade Fish Owl Nest in the Woods

Water Quality Survey in Akkeshi (8/2)

Today, we visited five sites in Bekanbeushi River Watershed to conduct a water quality survey. We accumulated water samples from the five sites, and later underwent a simple analysis of the water quality of the five rivers. It was very interesting to visit the five different riverbeds, and compare and contrast the sceneries surrounding them.

We started out with the nearest riverbank of Obetsu River from Akkeshi Waterfowl Observation Center, to the upper streams of Bekanbeushi River and Obetsu River, all the way back to a site in Oboro River. One site was used as a tourist site for canoeing, while another, was bordered by a thick forest. While traveling upstream by bus, I saw many dairy farms from the window, which seemed to be owned by various individuals, judging from the pretty signboards built in between every ranch with the owners’ names on it.

After the water quality survey, we went back to Akkeshi Marine Station to conduct a simple experiment to measure the volume of substances in the water samples of each site. My first impression of the rivers, when I observed them at each site, was that they were not too clean because of the brown color, and the murkiness of the water. However, the samples we collected turned out to be clean and transparent, and I realized that it was just because of the dirt and marsh in the rivers.

We came upon an interesting result, but it was difficult to reach a conclusion because the field survey was inadequate to reach a feasible answer to the water quality of each river.

However afterwards, in Professor Isada’s lecture, we learned of the necessity of concentration of iron in water for the growth of Phytoplankton. According to Professor Isada, the distance from land determines the level of iron in water because iron can only be carried into water by humic substances. Therefore, there is ultimately more iron in rivers than oceans. Apparently, it is the wetlands and forests that produce the humic substances to carry iron to the rivers.