Thursday, August 28, 2008

Keeping nature in mind in Japan's most beautiful valley

I found an article in the Mainichi Daily News that I thought was relevant to my last post about environmental management. (Find the article here).

The article discusses the vegetation growth that has occurred Yamanashi prefecture's Shosenkyo (昇仙峡), a valley that was designated as part of the Chichibu Tama Kai National Park in 1950. Since that time the valley has become known as "Japan's most beautiful". . .which is definintely argueable. Apparently, a hands-off management policy since the areas inception to the national park has allowed the valley's vegetation to grow to the point where it is obstructing some of the rock formations for which the valley has become famous. The tourists are starting to complain.

So, logging concessions are currently being considered. Seems logical. However, in an age of illogic, we get statements such as the following, which came from the hairperson of the Shosenkyo Tourism Association, Takehiko Suzuki:

"We would like to cut down the trees with nature in mind. . ."
I think I undertand what Suzuki is trying to say, but find it fascinating that he feels a need to reference 'nature' as something inherently good--something that must be kept in mind while making management decisions; this despite the fact that the trees will be cut precisely because nature 'took its course', as it were (the photos--courtesy of Mainichi Japan--are from 2008 and 1956, respectively).

Obviously, the Shosenkyo that was incorporated as part of the Chichibu Tama Kai National Park in 1950 was also not a completely 'natural' landscape; it had been stripped of trees by humans. Therefore, we must ask what. . .or perhaps when. . .is 'nature'? Unfortunately, much of modern environmental discourse continues to draw on uncritical notions of 'nature' as being inherently good, and 'humanity' being inherently destructive. We're left with trying to keep nature in mind so that we don't mess things up too bad. . .or at least that's the sense I get.

In Otaki's case, leaving 'nature' to do its thing is not an appropriate course, as forest expansion is threatening the village itself. At the same time, in other places, valuable forestland is being destroyed as urban areas expand. This calls for localized responses that take into account local social, cultural, and economic needs, as well as ecological needs--rather than generalized reponses that rely on reified notions of nature to condone doing nothing. In other words, humans need to own up to the fact that we too are a part of nature--so that we can begin making management decisions that reflect the realities of our socio-natural environments.

By the way, Shosenkyo is beautiful; everyone should try to visit sometime.

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