Environmental groups say plan for Yambaru National Park conservation area falls short

March 24, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo

On March 23, Okinawan environmental conservation groups released a statement responding to the Ministry of the Environment’s proposal to designate the northern Yambaru area of Okinawa a national park. The groups urged the Ministry of the Environment to reconsider its current plan for the park. Under the current plan, only a small area is designated for special protection by stringent regulations limiting development. The environmental groups’ statement pointed to concerns that other areas of the park not protected by these regulations could be subject to deforestation, which could damage biodiversity in the Yambaru area over the long term, potentially leading to the extinction of certain species and populations in the area.

The environmental groups involved in preparing the statement held a press conference at the Okinawa Prefectural Office the day the statement was released. The two representatives speaking were lawyer and Yambaru DON-guris co-representative Jinen Kita, and NPO Okumagawa Basin Protection Fund representative Yoshiyasu Iha. The two represented ten organizations who are arguing that under the current plan, the area would not make it through the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) review process, making it impossible for Yambaru to be registered as a World Heritage Site under the natural criteria. The groups’ written statement was submitted to the Ministry of the Environment, the Okinawa prefectural government, and local government bodies in the three villages of Kunigami, Ogimi, and Higashi.

The statement criticized the fact that under the current plan, while 13,632 hectares (approximately 40 percent of the total 34,000 hectares that make up the Yambaru region) would be designated a national park, of that, only 790 hectares would be designated a special conservation area in which logging and removal of animal and plant life are strictly regulated.

Areas designated as national park land can fall under five different classifications. In addition to the “special conservation area” designation, there are three levels of “special area” designation with levels of regulation varying from least to most strict, as well as a “normal area” designation. All designations besides “special conservation area” allow logging with a permit.

Kita and Iha argued that many of the region’s most precious areas will not be designated special conservation areas under the current plan, the divisions of which they say are not based on scientific grounds. They say this amounts to the government approving of logging activities in the area.

(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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