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Oh deer: Growing population turning hikers' green Kyoto Pref. paradise brown

In this file photo taken Oct. 29, 2015, a male Japanese deer is seen in the city of Miyazu, Kyoto Prefecture. (Mainichi)

KYOTO -- The usually startlingly green scenery of the Oeyama mountain range in northern Kyoto Prefecture has turned brown -- most of the new vegetation eaten by growing numbers of Japanese deer.

The annual "Oeyama issei tozan (Oeyama group hiking)" event is set to take place later this month. However, along the trails from Kayasobo Park in the town of Yosano, the broad-leaf bamboo covering the landscape between the two peaks of Senjogatake and Akaishidake had, by April 25, been literally eaten away. The plentiful deer droppings strewn across the area were ample proof of the culprit: deer, and significantly more of them than before.

"If things continue like this, we'll lose ecological diversity," a local resident worries.

"Each time plants begin to sprout, the deer come and eat them all," said Junichi Aoki. Oeyama was his playground growing up, and he is frustrated with the dismal state of the vegetation. "The deer have a bigger impact on the mountains than bears. I want people to be aware of the problem."

The mountain trails aren't the only thing in the town to be affected by the deer -- they have also damaged local agriculture. In response, the town more than doubled the quota for hunting down harmful wildlife, enlisting the help of a local hunting club from fiscal 2013. Including wild boar, 1,500 animals were killed in fiscal 2015, and 1,100 in fiscal 2016. For four years in a row, Yosano has captured at least 1,000 animals per year, but a town representative in charge of the effort said, "No matter how many we capture, it doesn't feel like the numbers are decreasing."

Wild animals are fundamentally protected by the law, so killing them requires "justifiable reason," such as economic damage to the agricultural or forestry industries. However, there is no agriculture on the Oeyama mountain range, so it is hard to authorize any sort of action to control the deer population. "How to counter the reality of animals destroying the ecosystem is a big challenge," stated a prefectural government representative working on damage countermeasures.

As for the event itself, which will be held on May 28 this year, people will climb Oeyama from five trail heads in the cities of Fukuchiyama and Miyazu, plus Yosano. The day will feature activities such as a quiz with special local products as prizes held at noon at the top of 832-meter-tall Senjogatake. The hike takes one to three hours to complete, and the hikers' meeting time differs for each trail head. For registration or inquires about the event, contact the Fukuchiyama planning and tourism division at 0773-24-7076 (in Japanese). The deadline for registration is May 26.

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