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Over 380 hectares of illegally logged private forests in Japan remain abandoned: data

An area of logged land where a landslide occurred is seen in Marumori, Miyagi Prefecture, on Oct. 24, 2019. (Mainichi/Takeshi Terada)

OSAKA -- At least a combined 386 hectares of private forests that were logged illegally in 858 cases across Japan had yet to be regrown as of March 2018, the Mainichi Shimbun has found.

Owners of private forests are required under the Forest Act to notify local governments of any logging, but did not do so in the 858 cases. It is believed to be the first time that the scale of deforestation without notice across the country has been clarified.

In at least one of the cases, a landslide occurred on a piece of land that was left exposed after being logged.

The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is striving to transform forestry into a growing industry, but the finding suggests that local bodies do not have the capacity to keep tabs on logging at privately owned forests under their jurisdiction.

The Mainichi Shimbun filed a freedom of information request with the Forestry Agency to obtain internal documents that the country's 47 prefectural governments had submitted on the logging of both natural and planted privately owned forests. It then tallied the number of cases in which the prefectural governments reported that illegally logged forests had not been replanted as of the end of fiscal 2017, as well as the total areas of these forests.

The northeastern prefecture of Miyagi had particularly extensive forests that remained abandoned after being logged -- 213 hectares in 679 cases. Mie Prefecture in central Japan followed with 52 hectares in 43 cases, while in the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido there were 26 hectares in 11 cases. The central Japan prefecture of Shizuoka had 25 hectares that remained unaddressed in nine cases of logging without permission.

In contrast, 21 prefectures where forestry is thriving, including Tokyo and the northeastern prefectures of Iwate and Miyazaki have no such forests.

However, the actual scale of such abandoned forests could be much larger as the agency may have failed to grasp the whole picture due to a shortage of personnel in charge at local governments.

Privately owned forests are defined as those owned by private individuals and organizations and those owned by public organizations such as local governments.

Statistics on forests and the forestry industry show that an estimated 73,508 hectares of privately owned forests across the country were logged in fiscal 2017.

According to the Forestry Agency, the yearly number of notices on logging submitted to municipalities across the country has hovered around 60,000 over the past several years. Meanwhile, the agency confirmed only 19 cases of logging without notice across the nation between fiscal 2011 and 2017.

As part of efforts to turn forestry into a growth sector, the Abe government is promoting efficient logging of privately owned forests. In 2018, a new law regulating the management of forestry business was enacted. Under this policy, municipalities are commissioned by forest owners to integrate and manage privately owned forests and then farm out the management of potentially profitable forests to "enthusiastic and capable" business operators.

(Japanese original by Takeshi Terada, Osaka Special Reports Department)

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