Sunday, October 12, 2008

Japan Dam Tour 2008 - part II

The second Case study considered in this year's River Policy Network symposium in Japan was the Akaya Project. The “Akaya Project” is a collaborative project organized by local residents, the Regional office of the national Forestry Agency, and the Nature Conservation Society of Japan. These groups entered into an agreement in order to formalize their collaborative efforts to achieve a sustainable community as well as restoring biodiversity in the adjoining national forests. Officially called the “Biodiversity Restoration Program for Mikuni Mountains and Akaya River,” it is also dubbed the “Akaya Project” because this program covers the tributaries of Tone River and the upper river basin of Akaya River.

The project includes a variety of conservation and restoration components, and includes volunteer and educational opportunities for the public. Their newsletters contain beautiful artwork depicting the local flora and fauna. Making good use of donated buildings, their small headquarters includes rustic sleeping accommodations for work parties and visiting school groups. Some of the Akaya restoration work includes propogating and planting native trees to replace non-native forests, a root cause of much of the ecological disturbance in the planning area.

Forestry practices in Japan include the construction of debris dams, or “sabo dams,” intended to capture sediment eroding from clearcut logging areas. Any visitor to Japan will notice the proliferation of these concrete structures throughout the countryside, even in remote areas where direct property damage is not an issue. This is a byproduct of a huge, and often mis-guided, domestic infrastructure budget.

One component of the Akaya Project is the removal of soil saving dams at Mogurazawa, a tributary of Akaya river. This is probably the first case in which soil saving dams will be removed within national forests, and it is hoped that this will become a new model for forestry management operations in Japan.

Our group hiked through the forest and up the small tributary creek to see firsthand the dam in question. In this case, recent structural damage had undermined the foundation. We crawled through the slot under the dam to see that most of the accumulated sediment had been naturally flushed under the dam. The plan is to remove the central portion of the structure, leaving ‘wings’ on either side. I understood this is intended to help stabilize the streambanks while passing sediment downstream.

At one point I was asked if I had any ideas for ‘ecotourism’ development in the area. The hotspring resorts already draw Japanese tourists, but there are other users of the hotsprings in the winter. Having seen a National Geographic magazine several years ago, I was interested to hear that "Japanese snow monkeys" visit Akaya's natural hotsprings in the winter. Although the Japanese seem accustomed to monkeys, I suggested that monkeys enjoying a hot bath could be a big draw for foreign tourists.

Location: the northern area of Niiharu, Minakami-Cyo(former Niiharu Village), Gunma Pref.

▽Akaya Project(Nature Conservation Society of Japan)

▽Akaya Project(Kanoto Regional Forest Office)

▽Houshi Hot Spring Resort Cyoujyukan

▽Kawafuru Hot Spring Resort Hamaya Ryokan