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Northern dispute pits environment against private land & forest owners

Date Posted: 2005-12-22

The northern region of Okinawa has many natural wonders and world heritage sites.

Private landowners are threatening those wonders, and that heritage status, with individual decisions to cut down trees and strip the hillsides. The Yambaru area is vital to Okinawa’s World Heritage Sites status, government officials point out, and want the forests to remain intact.

Private land owners say it’s their land, and they’re within their rights to do what they want with it. Most of the forests are public lands, but there are enough private forests to cause concern. Concerned about the situation, some communities say they’ll take measures within the year to create designated natural environment areas. Governments in the Motobu and Nakijin areas, the Motobu peninsula and Conic Karst area are leading the environmental charge, but know they’ve an uphill battle against private land owners.

One private forest owner says “making these areas state owned designated parks is all right, and we’re glad to hear that. But what about me? The state has never listened to me, so I decided to chip off the land.” Private land owners are cutting trees for sale and culling the land. “I’m protesting purposely,” says another owner. “They should listen to me, but it’s too late now. I cut the trees and dug up the land. It’s my own, and I can do whatever I want.”

Prefecture and local authorities are upset with the private landowners, saying “we are going to register the Yambaru Forest as a World Heritage Site, because there are many Okinawa birds, like th Yambaru Kuina Noguchigera and also the Iriomote wild cat.” Called the Peninsula Karst Area, officials say they want to preserve it, and note they’ve already discussed it with the Environmental Ministry. The ministry is said to be supporting the preservation move .

The problem, officials acknowledge, is that they only have control over state property. They can block tree cutting chippng, and land stripping, but cannot place limits on the private landowners. That creates the frustration, because “It might be difficult to register to World Heritage when states cannot control planting and road making. Trees should be put back again.”

The question being discussed in the northern area this week is whether land owners can be educated and encouraged to cooperate, and even if the agree, if the existing trees can survive along with the animals.

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