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Yambaru favored for national park status

Date Posted: 2007-03-08

The Ministry of the Environment wants to make Yambaru a national park, but not everyone agrees on the idea.

The ministry has set a committee group to research establishing the new national park, with Youichi Kumagaya, Professor of Tokyo’s Agricultural University, leading. The committee is recommending the national park status go forward for Yambaru, in northern Okinawa. If approved, it would be the first new national park in Japan since Iriomote Island was awarded the status in 1972, and Hokkaido Kushio in 1987.

A big question is which area of Yambaru forest should be included. The Ministry of the Environment will conduct research on plants and animals, compiling biology data to study options. A key area is currently occupied by the U.S. military’s training area in northern Okinawa. That land was to have been returned to Japan, but the process has been frozen by political issues.

One issue to be resolved is purchasing the lands from private owners, and who will pay for it. “The northern part of Okinawa has been very popular among tourists, and tourists want to touch nature,” says one advocate of the plan. Eco tourism is particularly popular in Okinawa, particularly in Yambaru forest.

There is plenty to see and experience, including many animals and birds. The yambarukuina, noguchigera birds, and the Iriomote Yanameko all live in the forest, and there are dozens of unique forms of plant life as well.

While many are thrilled at the prospect, opponents charge it will restrict entry and further reduce tourism opportunities. Already, the number of mainland Japanese visiting the area has dropped, leaving Okinawans as the primary visitors.

Another proposal surfaced during the Yambaru discussions is to make the entire Ryukyu island chain, Okinawa Prefecture, a part of the World Heritage Preservation Sites system. The research committee group says it is preparing its paperwork on this project, and has budgeted ¥6,000,000 for the years.

The idea of making Okinawa part of World Heritage first surfaced in 1996.

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