Futoshi NAKAMURA, Professor, Research Faculty of Agriculture
Rivers cannot be understood through Observation alone
In Japan, river and forest researchers used to only observe their respective targets. In contrast, Professor Futoshi Nakamura of the Research Faculty of Agriculture, worked on a project to investigate ecosystem connections in the US state of Oregon under the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science’s Postdoctoral Fellowship for Research Abroad program when he was a lecturer. He examined the connections between rivers and forests for two years there, and has also explored rivers and forests in Japan. All of Japan’s 109 Class A rivers are managed by the central government, and national statistical data have conventionally been used to accurately assess the situation of biodiversity in the country. However, Prof. Nakamura saw an additional need to map current biodiversity conditions and related assessment results, and to this end developed maps providing information needed to make judgments on the value of ecosystems. Areas that encompass rare species habitats are often considered important, but those where ordinary species live are also significant. Prof. Nakamura’s mapping is considered to have facilitated decisions on areas to be conserved in order to protect as many species as possible with limited budget resources.
Not just either / or choices
Prof. Nakamura also conducted a survey on the Kushiro Wetland ― the largest wetland in Japan ― and the surrounding region to observe catchment areas as a whole. Since the Ramsar Convention came into force in 1980, the approximately 20,000-ha area of the wetland itself has been protected. However, agriculture and forestry activities in an upstream area covering approximately 250,000 ha have resulted in increased pollutant loads on the wetland. Usually, wetlands evolve into forests over thousands of years, but natural change is occurring six to seven times faster than normal in Kushiro due to anthropogenic factors. Measures to combat this are considered necessary. Discussions on the natural environment and people’s activities commonly include either/or choices. An example of this is seen with the stalemate that has stalled talks between individuals who advocate keeping an existing dam and others supporting its removal. However, the option of improving the dam could also be considered. Production and ecosystem conservation are not necessarily diametrically opposed. In Hyogo Prefecture, farmers grow rice without using agricultural chemicals so that stalks are conserved, and the rice is sold under the Stork Rice brand. This rice is highly popular among school children and parents for use in school lunches. A talk on connections between rivers and forests with JICA trainees (from Africa, Central America and other developing countries) on a long-term training program in Hokkaido
Living by our own yardsticks
Prof. Nakamura believes that science should not determine value, and that one of the roles of scientists is to highlight the variety of values that can be considered. Japan has a declining birthrate and an aging population. Although population shrinkage is seen as problematic, Prof. Nakamura is level-headed about the issue. He believes we should change our values because abandoned farmland can be restored to wetland and provide habitats for red-crowned cranes, although there are downsides to such a value change because salaries may not rise as they did during the nation’s period of rapid economic growth. He is rather more concerned that the sight of children playing in rivers has now become so rare. An increasing number of Japanese people have never experienced the joy of playing in rivers or other outdoor places. Prof. Nakamura expects students to develop the ability to think for themselves by gaining a wide range of hands-on learning experiences and to live by their own yardsticks. He also wants young researchers to experience other countries rather than staying exclusively at the university, believing that HU should continue to be an institution where previous students wish to return.
Field survey at a wetland restoration site in Florida, US.