The Fall Of The Japanese Forestry Industry
An increased reliance on fossil fuel in Japan that begin the 1950’s caused less demand for firewood and charcoal. In the same time period, the demand for pulp lumber and other materials needed for construction increased greatly as the Japanese economy exploded.
In an effort to withstand this demand for lumber, the Japanese Forestry Agency devised a way to expand the available forestry by clearing out bung forests in order to make room for the planting of rapidly growing coniferous trees. It was believed at the time that this approach would assure the constant supply of economical lumber that could be used for construction.
Trees more than a century old were cut down to over a broad area of the country to supply the construction materials needed to supply the company’s growth. It would soon be discovered that the new plantings could not possibly grow fast enough to replace the trees that were cut down. Even worse, in the northeast region of the country, the recently planted trees did not grow. The grumblings began and grew constantly louder as most people proclaimed the campaign of the Forestry Department to be a complete failure.
The campaign would eventually become characterized as the “buna massacre” and estimates have the number of trees that were cut down during the campaign to be as high as 17 million.
Effect On Environment
The destruction of forestry in Japan had an impacted more than just human beings as many creatures living in the forest were deprived of the shelter and food that was necessary to ensure their survival. In addition to this, black bears that once lived in mountain areas that have been reforested have been forced to enter areas inhabited by humans in search of food.
Despite the obvious failures of the campaign to reforest particular areas the demand for lumber continued to increase which caused prices for the now precious commodity to soar. In response to this dilemma, the Japanese government paved the way for the country to attain cheap imports in 1964. The move effectively undermined the entire domestic lumber industry and Japanese lumber which provided 90% of the lumber used in Japanese construction was soon responsible for only about 20% of the lumber supply.
The irony of Japan’s decision to import a large volume of lumber resulted in other nations implementing the same destructive reforesting policies that Japan sought to bring an end to in their own country. The first foreign forests to be laid bear due to Japanese desire for lumber was in the Philippine mountains. Next, the forests of Indonesia and Malaysia was targeted.
The Fall Of The Industry
The forestry industry in Japan has decreased in value from over a $1 trillion in 1980 to the $450 billion it was valued at in 2014. During this time period, the number of Japanese workers decreased until it was approximately one-third of the 146,000 individuals that worked in the industry at its peak.
The smaller labor force has resulted in the unintended consequence of untamed growth of forestland contributing to the floods and landslides that have caused devastation in recent years for the country.