Measures Against Bear-Inflicted Damage: Expand Understanding of Need to Cull Bears

As long as there is an increasing number of cases of bear-inflicted damage to humans, culling dangerous animals that appear around human-inhabited areas to control their population would be a valid measure. The central and prefectural governments must establish an effective system to tackle the issue.

It has been decided to add brown bears in Hokkaido and Asiatic black bears in Honshu to the list of “designated wildlife species for control” as animals whose populations should be managed through surveys and capturing activities in a planned manner. Currently, the Japanese deer and wild boar are designated as such.

The draft policy to add the bears to the list has been approved by an expert panel of the Environment Ministry.

The number of people attacked by bears has already reached a record 218 this fiscal year as of the end of January, including six fatalities. So-called urban bears that are seen in downtown areas have also become a societal problem.

Until recently, the central government’s policy had been focused on protecting bears, but the successive occurrence of bear-inflicted damage to humans has raised the need for a shift to population control mainly by culling them.

Prefectural governments that have been struggling to cope with the issue will probably find it easier to engage in culling activities from now on because the central government has clarified its stance.

The envisaged designation will likely allow prefectural governments to cover the daily wages they pay to hunters with central government subsidies. It is said that there have been cases in which local governments were unable to secure sufficient manpower due to a lack of financial resources.

Many people feel uncomfortable about culling bears. There has been a strong trend for local governments and hunters to be criticized with complaints such as “I feel sorry for bears.”

However, most bears to be culled are referred to as problematic individual animals that intrude on human-inhabited areas and harm people and crops. In some cases, culling them is necessary to protect the lives and livelihoods of residents. It is hoped that the understanding of the need will be deepened in society as a whole.

What is important is to track the bear population accurately. With the designation, the central government will also provide subsidies for bear population surveys performed by prefectural governments.

In the past, there have been cases in which bear populations declined due to excessive hunting. Asiatic black bears in Kyushu have become extinct, and there are fears that this may also happen in Shikoku. To prevent such a situation from occurring again, the number and methods of surveys should be standardized across the country to improve accuracy.

The growing number of cases of bear-inflicted damage can be attributed to structural changes such as declining local communities — caused by depopulation and an aging population — and the increase in abandoned farmland.

In the past, there used to be satoyama — forests with farmlands and irrigation ponds — between the mountainous areas where bears live and human-inhabited areas, and residents would cut the undergrowth to have a clear view of the vicinity. However, due to the declining population, these areas have been left abandoned, making it easier for bears to get close to human-inhabited areas.

The central and local governments need to strengthen their efforts to restore satoyama and create an environment in which bears and humans can coexist.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 26, 2024)