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HOME  > Past issues  > 2016 April 13 - 19  > Gov’t seeks to register Okinawa forest utilized as US military training field as world heritage site
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2016 April 13 - 19 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

Gov’t seeks to register Okinawa forest utilized as US military training field as world heritage site

April 15, 2016
The Environment Ministry has decided to seek to register the Yanbaru Forest in northern Okinawa as a natural World Heritage site. Okinawans, environmental activists, and experts are claiming that in order for the registry to be approved, the removal of the U.S. Marines jungle warfare training field from the forest is essential.

The Yanbaru forest area extending over the three villages of Kunigami, Ogimi, and Higashi is known as a treasure of unique and rare wild species, such as the Okianwa rail and Okinawa woodpecker. However, area hosts the U.S. Jungle Warfare Training Center (the Northern Training Area) which greatly disrupts the natural environment.

The Environment Ministry in its plan will designate about 17,300 hectares of the forest, excluding the military training area, as a national park and then apply for the UNESCO World Heritage status.

It has been repeatedly pointed out by environmental experts that U.S. military training exercises have accelerated environmental destruction as shown in a sharp decrease in endangered animal populations throughout the forested area.

Local environmental NGO leader Tamaki Chosei said that he found deformed births among various reptiles and amphibians such as freshwater turtles and Namie’s frog, both of which are designated as national or prefectural natural treasures. This may be due to the presence of Agent Orange which the U.S. military sprayed in its training exercises during the 1960s, he added.

Furthermore, in the Takae district in Higashi Village, the Japanese government is pushing forward with the construction of U.S. military helipads in defiance of residents’ protests. The helipad construction was agreed upon by the Japanese and U.S. governments as a condition for the return of part of the Northern Training Area.

Tamaki stressed, “In the Yanbaru Forest, especially in the planned construction sites, precious subtropical forest landscapes remain intact.” He went on to say that what the government should do is to nominate the entire Yanbaru forest region as a World Heritage site by abandoning the helipad construction and achieving the full removal of the military training zone.

Past related articles:
> Okinawans suffer hardships from US Ospreys’ touch-and-go drills [December 9, 2015]
> Okinawans’ sit-in protest against new US military helipads marks 7th anniversary [June 30, 2014]
> Ospreys have negative impact on ecosystem of Yanbaru [October 3, 2012]
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