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ABAC Wildlife Professor Brings Home New Appreciation for Japan

August 28, 2015

Incredibly fast bullet trains and the stunning visage of Mount Fuji stir thoughts of Japan with just about everyone who has visited the island nation. Dr. Vanessa Lane, assistant professor of wildlife ecology and management at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, recorded those impressions in her mind but she knows Japan is so much more.

“What most people don’t realize is that Japan is teeming with wildlife and wildlands,” Lane, just home from a trip to Sapporo, Japan for the International Wildlife Management Congress, said. “To the adventurous, Japan’s wild countryside offers haunting serenades of Japanese robins, tiny skittering of lizard feet on dry leaves, and the hissing of volcanic steam vents.”

Lane and colleagues from the University of Georgia, University of Illinois, Texas A&M University, University of Montana, Mississippi State University, Weyerhaeuser Company, and the U.S. Geological Survey attended the Congress to share information on the management of animals such as elk and white-tailed deer with wildlife managers in Japan.

“Other topics covered at the conference were diets of Japanese giant salamanders, effects of the Fukushima radiation on insects and birds, and somewhat surprisingly, how Japan can effectively manage an exploding population of sika deer,” Lane said.

Biologists from Europe, Australia, Canada, the Middle East and other regions of the world shared their ideas and wildlife management models with the Japanese professionals. Lane spoke on the ethical considerations surrounding the use of hunting as a wildlife management tool in the U.S.

“I discussed the possible consequences of emerging hunting technologies on the fair chase of game animals, and how high fencing wildlife, specifically for hunting white-tailed deer, privatizes what is actually a public resource in North America,” Lane said. “I also talked about how current no-kill movements in the United States are reflecting observed changes in public demographics and perceptions of hunting.”

Lane said most Japanese citizens do not own firearms, and the sika deer are managed in key areas through cooperative volunteer hunts between forest managers/owners and hunters. These hunts help to reduce deer populations in small areas to allow for tree regeneration. In North America hunters typically must pay for hunting rights to private lands. In Japan, landowners must pay hunters to hunt overabundant deer on their property.

“Sika deer are eating the Japanese forests to death,” Lane said. “We have a similar situation in the U.S. with white-tailed deer in Pennsylvania and Minnesota. We suggested to the Japanese that they adopt the model of several European countries where hunters can sell the meat of the animals they shoot.

“If the Japanese adopt this model, forest owners may be able to reduce the costs of hiring hunters to reduce the deer herds because the hunters will be making money on the deer they harvest. While this doesn’t address the cultural stigma of gun ownership or the safety concerns about hunters on their land, this will at least provide financial incentive to hunters to reduce deer populations without placing that financial burden on landowners.”

Deer hunting season is just over the horizon in Georgia. Lane said the deer population in the state is on the rise in some urban and suburban areas because of reduced hunting. Deer survival and reproductive rates in other areas of the state are lower due to traditional hunting and coyotes.

“Last year we saw a reduction in doe days on some public lands, giving the deer population a chance to remain stable or increase in those areas,” Lane said. “Urban deer are a growing problem worldwide, and we discussed that as an issue in parts of Japan. Careful and ongoing monitoring of deer populations, coupled with flexible hunting regulations, will allow us to maintain deer populations in Georgia at a biologically healthy size.”

Lane said the trip to Sapporo produced unforgettable images, such as the amazingly clean urban areas, the ultra-modern 130-miles per hour bullet train, and the gorgeous countryside.

“The Shinkansen (bullet train) sounded like a spaceship, and the train traveled so fast that the tracks had to bank around turns,” Lane said. “The cities gave way to scattered fields of rice and other crops in the beautiful countryside, which had a homey feel, not too dissimilar to the rural areas around Tifton but much wetter.”

Lane said the people in Japan are more formal than Americans and were sometimes reluctant to carry on conversations unless they were particularly fluent in English.

“The Japanese are very honest, hard workers,” Lane said. “They are also very artistic and care greatly about cleanliness, manners, politeness, and neatness. The urban areas are amazingly clean with hardly any trash in the streets.

“They are very aware of environmental issues, and they are investing more into solar energy after the Fukushima nuclear accident. The Japanese are very worried about radiation contamination and are working toward reducing their dependency on nuclear energy.”

Lane is beginning her second year as a faculty member in the School of Agriculture and Natural Resources at ABAC. She has taught or co-taught classes in nongame wildlife management, forest measurements and mapping, wildlife ecology and management, herbaceous plant communities, advanced forest ecology, ornithology, and forest recreation and tourism.