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Every day ought to be Earth Day

Earth Day Tokyo on April 23/24 will offer lots of eco-stimulation — and even tasty venison fare

by C.W. Nicol

I usually avoid large gatherings of people, even though it has become my job to give lectures and to attend seminars and meetings and such. However, you would never see me anywhere near a rock concert or a rugby, soccer or baseball match.

Our home is in the snow country of Nagano Prefecture, but I avoid the ski slopes because there are too many people. Shopping in a city department store is a nightmare for me, too.

Despite this aversion to crowds, 10 years ago I was roped in to become the president of Earth Day Tokyo, and ironically enough the number of people attending this annual festival has more than doubled since I accepted the position.

Earth Day Tokyo 2011 will be held on April 23 and 24, with the main venue being Yoyogi Park. If the weather is fine, there will be several thousand people there and many and varied booths.

The original Earth Day was a nationwide U.S. environmental teach-in instigated by the Democratic senator for Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson, on April 22, 1970.

His initiative was a resounding success with, among its highlights, the U.S. Congress being recessed for the day so its members could move around and speak about the environment, and 100,000 people attending an ecology fair in New York’s Central Park.

After that, Earth Day became an annual event, though principally an American one until an activist named Denis Hayes, who had been the coordinator of the first Earth Day, founded the international Earth Day Network in 1990. Consequently, Earth Day is now celebrated in 175 countries.

When I took over the presidency of Earth Day Tokyo it was a rather stuffy affair. Instead, I urged for it to be turned into a festival, a fair, a gathering where everybody (as long as they weren’t too goofy or obnoxious) could have their say, ply their wares, walk their walk. There would be food and drinks, music and dancing.

It’s really also thanks to Earth Day that I not only made peace, but friends, with Greenpeace over the whaling issue that had rent us asunder. I’m very grateful for that.

Earth Day Tokyo can be a noisy, boisterous gathering, but so far we’ve had no real unpleasantness and no crime. It is a good chance to meet with and talk to people who may or may not have the same views as your own.

There is bound to be a very sombre undertone to this year’s event because we will all be aware of the terrible cost of the recent earthquakes, tsunami and nuclear disasters that have devastated so much of the environmental, social and economic life of northeastern Japan. This is having an impact on all of us.

At Earth Day Tokyo, there will be a lot of appeals as well as discussions, and probably contretemps over what to do. (I for one want all nuclear power stations dismantled and banned in Japan, and there will be a lot of argument about that!) M any months before the disaster occurred, I had persuaded the committee to try to do something about the deer problem in Japan. Deer are multiplying, destroying many valuable and endangered wild plant species, killing trees by stripping the bark, and causing immensely costly damage to agriculture and forestry.

With sufficient available food, a deer herd will generally double in numbers in three years and, with a general lessening of snow cover in Japan, their range is expanding. For example, we never used to find deer or wild boar in our woods, but in the last few years the numbers of boar have certainly increased to such a level that our forester, Mr. Matsuki, can take them — for food, of course.

There is also lots of evidence from tracks, droppings and motion-triggered cameras of young stags, who usually venture into new territory first before the hinds and fauns follow them in.

Once the deer have stripped the land of everything they can eat, then they die off in huge numbers, from starvation, disease and parasites. With the absence of natural predators such as wolves or cougars, humans must control them. Even if you erect expensive fences to keep them out of areas you need to protect, their numbers will still need to be thinned.

Three years ago, some 140,000 deer were culled in Japan (according to official figures), and even that was not enough. More than 90 percent of these deer were dumped, buried or incinerated.

Yet give me one average-size deer and I can feed 100 people. Killing and then wasting the meat is surely foolish, if not a downright crime. Venison is excellent meat. (I do not intend to argue with vegans; you do what you want to do and say what you want to say, but stay away from me, unless you want to come to my garden in the summer and chew on the grass — in which case I’ll gladly help with the cost of salad dressing, if you use the stuff on grass.)

At Earth Day 2011 we are setting up a “forest kitchen” where, among other things we will serve venison burgers (mixed with minced shiitake mushrooms, onions, herbs and stuff) and venison keema curry (including onions, vegetables and green peas — not as spicy as I like, but still good).

I want to encourage the sustainable use of culled venison as human food in Japan. This is quite normal in Canada, the United States, Britain, Germany, Finland and so on. An annual cull by skilled hunters, scientifically monitored, can not only be sustainable, but give valid employment to foresters and wildlife workers.

The average age of people in the hunting associations in Japan is rising, while their actual numbers are falling. We need young people to be able to assess, harvest and process wild game, a job that is an essential part of forest and wildlife conservation.

At home, as I have said before in this column, nearly all the red meat we consume is from culled deer that would otherwise have been wasted. It is higher in amino acids and lower in fat than meat such as beef, and I prefer it. As for venison being “smelly” — which is what many Japanese seem to believe — well, try it and see for yourself. It seems so silly that Japan is currently importing about 140 tons of farmed New Zealand venison while throwing away its own.

As I write this, I learn of displaced people going hungry in evacuation centers, and it breaks my heart. If Japan is to survive, we must be locally more able to look after ourselves, and use natural resources more wisely. Venison is just a small part of it, but consider the simple numbers: 140,000 culled wild deer could provide 14 million meals — and that would definitely not be endangering the wild deer as a species. Also, wild deer live free throughout their lives, and if the hunter is any good at all, those he or she shoots will not even hear the sound of the gun.

It is my strong view that in order to preserve deer and wild boar in the wild in Japan, then we must use them — sensibly and humanely — and not be so cruel as to leave them to multiply until they end up starving themselves to death.

In a few months I will be 71. I think a lot about what kind of world I will leave to our grandchildren. The twins you see in two of the pictures here, now live in British Columbia in northwest Canada. But see the little green books they are studying so earnestly? Those are field notebooks that I and staff at our Afan Woodland Trust made with illustrations of the birds and animals found in our woods here in Nagano.

I dearly want to walk hand in hand with my granddaughters (I have four so far) through our lovely Japanese woods. My grandson is older, and I look forward to sharing stories and a couple of beers with him one night soon by a campfire in the woods — listening for deer, wild boar and a bear maybe?

To me, in truth, every day is Earth Day.