UNESCO has added Japan’s Southern Alps mountain range and the Tadami beech forest to its global list of biosphere reserves, the government said Thursday.
Known as “eco parks” in Japan, the U.N. agency assigns biosphere reserve status to regions that exemplify a balance between human activity and nature.
At an ongoing meeting in Sweden, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization also decided to add territory to the Shiga Highlands eco park, Japanese officials said.
The Southern Alps are mostly a forested belt of lofty mountains, many higher than 3,000 meters, known for conservation efforts, local food specialities and environmentally focused tourism. The 302,474-hecatre region straddles Yamanashi, Nagano and Shizuoka prefectures.
“We believe this recognizes the Southern Alps’ rich nature, and that local people’s enthusiasm bore fruit,” Nagano Gov. Shuichi Abe said. “We would like to work with local citizens to realize a region that deserves to be an eco park, reconciling ecological preservation and use.”
The Tadami region in Fukushima boasts abundant ecological resources including broad-leaved trees like beech. Village communities still live according to tradition, chopping firewood and collecting mushrooms and wild plants for food. The area is 78,032 hectares in size.
The U.N. body reassesses its list of biosphere reserves annually. They comprise a strictly protected core area, a buffer zone for environmental education and recreation, and a transition zone where communities are encouraged to develop in harmony with nature.
Japan sought to expand the Shiga Highlands biosphere reserve by adding 17,600 hectares to the surrounding buffer zone and the further outlaying transition area, a move that would bring the total reserve to 30,000 hectares. It is located in parts of Gunma and Nagano prefectures.
As of May last year, there were 621 designated biosphere reserves in 117 countries under the Man and the Biosphere Program. UNESCO’s Japan committee calls them eco parks; they are unrelated to UNESCO world natural heritage sites.
Other UNESCO biosphere reserves in Japan are Mount Hakusan in Toyama, Ishikawa, Fukui and Gifu prefectures; Mount Odaigahara and Mount Omine in Mie and Nara prefectures; Yakushima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture; and the Aya forest of broad-leaved evergreens in Miyazaki Prefecture.