Deer are increasing sharply in number around the town of Okutama, western Tokyo, devouring plants and stripping the already logged mountains of new vegetation, thereby, some say, posing a landslide risk.

So plans are afoot to shoot some of them, both to preserve the forest ecosystem and to offer up venison as a local specialty.

Because forests in the area are Tokyo’s water source, the metropolitan government has decided to curb the deer population for the first time, metropolitan officials said.

Trees on the southern slope of Mount Kawanori in Okutama have few leaves.

About 10 years ago, some 32,000 young trees were planted there after cedar and cypress trees were cut down, but almost all of their leaves, along with wild plants, have been eaten by deer.

“If the situation is left as is, all the mountains in the Okutama area will be like that,” claimed Mitsumasa Ishida, president of a local mountain preservation society.

According to a study by the town office, at least 35 hectares of forest have been damaged. In July during heavy rain, earth and sand flowed down from the mountainside into a river, clogging a sluice gate, officials said.

Wasabi Japanese horseradish, one of the town’s specialty products, and other crops have also been eaten by deer. Protective fences have been put up at some places, but it is impossible to erect them all around the wide forest area.

The metropolitan government said 386 deer were estimated to live in the Tama area in fiscal 1993, but the number had increased by fiscal 2002 to 2,560, and is expected to reach about 3,000 by March.

The sharp increase in the deer population is attributed to recent warmer winters, whose decreased snowfall has caused fewer deer deaths, a shortage of food and a hunting ban for their protection that was in effect from 1976 to 2001.

To prevent the damage from spreading, the metropolitan government will work out a plan by the end of fiscal 2004 to curb the number of deer under the wildlife conservation law.

Metropolitan authorities and Okutama plan to shoot 460 deer by the end of March. There are also plans to process deer meat to sell as a regional product.

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