Japanese government to designate bears as 'wildlife species for control'

Japan's Environment Ministry plans to designate bears as "wildlife species for control" by the end of April, when the animals come out of hibernation.

Environment Minister Ito Shintaro announced the plan on Thursday after a ministry panel of experts earlier in the day proposed the designation.

The step comes as bear attacks nationwide have hit a new high in the current fiscal year. The designation will allow the state to support capturing wild animals that harm people's livelihoods, farm produce and the ecosystem.

Ito told reporters the ministry will swiftly implement measures to protect people from bears in cooperation with relevant ministries and local governments.

He said he hopes local governments will work to prevent damage by the animals. He said they can do this not just by capturing the bears, but in ways fit for their communities, by monitoring bear populations and environmental control for keeping bears away from where people live.

Ito said his ministry will provide technical and financial support to prevent damage by bears based on scientific knowledge and to ensure people's safety.

The panel has studied the issue since last December in response to a request from Hokkaido and northeastern prefectures, where many cases of bear-related injuries have been reported.

From last April to January this year, 218 people in Japan have been injured by bears. That already tops the worst tally of 158 in all of fiscal 2020.

The panel says bear populations have largely been on the rise, raising concern over attacks. But it noted that bears in Shikoku, western Japan, are at risk of extinction.

The ministry plans to follow the panel's proposal to exclude bears in Shikoku from the control and capture program.

Japanese deer and boars are among the animals currently designated for the program. The program now aims to cut the populations of those species by 50 percent because they have high fertility.

But the panel calls for regular monitoring of habitat distributions of bears and their populations to limit their capture because their fertility is low.

The panel also proposed setting up buffer zones between bears and humans by felling trees, and increasing control on bear populations.