The Hokkaido Montane Conifer Forest ecoregion is located on Japan’s second-largest volcanic island of Hokkaido. The predominant vegetation is of Sakhalin fir-Mongolian oak, boreal, and subalpine forests. The stunning Mount Asahide, in Daisetsuzan National Park, is the island’s highest peak. Besides the beautiful brown bear, the endangered yellow-breasted bunting, and Blakiston’s eagle-owl are found here. In the Kushiro Marshes, the red-crowned crane has its largest breeding and wintering site.
Covering 45,853 km2, it mostly consists of Sakhalin Fir-Mongolian Oak forest and Boreal and subalpine forests with spruce and larch species. Central to this ecoregion is the Daisetsuzan National Park known locally as Kamui Mintara or "the Playground of the Gods". It includes the Daisetsuzan volcanic group which culminates with Hokkaido's highest peak, Mount Asahidae, with 2,291 m above sea level.. The mean annual temperature is 5°C, with an average maximum of 22.3°C and a minimum average of 13°C. The average annual rainfall is 1120.2 mm, and the predominant climate is warm-summer humid and continental.
Most of the vast tracts of forest in Japan can be found on the Island of Hokkaido. In this specific ecoregion, woods on the mountain slopes are dominated by Sakhalin fir, Mongolian oak, painted maple, Japanese lime, Erman's birch, and Ezo spruce. Erman's birch develops well in the high mountains, such as Taisetsu Mountain. On higher altitudes, the birch is replaced by thickets dominated by Japanese stone pine. Endemic to this ecoregion are the mountain species Lagotis takedana and Lagotis yeseoensi.
On the marshes of Kushiroshitsugen National Park, Japanese alder and wetland plant species such as the water chestnut and yellow pond lilies are common. Wildlife is diverse and includes significant populations of brown bear, the Yezo sika deer, and Japanese pika (both indigenous to the island). With such diverse habitats, birds of different niches find safe haven in this ecoregion such as the critically endangered yellow-breasted bunting and the endangered Blakiston's eagle-owl, which has a unique and large population here. Furthermore, the Kushiro marshes are inhabited by the endangered red-crowned crane where it has its most significant nesting and wintering sites.
Hokkaido Island, previously known as Yezo or Ezochi, was still mostly a wilderness area until the end of the 19th century, being inhabited by the Ainu people. Although it has suffered from overgrazing,unsustainable use of water resources for irrigation, and pollution of streams due to gold mining, it has now become a "hotbed for sustainable tourism." Several protected areas are overlapping this ecoregion, including the Daisetsuzan National Park. Other strict conservation protected areas include Shikotsu-Toya National Park, Akan National Park, Shiretoko National Park, Hidaka Mountain Range Forest Ecosystem Reserve, and Taisetsuzan Mountains Forest Ecosystem Reserve.
In total, more than one million hectares are under some category of protected area, which is over 25% of the ecoregion area. Further to these protected areas, there are also 15 terrestrial Important Bird Areas here that overlap with formal conservation areas. None are under high pressure. A large part of this ecoregion remains intact, with dominant tree-covered areas.
Although this ecoregion has considerable areas under protection, there are still significant threats from expanding agriculture and excessive use of water for crops such as rice and cotton. Paradoxically, the existence of a well-managed system of nature reserves has also brought problems to the region, particularly the increase in demand for more tourist infrastructure such as roads, lodges, and trails. Hiking trails are a cause of severe soil erosion, especially because of the volcanic nature of these areas.
The remoteness of some regions and the lack of natural predators has led to a tremendous increase in the number of Yezo sika deer which has caused intense damage to agriculture as well as forest trees. Overpopulation of brown bears is also an issue as there are conflicts with human populations in cities like Sapporo.
The priority conservation actions for the next decade will be to: 1) adjust and manage the visitation capacity in protected areas to improve conservation outcome; 2) improve conservation and management capacity of wildlife and habitat, including the control of overpopulated wildlife species; 3) reduce and recover fragmented natural habitats with ecological networks and the restoration of wetlands.
1. Okitsu, S. 2003. Forest vegetation of northern Japan and the southern Kurils. In Forest Vegetation of Northeast Asia (pp. 231-261). Springer, Dordrecht.
2. JONES, T.E. 2015. Hokkaido’s overlapping protected areas and regional revitalization: the case study of Toya-Usu geopark in Shikotsu-Toya national park. In Sustainability in Contemporary Rural Japan (pp. 177-192). Routledge.
3. Government of Japan. 2014. Fifth National Report of Japan to the Convention of Biological Diversity.