Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost prefecture, is known for many things. Wide open pastures and snowy mountains. A unique cultural and linguistic heritage unlike anywhere else in Japan. And bears.
But though bears are sort of a symbol of Hokkaido, that doesn’t mean that people want them hanging out by their homes and businesses, which brings us to Shimamaki. A small town of less than 1,600 people, between April 1 and 27 residents reported 25 bear sightings within the city limits. During the same period in 2019, there was only one.
So what’s behind the huge spike in bear activity? A possible factor is an ongoing feud between city administrators and the local hunting association. Ordinarily, when potentially wild animals show up in populated parts of Japan, the hunting association gets called into action to either trap or exterminate the creatures, collecting a fee for their services. However, in 2018 Shimamaki’s payments to the hunters’ association just for the period between July and October came to over 11.5 million yen.
City administrators and some residents balked at the price, which included a 30,000 yen payment per hunter per dispatch. In response, Shimamaki enacted a new ordinance capping payments to the hunting association at 2.4 million yen annually.
At that payment ceiling, the hunting association says it’s not worth the effort, and risk, handling the city’s bears problems anymore, and so it no longer offers such services. Instead, it’s up to city employees and police officers to scare bears off with firecrackers and fireworks, but it seems these less forceful methods are proving less effective at convincing bears to stay away.
So far, there haven’t been any reports of bears attacking the people of Shimamaki, but should the number of sightings continue to grow as spring turns to summer, the city may feel the need to patch things up with the hunters’ association.
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