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The Japanese were facing a crisis in the 17th Century that could have ended their civilization. This crisis was a study in overuse, in this case, of forest resources. For centuries, Japan relied on their forests as a source of wood, fertilizer, and feed for its agricultural industry. The economic and population growth of the period dramatically increased the demands for these forest applications. In response, the Japanese were clearing the forests of the island at an alarming rate, causing the ecological problems of flooding, soil erosion, and silting of the vital riverways.
The Shogun, which acquired power around 1600, realized that the future of Japan depended on creating a sustainable forest program. They developed a program of natural conservation that was ahead of its time. An important facet of the program was the reforestation initiatives that were created. Incentives were granted for villages to operate tree plantations. Trees could be developed on the plantations and then transplanted to deforested areas. The forestation program was supplemented with a national dendrology program that educated and researched tree growth. Much of the knowledge gained during this period is still employed today.
Another important aspect of the Shogun program is that it called for permits to clear forest lands. Companies interested in harvesting wood from the forests were now required to acquire approval from a high government official to do so. The improvements made by the Shogun slowed the ecological destruction that was occurring in Japan, but the program was not truly considered a success until the Twentieth Century. This demonstrates how quickly nature can be destroyed, and how long it can take to recover.
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