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Sacred Forests as OECMs

There were two articles about sacred forests in the October 10th issue of Jinja Shinpō: one on the front page, and one on the back.

The back page carried the last article in the series of sacred forest articles, and it was essentially a retrospective. The front page article was about OECMs under the Convention on Biological Diversity. As I have mentioned before “Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures” refers to areas that are not nature reserves, but which still make an effective contribution to preserving biodiversity. The Japanese government has just completed the first pilot stage of its program to legally recognise such areas, and the article reported the meeting held to discuss progress so far. Sacred forests were specifically mentioned as candidate areas, although none were included in the first or second pilot stages.

Taken together, these articles make me hopeful about the future of the sacred forests at jinja. The series of articles has demonstrated that there is a high-level awareness of their importance within Shinto itself, and the development of a legal framework for OECMs raises the possibility of legal recognition of their importance for biodiversity.

The OECM mechanism is a promising legal development because the idea that the area should continue to be used as it traditionally has been is central to the concept. Thus, recognition as an OECM should not put any restrictions on traditional activities in the sacred forest, as it was granted in recognition of those activities. On the other hand, one would hope that such legal recognition would make it harder for local authorities to decide to route a road through it, or for neighbours to demand that the trees be cut down because they are dropping leaves on the road.

It might also make it harder for priests to sell the land off in the face of a financial crisis, which may well be more of a mixed blessing from the Shinto perspective. It is obviously not good for a jinja to go bankrupt and collapse, even if the forest is preserved, but equally it is better to push jinja with substantial sacred forests to seek other ways through such difficulties.

What I have seen of the proposed system suggests that the priests and sōdai of a jinja would have to apply to have the sacred forest recognised as an OECM. I would hope that Jinja Honchō will offer administrative assistance to jinja that want to make such an application. Such a policy could see the common claim that Shinto is supportive of the natural environment taking on a more concrete form.

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