CSR History Passing on a flourishing natural environment to the future Thirty-five years of regionally grounded tree planting Fostering watersheds for the future

A quarter-century has passed since Honda launched the Community Forest initiatives, which strive to cultivate true forests in the vicinity of worksites throughout Japan. Honda has pursued a series of tree-planting activities that it terms watershed preservation in order to conserve forests that confer the blessings of water on the communities in which those worksites are located. This program goes beyond mere tree planting.

Volunteers including current and retired Honda associates and their family members contribute to watershed preservation activities in accordance with Honda's belief that actual experience based on voluntary participation deepens people's understanding of environmental preservation. Family participation also helps ensure that awareness of the need to protect the environment is passed on to the next generation.

Honda's tree-planting activities began with a program launched by the Saitama Factory in the town of Minakami in Gunma Prefecture and then spread throughout Japan. This watershed preservation program, which embodies the philosophy of Honda's Community Forest initiatives, is helping to protect local forests and pass them on to future generations.

Activities in Ashio, Tochigi Prefecture

On Saturday, April 21, 2012, Honda held the 13th Watershed Preservation Activity in the town of Ashio in Tochigi Prefecture to rehabilitate the forest in a mountainous area owned by the Forestry Agency's Nikko District Forest Office in conjunction with the Forest Office and the Creative Conservation Club's Kanto Chapter. A total of 39 volunteers including current and retired Honda associates participated in the event.

Volunteers participating in forest preservation activities

Tree planting in the Ashio district, where the effects of significant pollution continue to be felt

The forest preservation activities that Honda's Tochigi Factory has pursued since 2006 focus on the town of Ashio in Tochigi Prefecture, which is located at the headwaters of the Watarase River. Following its discovery in 1610 and direct administration by the Tokugawa shogunate, the Ashio copper mine alternately waxed and waned until beginning to flourish in earnest in 1881 during a time of ever-increasing yields. The rapid development of the mine led to the release of toxic sulfur dioxide gas, causing vegetation to wither and the mountain's surface to erode, transforming a vast mountainous area in Ashio into a blighted wasteland.

The government launched an effort in 1956 to restore this enormous, 2,400-hectare damaged area, and about 50 percent of the total has been reforested after 50 years of gradual progress.

Wildlife including deer, Japanese serow, monkeys, and Asiatic black bear has finally returned to the restored natural environment, but new issues such as damage caused by deer feeding on seedlings have emerged.

Volunteers planting trees as they work to keep their balance on the steep slopes

Honda begins tree-planting work on a mountain ridge

This year, volunteers planted seedlings that deer are believed not to eat, including Japanese andromeda, speckled alder, Ainus firma, Japanese maple, and Japanese cherry. Groups of several volunteers worked on the mountain ridge, with two-person groups carrying hoes and seedlings up the mountain. The planting site looked close when viewed from below, but the steep slope forced the teams to take a circuitous route up the mountain. Staff cautioned volunteers about overdoing it and urged them to take breaks as they made their way up the route, which looked easier than it was. After struggling with the unfamiliar slopes, the teams reached the top of the ridge and began planting the seedlings. The site's location on a ridge meant that there were significant drop-offs on both sides of the groups, and members called out to one another to urge caution as they worked since it would be extremely dangerous to lose one's balance while swinging the hoe.

Volunteers planted each seedling carefully while maintaining adequate spacing to allow future growth. Initially unsure of themselves while working on the steep slopes while carrying hoes and seedlings, the teams gradually got the hang of the work and ended up planting 500 seedlings.

A forest preservation seminar being held at the site after the tree-planting project

Experiencing the difficulty and importance of restoring the natural environment

After the tree-planting work was complete, the Kanto Regional Forest Office held a forest preservation seminar. The speaker addressed topics including the environmental destruction caused by pollution in the Ashio district, the difficulty and necessity of people taking action to restore the natural environment, the regeneration of the natural forest that is the goal of Ashio's preservation plan, and the need for numerous volunteers to cooperate in order to restore the natural environment. As participants listened to the speaker against the backdrop of the surrounding desolate landscape, they gained a powerful understanding of the importance of the drive to restore the natural environment.

Participants inquired what the program's organizers would do next, experiencing their high level of expectations for the program. Going forward, Honda will continue to support watershed preservation in the town of Ashio.

Interview with a volunteer

Volunteer Yoshinao Kobayashi

I came to understand how a steady program of activities would help restore the natural environment.

Yoshinao Kobayashi

“I imagined that we were going to end up working in a highly dangerous area on steeper slopes, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be,” said Kobayashi with a smile. “They chose the site carefully, so I was able to do my work with peace of mind.”

Looking serious, he continued, “When I set foot on the site where we were planting the trees, I saw that the trail winding up and down the mountain was well worn, and I realized how hard the staff have worked. I felt that there was a need to take measures to keep the deer away so they don't eat the seedlings.”

When he heard that the process of restoring the mountain at Ashio is only about half complete, Kobayashi expressed a renewed understanding of the need for “broader, sustained activities” along with his hope that additional activities would be pursued, saying, “I hope that more Honda associates will participate in this activity.”

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