Despite the continual pain, The overflowing bounty of Nature
How long the burned-out has fields taken to regenerate itself? Furthermore, how long has an animal taken to come back to the green fields? I want to extend my cordial and grateful regards to Nature that became a home for precious creatures again.
<A Squirrel Next to a Rusty Military Cap> Photo by Jun Young-jae
What we know or what we do not know about the DMZ ecosystem
We should not miss one thing when talking about the DMZ. It is just ‘a repository of the ecosystem preserved the unspoilt natural environment’. Through various newspaper articles and TV broadcasts, we have seen migratory birds flying across the DMZ and fishes swimming in the crystal-clear water. It is impressive to see a deer and an elk running around the fields, and a goat standing on a cliff. We cannot help but admire the greatness of nature to create a new life, even though it was the war-torn land in the past. But is all this really true?
In fact, it is difficult to say that the DMZ is ‘a preserved place as the unspoilt natural environment which has been untouched’. It had been the furious battlefield during the Korean War. The front line had been around the DMZ during two-thirds of the war period. The habitat of many wild animals were destroyed as many houses and cropland were around there. An army had been trying to capture an enemy’s fortress on a hill, so plants in a forest were destroyed by fire. After the end of the war, the movement of animals along the mountain range was blocked by the ceasefire line across the east-west. Seeds of the plant moving to attach to the animal body could not spread further. In other words, the DMZ may be regard as the war-weary place by severe interference as well as military operations, not just the unspoilt natural environment which has been untouched.
<Halcyon Pileata on the Southern Boundary Line> Photo by Jun Young-jae
If the DMZ ecosystem were different from what we know, where is the ‘nature of the DMZ’ that we have seen until now? It is mostly about the restricted civilian area. The absence of clear demarcation between the DMZ and the restricted civilian area created this problem. It is sure that the DMZ and the restricted civilian area affect each other because they are contiguous. However, the main ecological areas of the restricted civilian area, such as the Cheorwon plain, Yongneup swamp of Mt. Daeamsan and Dutayeon Valley, should not be presented as nature of the DMZ.
The unique ecosystem with a variety of species
The DMZ and the restricted civilian area are the rigorous military zone as well as the east-west ecological axis of the Korean peninsula that various wildlife, including endangered species, inhabits. Since the Korean War, these areas have been influenced by continuous military operations and activities, and restricted to the public, so they became shelters for wildlife. It seems to go through the very unique restoration process. Therefore, the question should be premised: “The ecosystem was devastated by the Korean War, but 60 years later, now, what does it look like?”
Forest fires periodically occur due to the military purpose or the natural reason around DMZ. Fires damage a forest. On the other hand, it accelerates the growth of a herbaceous plant to make habitats for more herbivorous animals. Moreover, in the area that were on fire, an ecological succession of plants generates briskly, and it leads to biodiversity. According to the result that a forestry researcher had studied the forest ecosystem around the DMZ from 1995 to 2000, the DMZ is defined that the very unique ecosystem keeps biodiversity in the particular area rather than the well-preserved nature even though it is generally poor.
■ Ministry of Environment ‘Research of the ecosystem of the whole area of DMZ : Research of the Ecosystem of the Northern Civilian Control Line’ results
Total 798 taxonomic groups(102 families, 382 genera, 616 species, 3 subspecies, 144 varieties, 34 races, 1 hybrids)
Total 9 endemic species
Total 14 families, 49 species, 10,326 individuals
Amphibia : Total 2 orders 7 families 11 species
Reptilia : Total 1 orders, 4 families, 8 species
Total 121 species, 4,215 individuals
Total 19 species
The nest of migratory birds in the vast wetlands and plains
A characteristic of the whole area of the DMZ is the wetland ecosystem. Various kinds of wetlands from the pond and the valley of the eastern area to the lowland of the western area are widely distributed. It was the place where a lot of people lived and did rice farming. Since the Korean War, it has been derelict for 60 years, and developed to the wetland ecosystem. It presents how the lowland and the farmland could develop to the wetland. It is also homes and migration routes of northeast Asian migratory birds, such as a red-crowned crane, a white-naped crane and a hooded crane. Cheorwon plains, Panmunjeom and the mouth of Han-river where Imjin-river and Han-river meet, play an important role of their final stopovers. Every year, about 3,000 eagles pass the winter in Cheorwon Plains.
The distribution of plants in the DMZ is also unique. There are endangered species, such as Trientalis europaea, Lilium dauricum, Halenia corniculata, Iris dichotoma, Ranunculus kazusensis, Paeonia obovata and Viola websteri Hemsley, and endemic species, for example, Hanabusaya asiatica, Iris odaesanensis , Bupleurum euphorbioides, leontopodium coreanum, but naturalized plants thrive together. These naturalized plants are Taraxacum officinale, Ambrosia artemisifolia, Ambrosia trifida, Evening primrose and Erigeron annuus. Especailly, Ambrosia trifida and Ambrosia artemisifolia that are originally from North America threaten the native plants. It is assumed that these exotics were brought to Korea by American munitions at the Korean War. Thus, the DMZ has a unique natural ecosystem that is rarely seen elsewhere, so, it could be a subject of scientific study of the changing process of natural ecosystem after war.
A leap to be a global ecological and peaceful region
Currently, the DMZ may be more popular in foreign countries than in Korea. Foreigners visit the DMZ with vague memories about the Korean War, and curiosities about the only divided country in the world and how the war-torn ground had changed. Foreign countries took an interest in the ecological value of the DMZ earlier than Korea. The US Smithsonian Institution and UNDP(United Nation Development Group) cooperated and supported directly to research the ecosystem of the DMZ, besides, IUCN(International Union for Conversation of Nature and Natural resources) and UNEP(the United Nations Environment Program) suggested the DMZ international environment park to both of two Koreas. South Korea is also committed to continuous efforts to designate as a conservation area of the biosphere of the border and a UNESCO World Heritage site and to get a certificate of UNESCO.
The war-ravaged ground was reborn as the unique natural ecosystem watched by all the world, like mother’s warm breast to keep various animals and plants from the extinction. We need to make a continuous efforts to be a global ecological and peaceful region to protect this area where precious creatures live. The DMZ that is the military confrontation area, right next to this serious point of tension, natural ecosystem with international spotlight is alive. The future will be decided by our choice and effort to be division and disconnection, or peace and coexistence.
December 1, 2014
December 3, 2016
May 8, 2018
『Research the Ecosystem of the Whole Area of the DMZ : Research the Ecosystem of the North of the Restricted Civilian Area』(2012), Ministry of Environment • National Institute of Environmental Research
『The Past is Left for the Future, DMZ』(2010), Ham Gwangbok, Ministry of Unification
『A Basic Policy for Conservation of Nature of the DMZ』(2003), Jeon Sungwoo•Byun Byungseol•Lee Byungjun, Korea Environment Institute