Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Huben Epitaph

Hushan's Yucing valley before it was dug out to make way for the highly controversial Hushan Dam.

Yucing valley when the earth-movers got busy.

Pleasantries exchanged on the roadside. “Lunch?” “Yes, that would be lovely.” And so I found myself sitting down to dumplings in a typical Taiwanese dumpling joint making polite small talk. “See anything good at Augu this morning?” “No, it was very quiet. Not much around.” “Don’t know how you can spend so much time looking at those black and white waders. Hit the forests more. Colourful birds there and it’s so much prettier than the West Coast.” And then it happened! “Been to Huben lately?” “Yes, last week.” I feel my blood stirring. In an attempt to gain control of my run-away emotions I blurt out, “Saw two Pitta. Heard a Maroon Oriole.” And at that point the wave of anger held inside broke on the shores of my heart. “Huben’s fucked!” There was no disguising my feelings in the way I spat out those words.

Yucing valley being put to the grader.

All my intentions to remain calm and not to get emotional went out the window. I could see the look in his eyes; the judgment. He didn’t need to say anything. It was written all over his face. “Too much time in the sun. Irrational. Emotional. Unstable.”

And the forest is cleared to make way for the water demands of heavy industry.

So smooth. So controlled. And with calmness etched onto his face with perhaps just a hint of a condescending smirk he replied. “That bad? I don’t think it’s that bad. I mean it’s still a good birding spot.” I reply, “Compared to what it was, it’s finished; trashed!” “Oh, I don’t know about that.” And that level of anger within rocketed. “In 2006 there were forty pitta around the village. This year there are four! Four!!! In just six years forty to four. Huben is dead! Everywhere they’re doing the same. They’re concreting every bloody mountain stream they can. Before our eyes they’re destroying what’s left. On Saturday I saw those pitta and it struck me like a hammer. These are very likely the last of Huben’s pitta. What is a certainty is that my infant son will never enjoy seeing a pitta there by the time he’s six.”

Stripped and bleeding. The forest is no more.

My companion then continued calmly. He emphasized the need for a calm balanced approach and how he needed to find his niche in all this. I retorted, “The calm balanced approach has resulted in the loss of Huben. It hasn’t worked. Only when we say enough and get angry and take to the streets is there any hope of the destruction stopping.” For the first time the calm façade of Mr. Calmness showed a hint or irritation. “Taking to the streets has never helped anyone. It’s not going to save Huben.” Indignant I replied, “How would you know? It hasn’t been tried! It’s too late now. Huben is gone!”

Another stream disappears under concrete. Fairy Pitta nest on stream banks. This spot was a known Fairy Pitta nesting site.

I had had my say. Mr. Calmness wasn’t looking so calm anymore. It was written on his face. A change of topic. Dignity. A stiff upper lip was what was needed to selvage this most unfortunate lunch. I obliged.

Deforestation before our eyes. This happened just a few weeks ago.

Later as I reflected, I couldn’t help wondering if we’ve been so wired by our present environment and education system that even for people who clearly feel something for the natural world we have been so conditioned, programmed, to put the alleged need for what we’ve been taught is “progress” over that of the natural world. In the case of Huben it translates to, “I care about the Fairy Pitta but I mustn’t let that get in the way of progress.” We need to be honest and we need to reflect. What does Huben represent? Huben isn’t just about Fairy Pitta and a dam. It represents the choice of irreversibly proceeding with development of the petrochemical industry at the expense of Taiwan’s natural environment or halting the damage and turning towards a more sustainable future before it was too late. This was about the tipping point on the West Coast.

And more concrete for the rivers.

The first thing we need to do is acknowledge that we failed miserably in protecting the Huben-Hushan IBA (Important Bird Area). Huben is lost. At one point there were scores of NGOs under the umbrella of the Taiwan National Coalition against the Hushan Dam. How many remain today? The issue was very much about protecting the Fairy Pittas' globally most important breeding area. There were several other less prominent but equally important other threatened species residing in the Huben-Hushan IBA.

The reason for the construction of the Hushan Reservoir is largely to supply the water needs for the expansion of heavy industry on the West Coast. Considering the toll that heavy industry takes on the environment it begs the question, “Do we want to go on polluting at even greater levels than we are now?” Apart from the corporations that stand to make even more money in the short term is anyone else going to benefit at all from greater levels of pollution and the destruction of what remains of the natural environment? The Fairy Pitta and Co in Huben aren’t. The critically endangered Taiwan pink dolphins on the west coast aren’t. The farmers aren’t. The fishers aren’t. Our health isn’t. So then why the hell are we doing this then? Because of so called “development!” Because despite all the damage that we know is going to take place we have been conditioned to allow corporations to do whatever they like to make a quick buck.

So what went wrong? Why have we allowed this? We need to ask these questions. Those scores of NGOs need to look at where we went wrong and how this was allowed to happen. If we fail to do that then not only have we allowed Huben to be lost but then we have also gone and spat on its grave and that of the entire West Coast. Our only redemption is to learn from this. If we don’t then we have failed our children and future generations of Taiwan, human and nonhuman, utterly and entirely.

A Huben Fairy Pitta.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Pink Dolphins and Kuokuang Petrochemical in the New York Times

The internationally listed Dacheng wetlands which Kuokuang wanted to turn into a petrochemical complex.

On June 5th an article titled "Activism Gets Rolling in Taiwan" by Taiwan-based journalist Ralph Jennings featured in the New York Times. The article focuses on how a recent wave of opposition has halted the planned Kuokuang Petrochemical Project and how issues such as the plight of the Taiwan pink dolphin have become major issues in Taiwan. We're grateful for the publicity that the article gives the Matsu's Fish Conservation Union and our colleagues at Wild at Heart. While organisations such as ours have played their part in focusing attention on issues such as Kuokuang and the plight of the pink dolphins it would be wrong to overlook the fact that many Taiwanese have had enough of the environmental damage done by greedy organisations and individual through their irresponsibly managed heavy industry and have got to the point where they've said "This must stop now!"

See Activism Gets Rolling in Taiwan in the New York Times.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Songshan update: Taipei Dome gets the go-ahead

February 2009:- protestor in the in the last of nearly 700 old camphor trees, which are native to Taiwan, that were removed for a development project of which the legality was still before the courts and of which the environmental impact and zoning procedures were not yet complete.

In 2009 Stop Hushan Dam blog carried several posts on the clearing of the old Songshan Tobacco factory site in Xinyi before Environmental Impact Assessment had passed. The developer was given police protection to clear the site under highly dubious legality to put it mildly. More than two years on and the project only received the go-ahead yesterday by a city council-loaded EIA review committee in what can only be described as a mockery of the environmental impact assessment process. Songshan remains a continuing example of an environmental protection administration going all out to promote the interests of the developer at the expense of the environment and the local people. So much for all the political double speak on the need to "green" Taipei.

Yesterday Taipei City’s Environmental Impact Assessment Review Committee gave conditional approval to the controversial Taipei Dome construction project paving the way for the construction of the 500,000m2 commercial complex in the Xinyi District. The EIA Review Committee approved the project by a vote of eight to five. With city officials accounting for seven of the 13 committee members the pro developer outcome was hardly surprising. Taiwan Green Party spokesman Pan Han-shen accused the city government of hijacking the review process.

The Songshan Tobacco Factory was established under Japanese colonial rule in the 1930s. The area has remained an open green area supporting wildlife in the heart of Taipei for many years. After the factory was closed in 1998 the area was further able to revert back to its natural state and become covered in thick vegetation and has become a vitally important oasis for wildlife within Taipei providing critically important habitat for several rare species. In 2006, the Taipei City Government signed a contract with the Farglory Group to build a 429,000m² cultural and sports dome complex costing around US$695.9 million on the site. Environmentalists and local residents oppose the project.

Taipei Times:- Green Party Taiwan halts tree removal at site of old Songshan Tobacco Factory

Update: Disregard for the legal process - The last of the great Songshan camphor trees

Update: It's gone ! Total disregard of the legal process - The last of the great Songshan camphor trees has gone !

More on the Songshan Tree issue

Songshan: Before and After Photos

Songshan update: case against activists dismissed

Monday, May 23, 2011

Update on the Fairy Pitta

A Huben Fairy Pitta:- photo courtesy of Richard Yu.

An unseasonable dry spell from March to mid May seems to be one of the prime suspects for the cause of a very poor general spring migration. The Fairy Pitta followed this trend and the first arrivals were recorded in late April rather than mid April. The bulk of the pitta arriving in the Huben-Hushan area appeared to arrive during the period 5th - 8th May.

It is still too early to hazard any guesses on a decrease or increase in numbers for this season. Fairly heavy seasonal rains have been experienced since mid May but it appears that these rains haven't resulted in flooding which could threaten nesting pitta. Though not likely to make landfall on Taiwan; severe tropical storm Songda should pass to the east of Taiwan bringing heavy rains to the island later this week.

Researchers from the Taiwan Endemic Research Institute will be monitoring and conducting research on the breeding Fairy Pitta once again this season. The construction Hushan Dam continues and regrettably independent access to the site to observe and monitor impacts is restricted so the actual situation on the ground remains very much a mystery. We can only hope the mitigation measures are being implemented and monitored. We will continue to provide updates on the Fairy Pitta during this season as we learn things.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

"Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink"

Hushan's Yucing valley before it was dug out to make way for the highly controversial Hushan Dam.

"Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink" said Coleridge in 'The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere.' With the recent day spell we've been having in Taiwan; and is always the case when we experience one; talk of the need for new reservoirs comes to the fore in the media. "Water, water, everywhere and not a drop to drink" becomes the cry.

Typically the argument goes that Taiwan doesn't have sufficient reservoirs for its needs and there are volumes of wasted water pointlessly flowing down rivers from the mountains into the ocean. All that is needed is to build more dams and solve the problem.

Fresh water flowing into the sea is seen as wasteful and no thought is given to its critical role in maintaining vitally important estuarine ecosystems. The dust problem on the lower reaches of the Jhoushui River is conveniently forgotten. This dust-bowl situation in Changhua and Yunlin Counties has been created by the damming of the Jhoushui River in its middle course leaving the wide floodplain of the lower reaches dry and dusty with little water at the mercy of fierce coastal winds.

The dusty desolate lower reaches of the Jhoushui River on the border of Changhua and Yunlin Counties. This dust-bowl situation on the river's wide floodplain is attributed to reduced volumes of water in the river's lower course due to damming in its the middle course.

The cost to the natural environment in the damming of rivers is massive and irreversible. A prime example is the tremendous damage to the Huben-Hushan area with the current construction of the Hushan Reservoir project. This project poses a direct threat to the future survival of Red-Listed animals and plants such as the Fairy Pitta, Taiwan pink dolphin and Begonia ravenii. In addition, the risk the dam poses to people living nearby has largely been pushed aside but after the recent Japanese quake and tsunami should we not take a renewed look at the wisdom of constructing a dam in a very unstable area near the Jiji fault; the epicenter of the huge September 1999 earthquake.

The Huben-Hushan forest being cleared for the Hushan Dam project. The area is listed internationally as an Important Bird Area (IBA) because it is globally the most important breeding area for the IUCN Red-Listed Fairy Pitta.

An interesting letter appeared in the Taipei Times on Tuesday by Lee Ken-cheng, director of Mercy on the Earth, Taiwan urging a closer look at the benefits of addressing the problem water leakage on existing reservoirs to increase reservoir effectiveness rather than building new reservoirs.

See New take on how to meet water needs is necessary in Tuesday's Taipei Times.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pink Dolphin Afternoon Tea

Much of the water from the Hushan Reservoir will be for the use of Taiwan's petrochemical industry and their planned developments on the west coast which threatens the critically endangered Taiwan pink dolphins and the Dacheng Important Bird Area. The Matsu's Fish Conservation Union will be hosting an afternoon tea to help raise funds for pink dolphin conservation.

Dear friends of Taiwan environment,

Thank you for your concern and support of the Taiwan pink dolphin (Sousa chinensis Matsu’s Fish) conservation effort. We would like to invite you to a special fundraising event on Sunday, February 13, 2011.

Protect Taiwan’s Beautiful West Coast—Save the Pink Dolphin!

Four years ago, six organizations learned of the plight of the Eastern Taiwan Strait population of pink dolphins—that they faced almost certain extinction in the very near future with a drastically reduced population numbering around just 75—and very quickly formed the Matsu’s Fish Conservation Union (MFCU) to begin work to save them.

The Union’s mission is to educate the public about the pink dolphin, to advocate for the protection of the dolphin’s habitat, and to be a watchdog for any industrial development that adversely affects that habitat. In addition, we support scientific research on the pink dolphin, convene international conferences on pink dolphin research, and promote exchange of information with international conservation groups.

Even with limited financial resources and a skeletal staff, the Matsu’s Fish Conservation Union and its dedicated volunteers have achieved much in the last three years.

Volunteer Training
- Held training sessions for volunteer guides and dolphin observers for three years running.
Attendants for each session numbered over 120.

Education, Publication and Protest
- Organized a protest march against the development of Kuokuang petrochemical plant. Over 10,000 people were estimated to have participated in this march to the Presidential Offices on November 13, 2010.
- Organized the first annual Taiwan Pink Dolphin Road Race on April 25, 2010
- Organized Thousands Protect the Changhua Coast event on October 25, 2010
- Published children’s picture book, Alive, about the pink dolphin
- Produced a number of short films to educate the public

Taiwan's Critically Endangered Pink Dolphins
- Provided on-shore dolphin-watching opportunities to the public.
- Held presentations on the pink dolphin situation in a variety of settings.

Government Watchdog and Advocacy Work
Our long-term goals include being a watchdog for any development plans that would threaten the ecological system on which the dolphins depend. The threats are land reclamation along the coast for development, underwater noise, decrease of freshwater input from the river, entanglement in fishing nets and general air and water pollution in the dolphins’ habitat.

Currently, we are focusing our effort in advocating for habitat protection against the push to develop more highly polluting plants on the Changhua coast by Kuokuang Petrochemical. We are closely monitoring the planned diversion of waters from the Da-Du River for industry use.
- In January of 2008, as direct result of our successful lobbying and advocacy efforts, the topic of pink dolphin conservation and habitat protection has begun to be addressed by the Sustainability Commission of the Executive Yuan and potential impact on dolphin habitat is now required to be addressed in all environmental impact assessment reports for projects in the area.
- In 2009, again through successful lobbying and petition, we began consultation work with multiple government agencies on the pink dolphin issue and joined the Environmental Protection Agency on its research trip to Hong Kong to study their efforts in pink dolphin conservation.
- The Forest Service is expected to submit a draft on pink dolphin habitat protection, which would be sent to Wildlife Conservation Advisory Committee for discussion in early 2011.

International Exchange
- Helped organize Second Annual International Workshop on Conservation and Research Needs of the Eastern Taiwan Strait Population of Indo-pacific Humpback Dolphins Sousa chinensis in September 2007
- Held workshop on Taiwan Pink Dolphin Critical Habitat, press conference and public hearing after the workshop. Papers from the workshop have been accepted for publication by Marine Policy in November 2010.

Please join us for this special fundraising event:
Protect Our Beautiful Coast, and Save the Pink Dolphin on February 13, 2011 at 2pm.
- Taiwanese food
- organic fruits and vegetables
- auction of arts and crafts items
- showing of videos on pink dolphin conservation

All proceeds will help pay for independent scientific research, an international workshop on fisheries and dolphins as well as administration and staffing costs of the Matsu’s Fish Conservation Union.

Help us make Taiwan the home for the pink dolphin now and forever. Please donate today!


Chen-Yi Kan, Secretary General, Matsu’s Fish Conservation Union
Chia-Yang Tsai, Director, Changhua Environmental Protection Union
Robin Winkler, Founder, Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association, Taiwan

Time: Sunday, February 13, 2011, 2pm
Place: Y17台北市青少年育樂中心流行廣場五樓 (5F No. 17, Section 1, Ren-Ai Road, Taipei)
Tickets: NT$ 2000 (tax-deductible)
Account Name: Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association
Bank Name and Number: :兆豐國際商業銀行城中分行(代碼:017)
Telephone: 02-23825789 Fax 02-23825810

Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year !

A Huben Fairy Pitta (Pitta nympha): photo courtesy of Richard Yu.

Happy New Year and all the best for 2011 !

"Because every green measure, every conservation effort and all the little economies we could make in our daily lives, may look insignificant if we choose to look at the big picture. On the other hand, if we view that big picture as millions of little choices made by people just like us, that's how we can come to understand why it's our own choices that are so important."
A comment posted on Birdforum by James Owen.