Thursday, October 30, 2008

Proposed Fairy Pitta Protected Area

Hushan forests being cleared for the Hushan Dam Project:- May 2008.

For many years there have been calls for the Huben-Hushan Important Bird Area (IBA) to be proclaimed as a protected area to safeguard this globally important Fairy Pitta breeding area. Calls for this have fallen on deaf ears and efforts have been squashed by the authorities.

First, gravel extraction destroyed areas of valuable habitat within the Huben-Hushan area during the first few years of this decade. After both a local and international outcry gravel extraction was stopped in most of the area. The banning of gravel extraction in much of the area didn't halt the bulldozers and much valuable habitat has since been lost through the infamous Hushan Dam Project and other so-called development and anti-erosion work. Recently a proposal to create a Fairy Pitta Protected Area was made by a legislator that has had no connection to the struggle to save the area for the Fairy Pitta.

The proposal was suddenly announced with barely a week given for comment. Given the huge international outcry over the Hushan Dam Project and concern for the area it would seem rather odd that nothing about this proposal has been put up in English on the Council of Agriculture (COA) website or has the government made any effort to advise the many international environmental groups or individuals that sent their concerns over what was happening in the area to the government.

There is a concern amongst local environmentalists and NGOs that they are being left out of the proposal and the authorities are rushing this through. Some have expressed the view that possibly this is a smokescreen to designate some habitat as a token protected area so that other areas around the Huben-Hushan area can be opened up to development. Given the devious nature of the authorities in the handling of the Hushan Dam Project, with the passing of an original environmental impact assesment that didn't even include the Fairy Pitta, and the highly questionable legality of the entire project [the courts have yet to rule on it].

Our colleagues at Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association (Wild) acted with haste and submitted a document of comments and concerns to the COA by the 28 October deadline so as to create the legal groundwork of an appeal if it should become necessary.

Two of our international coordinators in the UK have submitted a letter to the COA and copied to the Wild legal team briefly outlining their concerns also before the 28October deadline.

The death of a Huben stream in the Pillow Mountain area to make way for a road leading to a single small orchard. This section of stream was a documented Fairy Pitta nesting sight used annually by two-three pairs:- July 2007.

The following is a translated article from the Mandarin language daily, Liberty Times. This article is followed by the letter sent to the COA by two international coordinators.

A translation of the the Liberty Times article:

Fairy Pitta Population Dwindles as Construction Progresses on the Hushan Dam

Liberty Times, 27-10-08

Jhong Li-Hua, Taipei

Environmental groups for years have been calling on the government to announce a key safe habitat area for the protected species the Fairy Pitta. These appeals have grown louder lately in response to the threat posed to the Fairy Pitta's habitat by construction of the Hushan Dam, and the Council of Agriculture (COA) is expected to announce the safe habitat area by the end of the month. In the meantime, however, monitoring by the COA's Endemic Species Research Institute (ESRI) has observed declining numbers of the Fairy Pittas this year and delay in the Fairy Pitta's breeding season.

ESRI Associate Research Fellow Lin Ruei-Sing conservatively estimates the population of the Fairy Pitta in Taiwan in the summer months to reach 2,000 birds, with the highest numbers (approximately 300 to 600) concentrated in Linnei, Yunlin and in the hilly district of Douliu. Fairy Pittas can also be spotted in the areas of Shihmen Dam, Meinong in Kaohsiung, and Miaoli.

The Hushan Dam project passed environmental impact assessment in 2000. Groundbreaking occurred in 2006 and the scope of the project was expanded in 2007. Lin Ruei-Sing notes a downward trend in the numbers of the Fairy Pitta, from approximately 150 to 160 birds in Linnei-Douliu in 2003 to only some 117 spotted this year. In Huben Village to the north of the dam, the population was 100 at its highest observed point in the past, but was only 70 this year.

In preliminary announcements, the COA has said the Fairy Pitta safe habitat area will include a total of 1,737.386 hectares in Forestry Compartments 61-70 of the Alishan area in the Nantou administrative region under the Taiwan Forestry Bureau -- but excludes the Hushan Dam.

Chang Tzu-chien, chairman of the Yunlin chapter of the Taiwan Environmental Protection Union, has said that the Hushan Dam construction is driving Fairy Pittas from their original habitat at the Hushan Dam into other areas where they will face competition for survival. He said that the COA announcement is late in coming, but nevertheless is better than nothing.


Letter to the Council of Agriculture

International Coordinators:
Taiwan National Coalition against the Hushan Dam,
United Kingdom,
27th October 2008

Dr. Chen, Wu-Hsiung,
Minister, Council of Agriculture,
Executive Yuan, Taiwan, R.O.C.
37 Nanhai Road,
Taipei City,

Cc: Forestry Bureau,
No.2 Hangchou South Road Section 1,
Taipei City,

Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association,
Secretariat for the Taiwan National Coalition against the Hushan Dam,
12F, 86 Chongcing South Road Section 1,

Re: Proposed Fairy Pitta Protected Area, Yunlin County.

Attn: Dr. Chen, Wu-Hsiung,
Minister, Council of Agriculture,

Dear Sir,

We have very recently learnt of the proposal for a Fairy Pitta (Pitta nympha) Protected Area in the greater Huben-Hushan area of Yunlin County. This is most welcome news and we commend such a proposal. However, we are deeply distressed to learn that the period given for commenting on this proposal has been very brief. As I’m sure you are aware, the Fairy Pitta is a threatened migratory bird species and therefore crosses international borders and thus requires a multinational international effort to protect it.

In the last decade we have become aware that the Huben-Hushan area of Yunlin County is globally the most important breeding area for this threatened species. The Taiwan Wild Bird Federation together with BirdLife International identified the Huben-Hushan area as a globally Important Bird Area (IBA) and it is listed in BirdLife International’s Directory of Important Bird Areas in Asia as IBA TW17.

In the first two to three years of this decade the gravel extraction threats to the Fairy Pitta with in the Huben-Hushan IBA made international news resulting in both local and international concern for the Fairy Pitta breeding area. Thankfully, and with credit to the Taiwan Authorities, this issue was addressed.

Following the gravel extraction issue the Hushan Dam Project became a major threat to the Fairy Pitta and the area. Despite major concern and protests both locally and internationally the Hushan Dam Project has proceeded amidst claims of its questionable legality. The Hushan Dam Project has resulted in the clearing of large areas of valuable Fairy Pitta habitat for the approximately 400ha dam that is being constructed. The Hushan Dam Project has resulted in a major loss of breeding habitat for the Fairy Pitta. Coupled with this, there have been many other smaller so-called development and anti-erosion projects within the Huben-Hushan area that have destroyed significant areas of valuable Fairy Pitta habitat. This damage is most notable near Pillow Mountain around the Tian-sheng Gong Temple where much of the internationally famous birding area has now been destroyed.

Very little suitable Fairy Pitta habitat remains in the Huben-Hushan area and the remaining areas are in urgent need of protection. We urge the Taiwan Government to proclaim the remaining habitat as a protected area for the Fairy Pitta. We trust that the proposal is a genuine effort on the part of the Government to really address the plight of the Fairy Pitta. There are claims that an area of questionable habitat is being set aside as a so-called protected area so that it would create the impression that something is being done for the species but in reality it would open up other areas of Fairy Pitta habitat to gravel extraction and development. We trust this is not the case.

We urge the Taiwan Government to allow for a longer period for consultation given the international interest in the issue. Letters from concerned individuals and international environmental organizations with memberships totaling several million were received last year, and the Council of Agriculture responded to these letters. It is only fair to allow these individuals and organizations to comment given their interest. We are unable to find any information of the proposed Fairy Pitta Protected Area on the COA English website. Aspects such as the international tourism potential for the area should also be looked at and seriously considered. Foreign birders in the area during the Fairy Pitta breeding season have become a common sight.

Further, as the species remains little studied we urge that for any protected area that is proclaimed that flexibility allowed for the limited knowledge that we have on the species feeding and habitat requirements so that as more is learnt of the species that the protected area will be able to accommodate the real needs of the species.

We thank you for your concern for the Fairy Pitta and trust that this Fairy Pitta Protected Area proposal can proceed with openness, and that the input and concerns of the international community will be considered.

Yours faithfully,

International Coordinators:
Taiwan National Coalition against the Hushan Dam.

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