Saturday, February 28, 2009

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

Green Party Taiwan's Calvin Wen in the in the last of nearly 700 old camphor trees, which are native to Taiwan, that have been removed for a development project of which the legal basis is currently being challenged in the courts and of which the environmental impact and zoning procedures are not complete.

Click to enlarge. A collage of the destruction of Hushan. Despite the legality of the Hushan Dam project being challenged in court and the Environmental Protection Administration's (EPA) own Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Committee (EIA) ruling that the construction of Hushan Dam was illegal and ordering work stopped, the EPA gave developers the green light to continue by saying the ruling of the EIA Committee was non-binding. The legality of all this is highly questionable and the court has yet to rule on it. Whether their projects are legal or not, despite EIA's being incomplete, it has become an alarming trend in Taiwan that developers aren't waiting for the courts to decide on the legality of their protects but continue with blatant disregard for the courts and legal process and just forge ahead often with the support of the government and police.

The late Edward Abbey said "At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, 'thus far and no further.' If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoroeau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, 'If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour.'"

Civil disobedience is an emotional and moral question. What does one do when developers aren't waiting for the courts to decide on the legality of their projects but continue with blatant disregard for the legal process and just forge ahead often with the open support of the government? This was the dilemma that protesters were faced with on Friday.

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.

Despite serious environmental concerns the construction project passed a 'first' environmental impact assessment (EIA) but the developer made changes to the project so a second environmental impact assessment had to be done and this remains before the Environmental Protection Administration's EIA Committee which still have to pass or reject it. Despite the second EIA still being before the EIA Committee the city government has allowed Farglory, the developer, to continue its work, prompting environmental groups to file a lawsuit against the government.

On Friday February 27, environmentalists, Green Party Taiwan members and local residents rushed to the old Songshan Tobacco Factory site when it became known that the last of almost 700 native old camphor trees was to be removed in a bid to try save it. The role of the police in this once again highlights the draconian attitude of the police under the Ma regime. Instead of the police acting as officers of the Peace and saying to the developer that the legality of the project was undecided so therefore please refrain from removing the tree until the EIA Committee and court have given their rulings they chose to act as henchmen in trying to evict protesters from the site. As it became clear that the police were openly siding with the developer, protesters stood their ground. Green Party Taiwan's Calvin Wen, the party's candidate for the Da-an District legislative by-election, stopped workers from removing the tree by climbing up into the tree and refusing to come down and stating that "You should wait for the court rulings and the results of the second environmental impact assessment to come out. You should respect the legal process." The police then forcibly removed protesters and some where arrested. Wen remained in the tree preventing its removal. As of 9:00am this morning (2009-02-28) Wen was still in the tree after 20 hours.

This issue and resulting incident once again highlight the seriousness of the Taiwan government's lack of respect for the rule of law, ignorance of sound environmental management and a total disregard for the environment and the issue of climate change by proceeding with all manner of development projects that are not reviewed or supervised due to pressure from conglomerates and their sponsored legislators and council persons.

This is just one of many cases. The construction of the Hushan Dam continues despite the EIA Committee ordering construction to stop and the legality of the entire project remains before the courts. The developers have removed the forests of Hushan forever with a total disregard for the rule of law. Reclamation projects at Mailiao continue despite the fact that it is destroying large areas of the little remaining habitat of the critically endangered Taiwan Humpback Dolphins. All this is done to further develop heavy-polluting extremely high carbon emitting industry around the world's dirtiest coal-powered power plant. This goes on in total disregard for the need to meaningfully cut Taiwan's alarmingly high CO2 emissions which are amongst the very highest per capita CO2 emissions on the planet. As long as the government continues to disrespect the rule of law, refuses to change their policies to meaningfully protect Taiwan's environment and act against reducing emissions, then, civil disobedience is the only option open to those that desire a more healthy, greener and sustainable Taiwan.

We will continue to bring you updates of the situation.

Also see:
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

Update (May 2011):
Songshan update: Taipei Dome gets the go ahead

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Spring Raptor Migration:- Chinese Sparrowhawk

A female Chinese Sparrowhawk (Accipiter soloensis). Photo taken at Hushan (October 2008) during last fall's migration.

Each spring and fall thousands of raptors migrate along the East Asian Oceanic Flyway. This flyway is unique and quite unlike the world's other four major raptor flyways. Most raptors avoid migrating over water and that includes even large lakes. Raptors tend to migrate around large bodies of water. Along the East Asian Oceanic Flyway; stretching from the Russian Far East, Mongolia, Japan, Northern China and the Koreas down through Taiwan into the Philippines, other areas of SE Asia and beyond; thousands of raptors island-hop across the ocean. If the weather turns for worse while a raptor is migrating over water it can't land. It's fly or die ! If it lands it drowns. Raptors can spend more than 12 years on the wing over water and cover close to 500km in a day if needed.

The main players along this route are the Chinese Sparrowhawks and Grey-faced Buzzards but 19 species of raptor regularly use this route. To date 26 species of diurnal raptor have been recorded passing through Kenting National Park in Southern Taiwan.

The Huben-Hushan area lies just across the Jhousheui River valley from Bagua mountain. Bagua mountain is a famous roosting site used during the spring migration where one can watch thousands of raptors coming in to roost from mid March to mid April. Once again we look forward to the sight of Chinese Sparrowhawk, Oriental Honeybuzzard and Grey-faced Buzzards in the skies above Hushan as they head north for the summer to breed in the far northern lands.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Plumbeous Water Redstart

Plumbeous Water Redstart (Rhyacornis fuliginosa affinis): male above and female below.

The Plumbeous Water Redstart Rhyacornis fuliginosa is a rare local attitudinal winter migrant found in the Huben-Hushan Important Bird Area (IBA). The Plumbeous Water Redstart is a fairly common resident species found along Taiwan's mountain streams and migrates to lower altitudes during the winter. Race affinis is endemic to Taiwan. The Plumbeous Water Redstart is listed in lower risk categories of the IUCN's Red Data list of threatened species.

See: Huben-Hushan IBA Bird List

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Crested Serpent Eagle

The Crested Serpent Eagle Spilornis cheela is the most common raptor in the Huben-Hushan Important Bird Area (IBA) where it is resident. The endemic subspecies found on Taiwan, race hoya, is very large. The Crested Serpent Eagle is very easily seen soaring over Huben where several pairs are present throughout the year. The Crested Serpent Eagle is listed in lower risk categories of the IUCN's Red Data list of threatened species.

See: Huben-Hushan IBA Bird List