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 Stories for April 15, 1998

Hope for an Endangered Bird
Environmental Design’s Spoonbill Advocates Gain Ground in Taiwan

by Cathy Cockrell, Public Affairs
posted Apr. 15, 1998

The black-faced spoonbill gained another lease on life following a visit to Taiwan in March by an international delegation of scientists and environmental planners, including campus faculty and students. Making front-page headlines and nightly news broadcasts, the group presented compelling new research findings – on the dangers of a proposed industrial complex planned for Taiwan’s west coast – to legislators and a number of other government and citizens’ groups.

Among the seven-member delegation were Berkeley’s Randy Hester, professor of landscape architecture; hydrologist G. Matthias Kondolf, associate professor of landscape architecture and environmental planning; and environmental planning doctoral candidate Jeffrey Hou, a native of Taiwan.

The Bin-nan industrial complex would fill the northern third of Chi-gu Lagoon with an oil refinery, plastics plant, steel mill and industrial port and divert much of the flow from the Kaopeng River valley to the south. The problem is that this lagoon is the major wintering ground for the world’s remaining 500 to 600 black-faced spoonbills and home to hundreds of other species. It also provides employment to a 16,000-family oyster and fish industry.

When Hester, his colleagues and students first argued two years ago against turning the spoonbills’ wetland home into a petrochemical complex, few in Taiwan believed their efforts would succeed and no one influential in the Taiwanese government acknowledged their arguments, Hester says.

New data, however, strengthened their case against the complex and commanded the attention of Taiwanese officials. Hester and colleagues say Bin-nan would produce a huge amount of CO2 emissions and, in the wake of the recent global agreement in Kyoto, severely limit other development possibilities in Taiwan. the proposed complex would also adversely affect water resources on the island.

Using large wall maps created by environmental planning students in Wurster Hall, the group presented Taiwan legislators with its new research findings, which it called a People’s Environmental Impact Assessment. It also presented a comprehensive alternative development plan, based on conservation biology principles, developed by students at Berkeley and National Taiwan University.

During the rest of their seven-day visit, the delegates made their case to 19 other local groups – among them Hsung Hsiung Tsai, director of the Environmental Protection Administration; County Magistrate Mark Chen; the leadership of all major political parties; the Agriculture Council; local fishermen and hotel developers interested in ecotourism.

Following the visit, Tsai announced that approval of the Bin-nan project in its current form is unlikely. He said the project will either be denied outright, reduced in size or moved to an alternative site. And Chen, initially a strong supporter of the industrial complex, said that he would now support an alternative plan.

Hester’s scientific delegation has been invited to return to Taiwan in late May to address an energy policy conference.

“By any measure, this was the most successful of the trips we’ve made,” Hester said. He noted that the spoonbill, “a terrifically photogenic bird,” has become a symbol of people’s ambivalence about economic success bought at the environment’s expense.

Taiwanese fishermen have organized grassroots opposition to the project, as have Berkeley students through a group called Spoonbill Action Voluntary Echo. In its international endorsement campaign, SAVE has garnered support from more than 100 organizations in a dozen countries for the People’s EIA and the alternative development plan. Endorsers include the International Wildlife Coalition, the Audubon Society, Rainforest Action Network, International Rivers Network and the Sierra Club.

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