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The seventh annual campus spoonbill migration

| 16 October 2003


Steve McConnell photo

Last Thursday, a flock of about 150 black-faced spoonbills touched down just outside Kroeber Hall … many thousands of miles off the species’ traditional migratory route.

The birds — in the form of durable lawn ornaments roughly two-by-three-by-four feet in size — were actually a homework project, assigned for the seventh consecutive year by Randolph Hester, professor of landscape architecture and environmental planning, to students in his beginning environmental design course. The students’ designs captured the spoonbill’s flight or movement, funny feeding patterns, elegant form, and color — or, less appealingly but no less accurately, the agony of extinction or battles between habitat preservation and industrial development.
Hester has been involved in an effort to save the endangered black-faced spoonbill, whose migratory route each winter takes about half of its population of 800 to Taiwan’s Tsengwen wetlands. “To save that bird is a never-ending struggle,” he said recently, while adding that he and his students have no intention of giving up. Along with engineers, scientists, members of the high-tech community, and students, faculty, and staff from Berkeley and the National Taiwan University, they comprise SAVE International, a group fighting to save the birds.

While this class project keeps the spoonbills’ plight in the public eye locally, Hester and SAVE International continue working on an ecotourism plan for the wetlands that will protect the birds and provide economic support to residents. That plan is competing with other industrial proposals that have come forward for the wetlands, such as building a new free-trade-zone airport at Bin-Nan, the site once proposed for a petrochemical and steel plant, a plan that was taken off the drawing board in 2001.

Hester and several graduate students, who have analyzed the impacts of the ecotourism, airport, and Bin-Nan plans, will travel later this month to Taiwan to present their findings to a consortium of government and university officials.