Sat, Mar 09, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Smart rules needed for leopard cats

By Pan Han-shen 潘翰聲

On Feb. 26, a county affairs meeting in Miaoli County approved a draft self-government ordinance for the conservation of leopard cats. The departments that drafted the ordinance will urge the Miaoli County Council to deliberate it in May.

Last year, the Miaoli County Council and the Taichung City Council deliberated leopard cat protection ordinances, but remitted them to the proposing authorities. In both cases, councilors were worried that the proposals would impose unwanted restrictions on development projects.

However, there are plenty of examples from around the world of wildlife conservation boosting local economic development.

Miaoli County’s mascot, Maolimiaow (貓裏喵), is a leopard cat whose name is based on an old name for Miaoli. The Taichung World Flora Exposition is also using a family of leopard cats as mascots.

The task of formulating self-government ordinances should go beyond arguments about restrictions. It should involve more positive elements such as drawing up a leopard cat conservation plan, raising money for a conservation fund and working out how leopard cats and residents can coexist and prosper.

Hopefully, Taiwan can cherish its leopard cats as much as Japan does its Iriomote cats.

Some councilors are opposed to the part of the draft ordinance that tells government entities to establish an “ecological validation mechanism” for public works because they think it would be too restrictive. They fail to appreciate that such a mechanism would help reduce the risk of projects drawing protest when construction is under way. Contrary to what those councilors think, it would allow development projects to proceed more smoothly.

The system of environmental impact assessments seeks to manage end-of-pipe pollution at source. However, experience over the past few decades has been that by the time an assessment takes place, the project has gone through more than half of the required administrative processes. By that time, developers are generally unwilling to terminate the project. This leads to clashes that get overheated and end up as zero-sum games.

The ecological validation mechanism, which some local governments have implemented under pressure from civic groups, has affected road-building projects where the authorities have worked with teams of ecology experts during planning. This has resulted in the planned routes, inasmuch as possible, avoiding ecological hotspots (biotopes), or being designed in such a way as to reduce their impact.

A negative example is the construction of the Daan River Wetland Park in Miaoli County’s Jhuolan Township (卓蘭) where leopard cat activity had been detected. Unfortunately, the project badly damaged the leopard cats’ habitat with concrete structures, which ironically included a pond in the shape of a leopard cat. This led to construction being halted under pressure from public opinion, but by that time the project was already 80 to 90 percent finished.

In this age of electronic democracy, information spreads quickly. Government departments can no longer get away with pushing projects through recklessly with the mindset that once it is under way, it has to go ahead.

Academic research has already established the approximate boundaries of leopard cat habitats. The more funding that is put into this research, the more accurate the information will be, and the more precisely land planning and use can be managed.

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