The environmental impact assessment (EIA) general assembly concluded that a road construction plan, which has sparked protests over a perceived threat to endangered leopard cats in Miaoli County, should be returned to an EIA specialists’ meeting for further review.
About 400 people gathered outside the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) building in Taipei yesterday afternoon to protest against the plan.
The protesters included environmental activists, civic groups, academics and many students and netizens who responded to a call made by the Taiwan Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Taiwan SPCA) through Facebook, asking the public to help save the leopard cats by blocking the road construction plan.
The planned 8.28km bypass road for Provincial Highway No. 13, stretching from Tongluo Township (銅鑼) to Sanyi Interchange of Freeway No. 1, first gained EIA approval in 2003, but after construction delays, the local government proposed an EIA review on amendments made to the plan.
Environmentalist Pan Han-shen (潘翰聲) said the planned road would cut through a very important habitat for the leopard cats.
Their population is estimated to be only between 400 and 600 in Taiwan, Pan said, adding that their remaining habitats in Miaoli County are being destroyed by several development projects.
Kurtis Pei (裴家騏), a professor at National Pingtung University of Science and Technology’s Institute of Wildlife Conservation, said records from about 100 years ago showed the leopard cats were found everywhere in the nation, but research in the past decade showed that they can only be found in the lower mountainous areas of Miaoli and Nantou counties.
“Being threatened by many development projects, the leopard cats are fleeing in all directions, but they might not be able to find suitable new homes,” he said. “I believe the many transportation specialists can come up with better alternative plans to solve traffic problems without destroying the leopard cats’ habitats.”
Shanyi resident Yeh Chi-hao (葉旗豪) said the local government could expand Provincial Highway No. 13 or build more parking lots to solve traffic congestion problems that only occur on weekends, instead of constructing a bypass.
Hundreds of Miaoli residents, led by Sanyi Township (三義鄉) Mayor Hsu Wen-ta (徐文達), arrived at the EPA building to voice their support for the local government’s plan.
Just before the meeting began, Miaoli County Commissioner Liu Cheng-hung (劉政鴻) also arrived, prompting protesters to shout slogans such as “Liu Cheng-hung, step down,” and “Leopard cats don’t only belong to Sanyi, but to all of Taiwan.”
During the meeting, Liu said the local government has already planned a 40-hectare area as ecological compensation for the endangered animal, which “should be very helpful to the ecology.”
Liu said the local government would allocate a budget for species conservation, but “we need local development, because Shanyi is a township of tourism.”
The Forestry Bureau said its three-year research showed Miaoli has the largest leopard cat population, so it is not in favor of the construction project, but if the road is necessary, then an elevated road would be better because it would prevent habitat fragmentation.
A committee member asked whether the local government’s plan to set up tunnels as ecological corridors for leopard cats to move from one area to the other would be effective, because no study has proved the method’s effectiveness.