Environmental Impact Assessments are “crucial in advancing environmentally friendly development” (United Nations 2018).
Environmental Impact Assessments, if conducted honestly by people with appropriate skill-sets, are the most cost-effective tools for helping decision-makers to make decisions wisely, in the long-term interests of the local area and of the nation.
Environmental Impact Assessments, if conducted dishonestly or by people without appropriate skill-sets, waste both time and money, and prevent decision-makers from making decisions wisely, against the long-term interests of the local area and the nation.
As previously reported, on June 10th a meeting was called near to the Bijarim Ro in eastern Jeju to start an environmental reassessment of the area, as requested by the Regional Environmental Office (covering the southwest of the Republic of Korea). This reassessment, to cover an area up to 500m either side of a 2.94km stretch of road, was demanded because the original Environmental Impact Assessment, conducted in 2014 and 2015 as part of permitting construction to widen the road, had completely failed to identify the presence of several nationally (and globally) threatened species. Indeed, the part of this original Environmental Impact Assessment on birds was especially poor, finding only 16 species in total and claiming that there would be no real impact because, (1) No Endangered species are found in the area; and (2) Birds would simply flee to nearby areas.
At this formal June 10th meeting, hosted by the Jeju Provincial government (Jeju Docheong), the following was therefore agreed:
- I was to conduct eight days of bird survey (minimum three hours per day) between June 10th and 20th, while additional simultaneous surveys of vegetation, amphibians, reptiles, insects and site ecology etc were to be conducted both by experts from Jeju and independent experts from outside of Jeju.
- We were all to submit a report of our findings to Jeju Docheong by June 24th;
- On June 26th we would meet again in Jeju City to discuss the results and possible measures to reduce the impacts of the proposed road-widening and to help conserve key species. We understood this to mean that Jeju Docheong wished to act in accordance with national laws and commitments e.g. to national conservation laws and to obligations of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
In accordance with this agreement reached on June 10th,
- I therefore conducted eight days of survey between June 10th and 19th – spending 46 hours in the field along and within 500m of the Bijarim Ro. I also conducted several hours of survey of an adjacent forest area to help us establish a better baseline of expected presence and abundance of key species. For almost all field work, research was conducted together with Ms. Kim Kimi, the local conservationist who was the first to confirm the presence of the nationally Endangered Fairy Pitta in this area; and for two or more blocks of survey work also with former Formal Birds Korea Advisor Mr. Ju Yung-Ki; PhD Candidate and Birds Korean, Ha Jungmoon; and/ or with Ms Kim Yei-Won, a local student and active bird conservationist. All participants contributed to the research and are thanked warmly.
- We produced a report of the survey and submitted English and Korean language versions of this report to Jeju Docheong on June 24th.
- The report clarified that of 46 bird species recorded during the reassessment within 500m of the Bijarim Ro, six were either nationally Endangered species or were National Monuments. Of particular note, the reassessment identified at least two Japanese Night Heron territories, 13 Fairy Pitta territories and 23 Black Paradise Flycatcher territories within 500m of the road. Some of these territories included habitat within 50m of the road. Additional territories of the same three nationally Endangered species were also found in immediately adjacent habitat (and others might also reach to within 500m of the road). The location of all of these territories were mapped and included in the report submitted to Jeju Docheong. An edited version, minus coordinates and territory locations (in order to keep disturbance to key species to a minimum), is here:
I travelled back to Jeju City on 26th to attend the second formal meeting. At the start of the meeting, the meeting outline and everyone’s survey results were shared by Jeju Docheong. According to the outline, there were to be 30 minutes allocated to sharing results; and a further 30-90 minutes to discuss mitigation results.
However, although we were permitted time to present our own survey results (in my case, for about 3 minutes), there was no discussion of any possible mitigation measures. Instead, the chair of the meeting unilaterally stopped the meeting and took back the meeting documents.
Following a press briefing on June 27th, the “Citizen’s Alliance Taking All Measures to Oppose the Road” led by Ms Kim Sunae and colleagues therefore submitted all of the independent reports directly to the Regional Environmental office and to some national NGOs and media.
From the perspective of Birds Korea, several key questions remain unanswered. These include:
- Now that the Bijarim Ro has been confirmed as nationally or even internationally important for avian biodiversity (as well as supporting multiple “other” threatened and important plant and animal species), what measures will now be taken to conserve the habitat and the species found in the area?
- Why did the company hired to do the original Environmental Impact Assessment contract an Agricultural Scientist to do the research on Vegetation, and a “Plant Protection Specialist” and someone with a Master’s Degree in “Life Science” to do the research on animals along the Bijarim Ro?
3. How many other Environmental Impact Assessments conducted on Jeju since 2014 – and elsewhere in the ROK – have been conducted by non-specialists like these? Why? Will these also be re-done?
4. What value the Environmental Impact Assessment process in the Republic of Korea? Is EIA a tool to be cherished and used here in order to help conserve the nation’s biodiversity and culture, or is it instead some annoying administrative hurdle, to be stumbled over no matter what?
The next few weeks and months should provide many of the answers.