Group says four rivers project threatens wildlife

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Group says four rivers project threatens wildlife

A massive river restoration project at the center of President Lee Myung-bak’s green growth strategy will harm globally threatened bird species and destroy critical habitat, a conservation group’s report said.

Lee’s government intends to spend 22.2 trillion won ($19.68 billion) to dredge, dam and beautify four major rivers with golf courses and bike trails in a plan that is supposed to increase the supply and quality of fresh water and prevent flooding.

“[It] will impact 50 bird species negatively, causing further declines in several sensitive waterbird species that are ecologically dependent on shallow rivers, flood-plain wetlands and estuaries,” the conservation group Birds Korea said in a report released yesterday.

The group, which has conducted some of the most extensive studies of waterfowl in the country, said further damming and deepening the rivers through dredging will lead to the decline of feeding grounds and biodiversity.

“We have lost almost all of the natural stretches. This project is going to kill off what little remains,” said Nial Moores, director of Birds Korea.

Among the species threatened with habitat loss and population declines are several that are listed globally as critically endangered - including the spoon-billed sandpiper - and others that Korea lists as “national natural monuments.” The group called on the government to halt the project and conduct an extensive environmental impact study.

Government officials could not immediately comment on the report. Construction started last November.

Critics have said the project is more about politics, aimed at creating jobs in rural areas that will provide crucial votes for Lee’s conservative camp in the 2012 presidential election, when construction is due to end.

Lee has been campaigning internationally to show Korea as an environmental industry leader. He has said the four rivers project will reshape Asia’s fourth-largest economy. Reuters

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