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BirdLife International welcomes suspension of oil pipeline in Ecuador

Quito, Ecuador, 8th March 2002 - BirdLife International today welcomed the Ecuadorian Minister of Environment´s decision to temporarily suspend an environmental licence to build the controversial Trans-Ecuadorian crude oil pipeline which is set to cut through the forests of Mindo, an Important Bird Area (IBA) [1,2,3].


"This pipeline is set to follow a tortuous route through a very fragile forested area above the renowned ecotourist lodges of Tandayapa. The Mindo area attracts tens of thousands of visitors every year, drawn to the incredible concentration of Andean birds and other wildlife, some of which are only found in the forests around the Pichincha volcano", said the Head of BirdLife International's Americas Programme, Ian Davidson.

"The steep volcanic ridges along which the pipeline is to be built are less than three metres wide in places. Since the OCP pipeline consortium admits that it requires a minimum of seven metres to build and bury the pipeline, it is not clear how OCP will weave the pipeline through this tortuous terrain without considerably altering the landscape [4]. With slopes of more than a 70% gradient in some places, there is a high risk of landslide and forest destruction. It is also unclear how OCP proposes to restrict access to the pipeline route once it is completed. With improved access to the area, the incidence of forest clearance and hunting are likely to increase and further contribute to the area´s degradation", said Mr Davidson.

"BirdLife's concerns about damage to this fragile area have not been addressed by OCP and there are strong fears that an oil leak and spill along this ridge would result in pollution and the contamination of the watershed feeding the small community of Mindo, a village which lies at the base of the Pichincha volcano and depends on ecotourism for its livelihood," he said.

"BirdLife has consistently opposed the so-called northern route through the Mindo IBA because it puts at risk the area's biodiversity and local ecotourism initiatives. Any project of this magnitude should avoid the Mindo IBA and be carried out using the best practices possible to minimize its impacts and any risk to the environment."

If an alternative route is not found and the pipeline is built using this route, a clearly defined construction plan should be required which at least meets the minimal standards established by the World Bank for such projects. So far there is little assurance that the proposed pipeline construction will not significantly alter the fragile forested terrain through the Mindo-Nambillo Forest Reserve.

Already the pipeline has affected one the world´s rarest bird species, the critically endangered Black-breasted Puffleg (Eriocnamis nigrivestis), which has a global population estimated at less than 250 individuals, and survives in scrub habitat along the crests of hills through which the pipeline is now being built.

According to the Ecuadorian Ornithological Society (CECIA - BirdLife in Ecuador), every effort should be made to secure this species' habitat before it is lost forever. CECIA and the Jocotoco Foundation have purchased and are helping to conserve 1,000 hectares of the species' habitat in Yanacocha. However, this only represents 10% of the species' known global range.

For further information please contact Michael Szabo at BirdLife International in Cambridge, UK, on +44 (0) 1223 277 318 or 07779 018332 (mobile), or Ian Davidson in Quito, Ecuador on + 593 2453 645. Please note that Quito is five hours behind GMT.

NOTES:

1. BirdLife International is a global alliance of conservation organizations working in more than 100 countries who, together, are the leading authority on the status of birds, their habitats and the issues and problems affecting bird life. Partners include the National Audubon Society (USA), the Canadian Nature Federation & Bird Studies Canada (Canada), Sociedad Espanola de Ornitologia/SEO (Spain), Aves Argentina (Argentina), and Liga Italiana Protezione Uccelli/LIPU (Italy).

2. Important Bird Areas or IBAs are internationally important sites for the conservation of birds and biodiversity, selected by BirdLife International according to internationally recognised criteria.

3. Mindo was the first ever Important Bird Area to set up in South America because of its spectacular bird life which includes five globally threatened species including the Critically Endangered Black-breasted Puffleg a species of hummingbird.

4. The pipeline will be run by a consortium of US, Italian, Canadian, Spanish, Argentinian and Ecuadorian companies comprising Occidental, Agip, Alberta Energy, Kerr-McGee and Repsol-YPS.