Errol Abada Gatumbato

Low trekking season in Mount Kanla-on



Photo courtesy of MKNP Facebook Page*

The Office of the Protected Area Superintendent of the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park announced that booking for trekking in the area is already full from January to February.

Bookings to climb the summit of MKNP are only available in March and onwards. The MKNP’s Protected Area Management Board, the site-based policy-making body of one of the 13 protected areas in the Philippines as proclaimed by Congress, has declared January and February as low trekking season.

Under this condition, only a limited number of trekkers are allowed in a month.

MKNP is the pioneering protected area in the country that has crafted and implemented a mountaineering guideline. It was during my time as the park superintendent when the first mountaineering policy was approved in 1999, based on various considerations, such as the nature of MKNP as an active volcano, and trails leading to the summit are known as important wildlife habitat, among others.

In spite of the fact that the four-kilometer radius from the crater of the volcano is categorized as a permanent danger zone, and supposedly no human activities shall be allowed, the management did consider the potential of Mount Kanla-on for recreational purposes, like mountaineering. The summit of MKNP, at 2,435 meters above sea level, is the highest peak in central Philippines. MKNP is one of the most popular mountaineering destinations in the country.

There are four officially-designated mountaineering trails in Mount Kanla-on – the Wasay trail in Murcia, Guintubdan trail in Bago and La Carlota Cities, and Mananawin and Mapot trails in Canlaon City.

Under the existing guideline, only a maximum of 10 members are allowed in every expedition and only one expedition party per trail will be allowed in a given time. It is also mandatory that every expedition will have a compulsory guide for a ratio of one guide to five climbers. MKNP was also the first protected area in the Philippines that has developed its own guideline for the accreditation of porters and guides.

Mountaineering in MKNP is open in March to May, and October to December. Other months are low season for trekking in Mount Kanlaon, wherein only one expedition party is allowed in every trail per month. However, in the event that PAGASA declares weather disturbance, or the PHIVOLCS declares volcanic activity, MKNP will be closed automatically from mountaineering.

It is mandatory to secure a climbing permit from the Office of the Park Superintendent, and this shall be issued following submission of a booking form, mountaineer information sheet and notarized waiver of responsibility of the climbing party members, and payment of required fees. It is highly recommended that booking shall be made at least three months before the expedition schedule. No one is allowed to enter the park for mountaineering without the approved permit from the park superintendent.

Each expedition party is required to have climbing equipment, to include individual sleeping bags, tent, pressure stove for cooking and first aid kit. Only ready-to-cook foods are allowed in mountaineering. MKNP is also adopting a policy on “carry-in, carry-out policy”, that means that no garbage should be left in the area.* (This Article was also published in the Visayan Daily Star, 13 January 2014).

January 20, 2014 Posted by | Conservation Initiatives, Ecotourism | Leave a comment

Pope Francis, a green Pope?

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December 12, 2013 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Initiatives, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A journey in the field of conservation



The author at the Mangyan Marker in Sablayan, Oriental Mindoro*

Last 07 October marked my 50th journey on this planet we call Earth. Almost half of it has been purely devoted to the field of nature conservation and environmental protection.  As I commemorated the half-century of my life’s journey, let me share some of the stories associated with my involvement in conservation work. There are so many things to tell about this journey, from hiking through rugged terrains in the jungles of Mount Kanla-on Natural Park in Negros Island, wading in the waters of unspoiled rivers in Samar Island Natural Park, to diving in deep and cool blue seawaters of Apo Reef Natural Park in Oriental Mindoro. Interestingly, the profession in conservation also provides me with the opportunity to see the wild numerous flora and fauna, several of which are already threatened from extinction in their respective habitats.

The work in conservation does not only bring one to the most fascinating and awesome places, but it also includes exposure to the badly state of the environment, including denuded forestlands, polluted rivers and even heavily damaged coastal and marine areas, among others. Working in conservation also means interacting with people of various cultures. Yes, we are all Filipinos but our culture is as diverse as our flora and fauna. Meeting various indigenous tribes in Mindanao, Mindoro and high lands of Luzon led me to further appreciate and advocate the rights of the IPs to their ancestral lands.

Through the years of my involvement in conservation, I encountered community members who are engaged in timber poaching,

MKNP revisited: The author with some of the awards that he and his colleagues received while he was the Protected Area Superintendent of Mt. Kanla-on Natural Park in Negros Island*

MKNP revisited: The author with some of the awards that he and his colleagues received while he was the Protected Area Superintendent of Mt. Kanla-on Natural Park in Negros Island*

kaingin, wildlife hunting and other resource-extractive practices. In several instances, however, it is very inspiring to witness how these individuals engaged in destructive activities transform to become responsible stewards of nature. Interaction with employees and officials of the different government institutions is another challenge in conservation work, especially in dealing with bureaucratic procedures and protocols. There are also local and international  nongovernment organizations and funding agencies that are equally interesting to work with in environment and natural resources management.

My seven-year stint in the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park as a Protected Area Superintendent, from June 1995 to June 2002, was one of the most challenging and meaningful events in my journey in conservation. That was the time when I fully embraced what biodiversity means and how it is crucial in our survival as a people and as a nation. It provided me solid background on various facets of natural resources conservation and management, including disaster risk reduction and management. Although there were controversies in the declaration of MKNP as a protected area, with the slicing of 169 hectares of its original boundary for geothermal energy development, the fact remains that it is one of the 13 protected areas that has a site-specific congressional act, out of 240 candidate sites all throughout the country. In fact, if not for our internal and aggressive advocacy to the Congress, the geothermal development should have been more than 2,000 hectares.

We also pioneered the crafting and implementation of the first mountaineering guideline in the Philippines, with the assistance of

With the members of the Polillo Islands Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc*

With the members of the Polillo Islands Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc*

former provincial director Edwin Gatia of the Department of Tourism.  The Protected Area Management Board of MKNP, at that time, was known to be one of the two most active in the Philippines. The numerous awards, that are still on display at the MKNP administration in La Castellana, Negros Occidental, are the testimonials on the momentum we have achieved in treading the path of protected area management.

My journey in the field of conservation involved numerous visits in the different protected areas in the country, from terrestrial, freshwater to marine ecosystems. Most, if not all, of these travels were related to conservation work, like providing technical assistance in protected area management planning, project implementation, assessment, monitoring and evaluation and as a resource person or facilitator in trainings, seminars and workshops.  During these travels, I did not only meet persons working in the field of protected area management, but including ocular visit to scenic spots of some protected areas. On the process, I built a network of friends in different regions and learned new things and ideas.

At the Apo Reef Natural Park*

At the Apo Reef Natural Park*

While visiting some protected areas, I further realized that, indeed, the Philippines is gifted with numerous natural wonders. However, our natural and scenic areas are not yet secured, because they are facing numerous threats from various economic activities.  A good number of protected areas in the country are already heavily occupied and this situation triggers proposals to slice certain boundaries of these PAs for possible land titling.  This is particularly true in Northern Negros Natural Park in Negros Occidental and Naujan Lake National Park in Occidental Mindoro.

Protected areas are very rich in natural resources and some of these are being eyed for heavy industries, such as mining and energy development.  It is also a sad reality that most of our protected areas are languishing from lack of personnel and funds, in spite of the fact that they contain numerous natural resources. The allocation from the national government is not sufficient to cover the effective conservation and protection of our protected areas.

I also understood that conservation measures are not solely restricted in protected area management.  There are also other forms of conservation modality involving other key stakeholders. I spent a couple of years in Polillo Group of Islands in Quezon province in developing and implementing the pioneering concept of Local Conservation Areas, which the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is now trying to introduce in other sites that are not protected areas. The LCA is a process of identifying biologically important sites and setting up a management regime involving local government units and other local stakeholders.  This is anchored on the Local Government Code of the Philippines, which invokes the participation of LGUs in natural resources Management. As a result, about 10,000 hectares of biodiversity important sites were declared by LGUs as LCAs in five municipalities covering the Polillo island group. Subsequently, the LGUs are allocating regular funds for the protection of these LCAs.

The traditional methods in protecting our natural environment are also interesting. In Balbalasang Balbalan National Park in 409122_10150535553933661_2001704331_nKalinga province, the indigenous people are in the forefront in managing this protected area, because they consider it as a sacred place. Similarly, Mount Halcon and Mount Iglit-Baco in Mindoro are being claimed as ancestral domains of the Mangyans, while about two-third of Mount Apo Natural Park in Mindanao has been covered with Certificate of Ancestral Domain Titles. The IPs in Mount Kitanglad Range Natural Park and Mount Kalatungan Natural Park are also engaged in protection measures of these two of the most important protected areas in the Philippines.

The implementation of conservation initiatives is also very prevalent in nongovernment organizations. The Danjugan Island in my hometown in Brgy. Bulata, Cauayan is known as one of best-managed marine conservation sites. This has been made possible because of the initiatives of Philippine Reef and Rainforest Foundation.  The Agap Bulusan, a local NGO in Bicol, is also managing the ecotourism in Bulusan Lake in Sorsogon province.

What I really appreciate during this long journey was the trust and confidence accorded to me by various institutions and individuals. I was given the opportunity to work with projects of some international institutions, like the World Bank, European Commission, United Nations Development Programme, Global Environment Facility, United States Agency for International Development and GIZ (Germany-based firm), among others. Most of these projects were coursed through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources through the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau.

I also participated in projects supported by the Foundation for the Philippine Environment, Philippine Tropical Forestry Conservation Foundation and Haribon Foundation. What I am also thankful was the privilege to get involve with several other NGOs, such as the Negros Forest and Ecological Foundation, Polillo Islands Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Mindoro Biodiversity Conservation Foundation and Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation.

These are only few of the things I could share in my more than two decades of journey in the field of conservation. Of course, there were also various challenges, but having the kind of work you really love to do, while at the same, advancing your personal advocacies, meeting a lot of people and visiting some of the awesome natural areas, I would say that that it was indeed so fulfilling periods of my life, and still counting, for more years.


October 26, 2013 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Initiatives, Governance, Protected Areas | Leave a comment

Campuestuhan: A tale 
of forest conservation


The dense forest in Campuestuhan is being protected by communities*

The dense forest in Campuestuhan is being protected by communities*

CAMPUESTUHAN, Talisay City – This upland village in Brgy. Cabatangan was little known until very recently when the name of the place became famous in Negros Occidental province in the Philippines, particularly in Bacolod City. In a way, a mountain resort in the area, that made its presence felt in social media, has contributed to the growing awareness about Campuestuhan, which is still part of the Northern Negros Natural Park, one of the three declared protected areas in the province. However, more than a tourist destination, Campuestuhan is one area in the Philippines where positive impacts of conservation initiatives are also very evident.

Just only about one hour and a half ride from Bacolod City, a peaceful village lying at the

Some community members with the visiting team from Biodiversity Partnerships Project*

Some community members with the visiting team from Biodiversity Partnerships Project*

foot slopes of NNNP can be found and where you hear inspiring stories on how communities have become conservation agents. The place, formerly called the Bacolod City Watershed and now Upper Caliban-Imbang Watershed, also demonstrates how important the role of a nongovernment organization is in effecting changes in the lives of communities as well as in protecting and rehabilitating the forest.

The positive development in this part of the province did not come overnight because it took decades to finally see the fruit of hard labor in conservation work, primarily originated and orchestrated by the Negros Forests and Ecological Foundation Inc., in partnership with private and government institutions.

We visited this place to look into its potential as a demonstration site for biodiversity

Goat house. Communities are already practicing integrated farming system in the area*

Goat house. Communities are already practicing integrated farming system in the area*

friendly agriculture, under the “Biodiversity Partnership Project: Mainstreaming in Agricultural Landscape” of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources–Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau and the United Nations Development Programme–Global Environment Facility. The Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. and NFEFI are the two NGO partners for this project, which aims to establish partnerships among stakeholders in promoting agricultural practices that are compatible to the objectives of biodiversity conservation.

David Castor (in white shirt) pointing our the fence constructed by communities to prevent the Visayan warty pigs from entering the farms of communities*

David Castor (in white shirt) pointing our the fence constructed by communities to prevent the Visayan warty pigs from entering the farms of communities*

David Castor, one of the pioneering personnel of NFEFI, told our team the watershed was almost deforested in the 80s, especially when Negros Occidental was badly affected by the sugar industry crisis. Many lowland dwellers engaged in massive tree cutting and charcoal production in the area. Deforested sites were then converted into kaingins and more people settled in Campuestuhan for good.

One of those who migrated in Campuestuhan was the family of a person known to the community as Nanay Denia, former resident of Candoni in southern Negros Occidental. She confirmed the statement of Castor, and further said her husband was engaged in massive timber poaching just to survive at that time. As narrated by Nanay Denia, her family and other members of the community were hesitant in entertaining NFEFI when its personnel came over the area to talk about forest conservation. She said they looked at NFEFI as a threat to their livelihood and most of the residents were not interested in joining any activity of the foundation.

Castor claimed NFEFI was aware that this site is an important watershed and the

The cable car at the background of the author*

The cable car at the background of the author*

deforestation will greatly affect the water supply of Bacolod City. He said that NFEFI partnered with the Bacolod City Water District and, later on, with DENR and other institutions in implementing conservation awareness and education and community organizing to engage communities in non-destructive forest activities.

With the persistency and patience of NFEFI in community organizing, Nanay Denia and some other members of the community attended the activities spearheaded by the foundation although with so much reservations. The attendance of Nanay Denia in NFEFI activities was against to the wishes of her husband, who was still continuing illegal forest activities at that time.

Transforming communities from illegal and destructive forest users to conservation agents is no easy task. It took some time for the NFEFI to make one of the upland communities here to become responsive in forest protection. Efforts were not only concentrated on conservation awareness and education and community organizing, but more so on providing other means of livelihood for communities who are very much dependent to forest resources to survive.

In the Upper Caliban-Imbang Watershed, communities, assisted by the NFEFI and the Bacolod City Water District, are already implementing agro-forestry technologies and integrated farming system. With assistance from other institutions, a rattan plantation has been established in secondary forest that is already getting to closed canopy forest. Similarly, giant bamboo stands grow along the planted trees in one reforestation site. These two areas clearly show that forest rehabilitation also comes with other plantations, such as rattan and bamboo, for production purposes.

With the increasing forest cover in the area, communities claimed the presence of wildlife is becoming a natural thing. However, with the awareness and appreciation of communities on the importance of wildlife, they are implementing measures to avoid conflict with wildlife, particularly wild pigs. As a strategy, communities established wire fences to prevent wild pigs from invading their farm lots. These wildlife pigs are the endemic Visayan warty pigs, which are already classified as critically endangered by the IUCN-World Conservation Union and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. According to communities, hunting of wildlife has been totally eradicated in Upper Caliban-Imbang Watershed although they claimed there are still isolated cases of illegal timber poaching.

Before, communities in this watershed need to go down a ravine, cross a river and climb another mountain to deliver their farm produce in the lowlands.  NFEFI came out with an idea to set up a cable car that would facilitate the immediate transport and delivery of farmers’ products and this cable car is now operational.  The community organization in the watershed has undergone numerous organizational concerns and leadership crisis, but its members are still determined to face the challenges, since they do not want that all their efforts will go in vain.  The common resolve to protect the forest is the binding force of communities in identifying issues and coming out with acceptable solutions to strengthen their organization.

The natural environment in Upper Caliban-Imbang Watershed has a great potential for ecologically sensitive tourism. The lush forest in the area is a sight to behold and it keeps the place cool the whole day. Fogs usually occur anytime of the day and this makes the place ideal for camping. For bird enthusiasts, the watershed is an ideal site, because of numerous birds that are found in the area, some of which are endemic species.  The potential of cable car for ecotourism is not also a remote possibility.  The cable ride takes about 10 minutes, crossing a ravine of about 100 meters deep with the full view of verdant rainforest.

July 5, 2013 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Initiatives | Leave a comment

DENR assures action on death of MKNP personnel



DENR VI Regional Executive Director Adeluisa Siapno. Photo from the Facebook post of DENR RPAO Region VI.

A few days ago, I received a letter from Regional Executive Director Adeluisa Siapno of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Region VI. The letter was in reaction to my article about the death of Mat Sarcino, personnel of Mount Kanla-on Natural Park, who was gunned down by two motorcyle-riding persons at the MKNP Administration Center in Sitio Calapnagan, Brgy. Biak-na-Bato, La Castellana, on 29 October. The shooting incident happened after MKNP personnel apprehended volumes of illegally-sourced forest products. Cecil Cañada, MKNP Protected Area Superintendent, said the incident was intended to intimidate and harass them from pursuing aggressive forest protection in Mount Kanla-on. Reports claim that illegal forest activities are getting rampant, including transporting of charcoal with no valid permit and authority.  A truckload of charcoal seized by MKNP forest rangers is allegedly owned by a policeman.

In his letter, Siapno said the DENR is closely coordinating with concerned agencies to address the issue in MKNP.  She added that the Philippine National Police and the provincial government of Negros Occidental are already taking actions to ensure that the killing of Sarcino shall be investigated and suspects are prosecuted. The incident in MKNP was not the first shooting involving forest rangers in Negros Occidental. Cadiz City Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer, Andre Untal, also informed me that, earlier this year, Oscar Magbunua, a forest ranger of Victoria City, was shot dead in broad daylight at the city’s public plaza. The case was also associated with forest protection being initiated in the Northern Negros Natural Park. Magbanua’s case remains unsolved, Untal claimed.

It is assuring that the DENR and other concerned agencies are taking actions on these reported killings, but I hope these should be done by fastest means, especially so that the lives of forest rangers are still at risk. If the suspected killers of Sarcino and Magbanua remain free, they may continue to harass those who will prevent their illegal forest operations. It would also mean the continuing destruction of the remaining forest since the forest rangers may no longer implement forest protection measures as they are further endangering their lives. It is quite unfortunate that persons working for the protection of threatened species and habitats are becoming endangered, too. It is, therefore, rightly to say now that Negros Occidental is home of threatened endemic species, habitats and forest rangers.  While the two killings that occurred in the province might be isolated cases, these are no joke since lives were lost. These incidents showed that working for environmental protection is a dangerous kind of job.

Several cases of harassments, intimidations and killings involving persons who were opposed projects that may cause ecological damages have been documented in various parts of the Philippines, particularly related to illegal logging.  Usually, the victims are government employees and members of nongovernment organizations involved in environmental protection and natural resources conservation. The incumbent Regional Executive Director of DENR Region VI is a very straight forward person, and I am confident that she will take every effort to solve the case of Sarcino. Given her background in human resources development at the DENR, I am also aware that she is passionate and committed to the safety and welfare of her personnel. I used to work before with RED Siapno when she was assigned as the Regional Technical Director, also in Region VI, and I also witnessed how she effectively delivered concrete results.

December 3, 2012 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Initiatives, Deforestation and Degradation, Forest Ecosystem, Protected Areas | Leave a comment

Mainstreaming biodiversity conservation in agricultural landscapes


Negrenses Pledge – (L-R) Provincial Planning and Development Coordinator Marlin Sanogal, PBCFI Vice President and Managing Director Errol Gatumbato and Provincial Environment Management Officer Wilmon Peñalosa sign in the biodiversity pledge during the recent launching of the UNDP-GEF supported Biodiversity Partnerships Project of DENR in Quezon City*

The Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources  is now embarking in what may be considered as an ambitious and yet a very significant step in further promoting biodiversity conservation in the Philippines.  This time, PAWB is not only eyeing on protected areas but also attempting to integrate and mainstream biodiversity concerns in agricultural landscapes through its project dubbed as “Biodiversity Partnerships Project: Mainstreaming in Local Agricultural Landscapes”, or shortly known as BPP. This initiative is supported by the United Nations Development Programme-Global Environment Facility covering a six-year period.

One of the key concerns in the Philippines’ biodiversity conservation is the conversion to agriculture of important terrestrial habitats, particularly the forest ecosystems. Through time, agricultural development has expanded in classified forestlands and declared national parks and other forest reserves.  Today, the national park model seems no longer feasible because of the presence of settlement and associated development in formerly proclaimed national parks. As a concept, national park is only intended for recreational and scientific purposes, and should be free from other human activities, like settlement, agriculture and industrial activities.

The National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992 or Republic Act 7586 introduced a radical framework from the traditional national park system to a more flexible management regime in protected areas. It introduced land tenure security for the so called tenured migrants and may allow other activities that are within the scope of the management plan of a particular PA. And this is where the BPP is relevant in promoting biodiversity friendly livelihood activities in agricultural areas within and adjacent to the different PAs.

Many of our agricultural practices are detrimental to the conservation of our biological diversity. One destructive agriculture form is the slash-and-burn-farming, which does not only wipe out the land vegetative cover but is also affecting the soil fertility. Some upland farmers are engaged in the production of high valued crops that are dependent on inorganic fertilizers and pesticides, which are not only harmful to wildlife but also to our health and the environment, in general. Many exotic agricultural species invaded our biodiversity sites and in some instances they are becoming invasive species. This is particularly true in mono-cropping system of agriculture that has contributed to the vanishing of economically productive native varieties. In most cases, agricultural development has no provisions on soil and water conservation measures.

Since BPP involves agriculture, the DENR is partnering with the Department of Agriculture in developing policies and tools in mainstreaming biodiversity in agriculture.  The task includes providing specific definitions, criteria and standards on what is biodiversity friendly agriculture in the real sense.  These guidelines, once formulated at the national level, shall be piloted in eight demonstration sites in the Philippines, which include the Northern Negros Natural Park in Negros Occidental.

The BPP will be working with local government units to ensure that local development planning considers the integration of biodiversity conservation in agriculture and other development initiatives. It will promote mainstreaming of biodiversity in the comprehensive land use plan and other short and long-term development plans of LGUs in eight demonstration sites. The Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc and the Negros Forest and Ecological Foundation, Inc are the NGO partners of DENR-PAWB in implementing the BPP in NNNP.

November 26, 2012 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Events, Conservation Initiatives, Forest Ecosystem, Governance, Protected Areas | Leave a comment

Negros Occidental’s increasing forest cover



The Northern Negros Natural Park

In what could be a welcoming development in Negros Occidental is the report of the Provincial Environment and Management Office claiming that the forest cover of the province is already increasing. Although the report claims there is a need for actual ground validation, it states that Negros Occidental’s forest cover has increased from 4.7% (37,780 has) in 1987 to 9.4% (74,870.70 has) in 2011. For 24 years, the increased forest cover was estimated at 37,090.70 hectares. This is still relatively low compared with areas requiring immediate rehabilitation, but somehow a very good and positive indicator of forest renewal.

Negros Occidental is one the provinces in the Philippines that has been greatly affected with massive deforestation. Out of the 792,607 hectares total land area of the province, roughly 31.82% or 252,221.38 hectares is classified as timberland or forestland, while the remaining 68.18% or 540,385.63 hectares is considered as alienable and disposable (A&D) land. However, it is unfortunate that much of the Negros Occidental’s timberlands are already converted into other land uses, particularly agriculture, settlement and even industrial sites. The remaining forest cover in the province can only be found in Northern Negros and Mount Kanla-on Natural Parks and some remaining forests patches in southern Negros Occidental.


The Mount Kanla-on Natural Park

The deforestation history in the province is closely associated with commercial and large scale logging, which was considered as one of the lucrative business industries in the past, not only in Negros Occidental but in the entire country, too. Available records show that during 1890, basically the entire province was heavily forested until such time that logging companies started operating in different areas of Negros Occidental. One of the biggest logging companies in the world, the Insular Lumber Corporation, locally known as ILCO, started its operations in the northern part of the province in the early 1900s and later on transferred in the south. It was estimated that about 40,000 hectares of natural forest was cleared in 1949 and massive deforestation continued until in 70’s to 80’s.  Logging did not even spare Mount Kanla-on and Northern Negros Forest although they were long declared as reserves.

The conversion of timberlands into other land uses was made easier because of the geophysical state of Negros Occidental. Much of the province’s land area is known as lowland with gentle and moderate slopes. As such, a large track of Negros Occidental’s timberland is now permanently use for agricultural development. Since forestland could not be alienated, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has crafted instruments allowing certain uses of timberlands through various stewardship contracts. However, some timberlands in the province are also open access and are still subject to other uses.

The statistics released by the PEMO did not specify the type of forest cover that has increased, but even so, this is an interesting development. I would like to assume that part of that is the regenerated logged over or the so called natural regeneration areas. This is particularly true in certain sites in NNNP and MKNP, which through time the forest has naturally regenerated because of protection measures that were implemented. Earlier, the PEMO also reported that the NNNP forest cover has increased. I would like to believe, too, that the reforestation efforts may have contributed in the increasing forest cover of Negros Occidental, because we have seen a lot of these initiatives from both government and non-government institutions in recent times.  However, it is also possible that the reported additional forest in the province includes industrial tree plantations, which are for production purposes. 

November 24, 2012 Posted by | Conservation Initiatives, Deforestation and Degradation, Forest Ecosystem, Protected Areas | Leave a comment

Threatened species, habitats and forest rangers



It has long been considered that working for environmental protection and natural resources conservation is no easy task. Aside from difficulties in dealing with complicated issues, particularly on resource extraction and uses, it is also a high risk job, especially if it involves actions against violations of existing rules and regulations on environment and natural resources.  People who are implementing protection measures are susceptible to harassment, legal cases and worst, they are being killed.  This is particularly true in instances when suspected offenders are government officials, influential and moneyed personalities, and even multinational corporations. In some cases in the past, men in uniform were singled out as suspects in killings of environmental activists and advocates.

The recent incident involving personnel of the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park in Negros Island showed another example of danger associated with forest protection. Mat Sarcino, a utility person in MKNP Administration Center in Sitio Calapnagan, Barangay Biak-na-Bato, La Castellana in Negros Occidental province, was gunned down by two motorcyle-riding persons on the night of 29 October at the very place where he was rendering his services.  Attempt to save Mat in Corazon Locsin Montelibano Memorial Regional Hospital in Bacolod City failed because of the fatal bullet wound he sustained on his forehead. He died on 2 November, leaving his family and co-workers in MKNP in anguish, as they have only good words to say about Mat while seeking justice to the untimely demise of such dedicated person.

MKNP Protected Area Superintendent Cecil Cañada said the incident was meant to intimidate him and his colleagues in pursuing aggressive forest protection in Mount Kanla-on. Prior to the shooting, MKNP personnel had been intensifying forest protection campaign in the so called hotspot areas of illegal activities, particularly in Brgy. Codcod, San Carlos City, and Brgys. Sag-ang, Mansalanao, Cabagna-an, Biak-na-Bato and Masulog in La Castellana.  As a result, volumes of illegally-sourced forest products were apprehended, including a truckload of charcoal allegedly owned by a man in uniform.

After the shooting incident, MKNP personnel received information that what happened to Mat was only the beginning, because forest rangers responsible in apprehending illegally-sourced forest products and other Mount Kanla-on personnel are the next targets of hired goons operating in the area. This situation is very alarming, and it is only necessary that concerned government authorities should immediately respond, otherwise, all forest protection efforts in the province are jeopardized if the suspected killers of Mat remain free.

Cadiz City Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer Andre Untal claimed that the case of Mat was the second fatal shooting incident related to forest protection in Negros Occidental this year. Untal, who is also the newly designated Protected Area Superintend of the Northern Negros Natural Park, said that last July 2012, Oscar Magbanua, an employee of Victorias City assigned as forest ranger was also shot dead in broad daylight at the city’s public plaza. The incident occurred after the joint operatives of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Philippine National Police apprehended and jailed violators of forest regulations. The case remains unsolved to date.

The two mentioned cases are worrying to all those who are directly involved in forest protection. If these incidents will not be acted by concerned government authorities, violators would just be around to commit more forest destruction, and forest rangers will have second thoughts in responding as they might be in danger. It is therefore necessary that the DENR should coordinate with investigating and other law enforcement agencies in ensuring that the suspected killers of Mat and Oscar are prosecuted.  Forest rangers can only do much, especially so they belong to less compensated government employees and are not even provided with hazard pays. It is high time that proper measures shall be provided for the safety and welfare of forest rangers.

November 24, 2012 Posted by | Conservation Initiatives, Forest Ecosystem, Protected Areas | Leave a comment

Unveiling new species of Philippine hawk owls


The writer with the principal author of a publication that described the two new species of owls in the Philippines, Dr. Pamela Rasmussen of the Michigan State University. Bob Natural photo*

The preparation for the unveiling of two new species and one subspecies of Philippine hawk owls in Cebu last Friday, August 17, took much of my time while tropical monsoon rain or “habagat” was lashing Metro Manila and several parts of Luzon during the first week of this month.  Since I am currently the Vice President and Managing Director of the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc., which was tasked to host the event with the Philippines Business for Social Progress-Visayas, I was designated to sign and send out some invitations for the occasion. I was expecting the unveiling of new species would be an interesting affair, but only to realize that it was even more a dramatic and somehow an emotional ceremony, especially when the curtain covering the new species was finally unveiled.  The affair in Cebu last Friday was quite a different one compared with several announcements of new species I had attended before, since this event was held in the place where one of the species is known to exist.

Two Filipino Biologists in the Research

The PBCFI hosted the unveiling because two of its senior biologists, Lisa Marie Paguntalan and Godfrey Jakosalem, both are holding master’s degree on wildlife, were the only Filipinos involved in the

Wildlife Biologist Lisa Marie Paguntalan, one of the two Filipinos in the study team. Photo from the Facebook profile of Paguntalan*

investigation that finally distinguished the Cebu hawk owl (Ninox rumseyi) and the Camiguin hawk owl (Ninox leventisi) as two different new species of Philippine hawk owls and are endemic only in Cebu and Camiguin, respectively.  Another new subspecies of hawk owl (Ninox spilonota fisheri) from Tablas Island has been uncovered in the study. The principal investigator of these discoveries, Dr. Pamela Rasmussen of Michigan State University, was the guest of honor in the unveiling, where she also presented the highlights of their findings. Other collaborators in this research included Desmond Allen, Nigel James Collar, Robert Hutchinson, Bram Demeulemeester, Robert Kennedy and Frank Lambert. The full report of the investigation is published in the current issue of Forktail, the Journal of Asian Ornithology with a title “Vocal Divergence and New Species in the Philippine Hawk Owl Ninox philippensis Complex”. The authors of this publication represent different organizations, namely, Birdlife International, Oriental Bird Club, Birdtour Asia, and of course the MSU and PBCFI. The National Geographic also provided additional support.

The announcement of the discovery of these new species is already all over the world with numerous postings in the internet by national and international media as well as in websites of various scientific and

Godfrey Jakosalem, also a wildlife biologist and the other Filipino in the study team. Photo from the Facebook profile of Jakosalem*

nongovernment organizations.  The unveiling of new owls was also simultaneously held in the US hosted by MSU and in United Kingdom by Oriental Bird Club and BirdLife International, coinciding the opening of the 2012 British Birdfair.

Seven hawk owl species and one subspecies

During the unveiling ceremony, Rasmussen claimed that based on morphology particularly vocalizations, the Philippine hawk owl requires treatment as seven allopatric species and at least one additional subspecies. She said, “More than 15 years ago, we realized that new subspecies of Ninox hawk owls existed in the Philippines”.  It was only last year when the group of Rasmussen gathered new recordings confirming the existence of two new species and one subspecies of hawk owls in the country.  “Vocalizations differ significantly between all seven species, the limits of which are incongruent with all previous taxonomies”, said Rasmussen, who is the assistant professor of zoology and assistant curator of mammalogy and ornithology at the museum of MSU. With this development, Rasmussen’s group recommended the treatment of the different hawk owl species in the Philippines as Luzon hawk owl (N. philippensis), Mindanao hawk owl (N. spilocephala), Mindoro hawk owl (N. mindorensis), Sulu hawk owl (Ninox reyi), Romblon hawk owl (N. spilonota), Camiguin hawk owl (new species), and Cebu hawk owl (new species).

William Oliver, one of the pioneers in developing species conservation programme in the Philippines. Photo from the Facebook profile of Oliver*

10 endemic owls in the Philippines

According to William Oliver, who orchestrated the development of the Philippine Owls Conservation Programme and a PBCFI trustee, the event last Friday also marked the publication of the second of two major revisions of the taxonomic classifications of the two widely distributed and highly variable species of Philippine owls that are all endemic in the country – the medium-sized Philippine scops owl (Otus megalotis) and the diminutive Philippine hawk owl (Ninox philippensis). Oliver’s statement is in reference to the 2011 findings of Filipino Ornithologist, Dr. Hector Miranda Jr., which similarly elevated all three former races of the Philippine scops owl to full species status – the Luzon lowland scops owl (Otus megalotis), the Visayan scops owl (Otus nigrorum) and the Mindanao lowland scops-owl (Otus everetti). This finding was contained in a publication entitled “Phylogeny and taxonomic review of Philippine lowland scops owls (Strigiformes)” at Wilson Journal of Ornithology in September 2011.

Advancing Biodiversity Conservation

Oliver added, “Needless to say, these two key papers not only profoundly influence current understanding of Philippine owl diversity

Photo courtesy of Godfrey Jakosalem*

and endemism, but will also inevitably – perhaps quite drastically – expose the far larger number of seriously threatened endemic owls than previously supposed”.  None of these owl species, however, are included in the international and national listings of threatened and protected species despite the fact that several highly distinct forms were already known to be severely threatened throughout their limited ranges, Oliver further claimed. He added there is a need to evaluate the conservation status of these species since they may be categorized as threatened under the List of Threatened Species of the IUCN World Conservation Union.

Lawyer Joseph Ace Durano, another PBCFI trustee and former tourism secretary , encouraged his fellow Cebuanos to capitalize the presence of another endemic species in advancing forest protection and habitat restoration in Cebu, that is heavily affected by deforestation. Assistant Director Nelson Devanadera of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau said these recent discoveries further attest the importance of the country in global biodiversity and assured the support of the PAWB in biological researches as basis in coming out with appropriate and effective conservation measures.  Based on the study of Jakosalem, there are only about 200 pairs of Cebu hawk owls left in the remaining forest patches in Cebu.

August 20, 2012 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Events, Conservation Initiatives, Forest Ecosystem, Species Conservation | Leave a comment

The Northern Negros Natural Park increasing forest cover


The information recently disclosed by the Provincial Environment Management Office of Negros Occidental that the forest cover of the Northern Negros Natural Park had increased in a decade is quite interesting. The report said the forest cover of the protected area has increased from 22,288.8 hectares in 2001 to 30,178.7 hectares in 2011, or about 7,889.9 hectares additional forest in a matter of 10 years.

The figure represents roughly 27% of the entire NNNP.  However, it is difficult to ascertain if the reported increased in NNNP’s forest cover is due to reforestation initiatives, or it is an open logged over area that has already regenerated. Probably, the figure also includes tree plantations that are intended for production and usually comprise of exotic species.

Covering a total area of 80,454.50 hectares within the 11 cities and municipalities in Negros Occidental, the NNNP was declared as a protected area by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 895 issued on 15 August 2005.  The NNNP is the 3rd officially declared protected area in Negros Occidental, and it accounts the largest remaining forest cover in the whole of Negros Island. The two other proclaimed protected areas in Negros Occidental are the Sagay Marine Reserve in Sagay City and the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park, which partly covers Canlaon City in Negros Oriental.

The three protected areas in Negros Occidental are actually showcasing the different environment and natural resources modalities, as far as their institutional and management arrangements are concerned. The MKNP is directly administered by the Department of Environment Natural Resources through the Office of the Protected Area Superintendent.  The DENR Regional Executive Direction in Region VI chairs the Protected Area Management Board of MKNP.

The SMR, on the other hand, is directly under the city government of Sagay. The Mayor of Sagay serves as the chair of the PAMB and the PASu office is similarly under the local government.  The management of NNNP is also interesting since Governor Freddie Marañon acts as the co-chair of the PAMB, while the PEMO is currently serving as the secretariat to the operations of the PAMB. I made to believe that the present arrangement in the management of NNP is supported by the memorandum of agreement entered into by the provincial government with the PAMB. However, this is temporary in nature, because the Congress has still to decide what specific management system shall be installed in NNNP, just like the case of MKNP and SMR.

Regardless whatever institutional mechanisms are being introduced in various conservation sites in Negros Occidental, what is important is our ultimate goal in protecting these sites from destructive activities. Aside of course from protection measures, we also need to rehabilitate denuded areas, particularly in NNNP and MKNP to increase the forest cover of the province. It should be noted that Negros Occidental is heavily deforested, with the remaining forest cover can only be found in NNNP, MKNP and in some forest patches in the southern part of the province.  Available statistics point out that the forest cover of Negros Occidental remains at four percent, but there is a need to validate this figure because of the reported increasing forest cover in NNNP and most likely in MKNP, too.

June 25, 2012 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Initiatives, Forest Ecosystem, Protected Areas | 1 Comment


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