Errol Abada Gatumbato

Stormy weather is here

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

280526_10150249694363661_1585825_oAfter months of higher temperature last summer, we are now bracing, not only for the wet season, but for stormy weather, too. Very recently, typhoons were coming one after the other, affecting several regions of the country. Following storm signals Glenda and Henry, came Inday, and another one is coming. Weather forecasts claim that we are expecting three to four typhoons this August. It seems the description of “Living Dangerously on Earth” is no longer a farfetched scenario. It is already a reality that we have to contend with at present times. It may sounds alarming, but the thousands of death and billions of pesos in damages to properties in recent years, brought on by very strong typhoons in the Philippines, are very serious and alarming. In fact, the devastation wrought by super typhoon Yolanda last year is still very much visible today, because rehabilitation measures are still on going, to date.

We have been warned that extreme weather conditions are new normal of our times. Natural hazards, like typhoons, tsunamis and storm surges, are getting stronger, due to the deteriorating capacity of our natural ecosystems to withstand the changes IMG_1285occurring in our environment. Some damages we inflicted on Earth are already irreversible and beyond repair, such as the destruction of the ozone layer. Our ecosystems, like the forest, mangroves, seagrasses, and coral reefs, among others, are already in bad state such that their ability to assist in mitigating the impacts of natural hazards and risks had similarly deteriorated.

The present scenario is very disadvantages to the Philippines due to our geographic location. The Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters has consistently ranked the Philippines in the top five most disaster-hit countries of the world. Our country lies in one of the most hazardous portions of the Earth. It is situated in an area where tropical cyclones are most active, and this is in the western rim of the Pacific Ocean.

The feature of the country, composing of numerous island ecosystems, makes many of our areas open to coast and vulnerable to wind, rain, tsunami and storm surges. The landmass of the Philippines is basically mountainous in nature, with steep slopes that are highly towering in lowlands and coastal areas. This condition further aggravates the risk of flooding and landslides. Our nation also lies in the so-called Ring of Fire, which makes us even more susceptible to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

While disaster risk and reduction management becomes one of the priority agenda of the government, it is very important that it should be associated with strong measures and approaches on environmental protection and natural resources conservation. For instance, how can we improve our disaster preparedness when we also allow the alteration of our natural ecosystems with mining and other resource extractive industries?

There is also a question on how serious is the government in protecting the remaining natural forests, as reports of forest destruction continue to surface. On the other hand, the National Greening Program, which is being considered as a flagship environment project of the current administration, has received numerous criticisms, because some of its reforestation initiatives have been inappropriately established. The solid waste management in many urban areas is still very poor. It should be noted that solid waste has been identified as one of the major causes of flooding in urban centers, especially in Metro Manila.

The climatic changes we experience today are not just a local reality, but also a global phenomenon. However, in our little own ways, as an individual, as a community, and as a nation, we can do something to mitigate and even just minimize the negative impacts of this so called climate change that is threatening our very existence.

August 2, 2014 Posted by | Climate Change, Conservation Initiatives, Deforestation and Degradation | , , , | Leave a comment

Protecting our island biodiversity

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

The whole world commemorated the International Biodiversity Day last May 22. The United Nations General Assembly declared this event in 2000 to increase awareness and understanding on biological diversity and its associated issues and challenges.

This year’s celebration focused on the theme, “Island Biodiversity”, to coincide with the designation by the UN of 2014 as the International Year of Small Developing States. This is also to strengthen the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The theme is very relevant to the Philippines, because it is composed of numerous islands and islets, a good number of which are considered smaller islands, but yet, they contain unique ecosystems, habitats, flora and fauna. Many of our small islands have exceptional and beautiful features that are worth protecting for recreational, educational and scientific activities, while at the same, sustaining whatever ecological and environmental services they offer to the people. However, there are also small islands that have been subjected to extensive development for tourism, logging and mining, thereby altering their natural landscape and seascape.

It is also important to note that many of our small islands harbor endemic species, meaning some species are only restricted to a particular island and could not be found elsewhere. For instance, Negros Island has numerous island endemic species, such as the Negros fruit dove, which is now suspected to be extinct, since it has never been recorded after its discovery in 1953 at the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park.

Although Cebu has suffered intensive deforestation, it is very important in terms of biodiversity, because it has Cebu flower picker, Cebu hawk owl, Cebu cinnamon tree and Cebu black shama, that are only known to occur in this island.

The Ilin Island in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, is the only locality where the Ilin Bushy-tailed cloud rat, or the Hairy-tailed cloud rat, has been recorded. Similarly, the Sulu bleeding heart pigeon is only restricted in Tawi-tawi, while Camiguin has also its own endemic species, such as the Camiguin hawk owl. The Calamianes in Palawan has several endemic species, the most popular of which is the Calamian deer. The island of Mindoro, although it is relatively a larger island, contains a variety of endemic species, like the Mindoro bleeding heart pigeon and the famous Tamaraw, which is considered as the largest mammal recorded in the country. Polillo Islands in Quezon province has several endemic sub-species of birds. The Dinagat cloud rat is only found in Dinagat Island in Mindanao.

The unique island endemism of the Philippines makes our country as one of the mega-diverse countries on biodiversity. However, most, if not all, of our island endemic species are already listed as threatened species in the Red List of Threatened Species of the IUCN-World Conservation Union and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The likely extinction of island endemic species may happen once the remaining habitats in the islands where they occur are further destroyed. It is therefore very necessary that the remaining natural habitats shall be protected and those degraded ones restored.*

June 14, 2014 Posted by | Conservation Events, Conservation Initiatives, Forest Ecosystem, Protected Areas, Species Conservation | , , , , | Leave a comment

Demolish illegal structures in NNNP

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

The Protected Area Management Board, the site-based policy and administrative body of the Northern Negros Natural Park, should heed the recommendation of its Technical Working Group to order the demolition of illegal structures in the protected area, especially those that were constructed by private individuals, who have no right to stay in this biodiversity-important site.

The scenic NNNP*

The scenic NNNP*

The recommendation of the TWG came after it was tasked by the PAMB to assess and evaluate the different structures in the NNNP and to come out with possible courses of action.

It can be recalled that the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office has issued at least 89 cease-and-desist orders to private individuals, who have been found to have constructed vacation houses in the NNNP without prior permit from the PAMB. Since NNNP is a component of the National Integrated Protected Areas System of the Philippines, as provided for in Republic Act 7586, it is a requirement that the construction or maintenance of any kind of structure, fence or enclosures, and conducting business enterprise, require the issuance of appropriate permit from the PAMB.

The author at the NNNP> The cool temperature in NNNP has attracted some prominent persons in Negros Occidental to construct vacation houses in the area*

The author at the NNNP> The cool temperature in NNNP has attracted some prominent persons in Negros Occidental to construct vacation houses in the area*

The PAMB is not in the position to make any decision that are contrary to the NIPAS. The regional executive director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Region VI, who acts as the chair of the management board, should make sure that the PAMB acts within its power and authority, and in conformity with appropriate laws, rules and regulations. The DENR Secretary has the power to overturn decisions rendered by the PAMB that are not appropriate in the management of protected areas, like the NNNP.

While it is true that NNNP is a protected area, it is not absolute that occupancy is not allowed. However, it is only allowed in the designated multiple use zone and restricted only to the so-called tenured migrants. Based on the revised implementing rules and regulations of the NIPAS Act, the household head shall be considered a tenured migrant if proven to have actually and continuously occupied a portion of the protected area five years before its designation under the NIPAS, and solely dependent therein for subsistence.

NNNP accounts the largest natural forest cover among the different important conservation sites in West Visayas Biogeographic Zone*

NNNP accounts the largest natural forest cover among the different important conservation sites in West Visayas Biogeographic Zone*

Tenured migrants should be organized to avail a land tenure privilege, known as the Protected Area Community Based Resource Agreement, which shall be awarded by the DENR upon the endorsement of the PAMB. The purpose of this arrangement is to control occupancy and create strong social fence. It is the responsibility of the beneficiaries of land tenure to ensure that no additional migrants will stay in the awarded sites.

Based on the initial evaluation by the DENR, the recipients of the CDOs are not actually tenured migrants, since all of them are residents of areas outside the NNNP and they are not subsistence persons.

Aside from violating the NIPAS once the PAMB allows the owners of these vacation houses to occupy portions of the NNNP, it shall become a precedent and others may also follow. If that is the scenario, the PAMB will be out of control and becomes an ineffective management body of the NNNP.

June 14, 2014 Posted by | Conservation Initiatives, Forest Ecosystem, Governance, Protected Areas | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sugar industry in Negros contributed to the depletion of Philippine teak

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

SAN JOSE, Occidental Mindoro – In a workshop here organized by the Mindoro Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. for its Ilin and Ambulong Islands Forest Conservation Project, I was surprised at the revelation that the sugar industry in Negros has contributed to the depletion of an important endemic species of the country, the Philippine teak (Tectona philippinensis). It is only known to grow in Ilin and Ambulong islands in San Jose town, Occidental Mindoro, and in the towns of Lobo and San Juan in Batangas. Because of its restricted distribution and population depletion, the Philippine teak has already been declared as critically-endangered species by both the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the IUCN-World Conservation Union.

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(The Philippine teak)

This means that the species is under protection and its exploitation is already prohibited. Unfortunately, some local communities are still utilizing this species because it is commercially viable, although they also attest that the population of the species in Ilin and Ambulong Islands is now getting limited.

While I was facilitating the workshop, which was designed to engage local stakeholders in the implementation of MBCFI’s conservation project in the two islands, I asked for the factors that contributed to the reduction of the species’ population in the two islands of San Jose. Some people, who have been living in Ilin and Ambulong for some time now, testified that bulk of Philippine teak and molave trees were cut and transported from the islands to Negros to supply the need for railways of trains, which were used then in transporting sugarcane from haciendas to sugar mills.

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(The author during the workshop sponsored by MBCFI)

This species of tree is known for its hardwood quality. It is usually found in coastal to lowland limestone forest and tends to dominate the semi-deciduous forests, the IUCN said.

The IUCN recommended the implementation of a conservation program that would re-establish the stable natural population of T. philippinensis in its known habitat. It also suggested that a rapid assessment of the species and long-term ecological research shall be conducted, to determine the physical and biological characteristics of the habitat, coupled with a recovery and management program, public education, community consultation and resource stewardship and policy initiatives.

The MBCFI, with funding support from the Philippine Tropical Forest Conservation Foundation Inc., and the Malampaya Ventures, is initiating a project to enhance the population of the Philippine teak in Ilin and Ambulong Islands. It also aims to establish woodlots to address the timber requirements of the local communities, and increase the awareness of local folks on the importance of the teak and other endemic species and their associated habitats.

Ilin Island, in particular, is the only known locality for the Ilin Bushy-tailed cloud rat, or the Hairy-tailed cloud rat (Crateromyspaulus). This species was once listed as critically endangered, but is now categorized as Data Deficient, because of its limited information. The IUCN said the species was only known from the holotype, that was reportedly purchased in Ilin Island. Several attempts to rediscover this cloud rat in the island failed.

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(The author in Ilin Island)

June 8, 2014 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Initiatives, Forest Ecosystem, Species Conservation | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Low trekking season in Mount Kanla-on

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

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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

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

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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


BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

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

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

Siapno

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

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

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

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