Mining threatens endemic species and habitats in southern Negros Occidental
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
It is quite unfortunate that in spite of the fragile ecological situation in Negros Occidental, there are still efforts to subject the southern part of the province with intensive mining operations. As reported in the VISAYAN DAILY STAR last week, the Philex Mining and Santa Barbara Development Corporations have applied for exploration permits with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Approximately 3,501 hectares of Sipalay City and Cauayan town is covered with these exploration permits for copper and gold. The VISAYAN DAILY STAR further reported that another mining company, the BF Mining Coporation, has similarly applied for a two-year mining exploration permit in six barangays also in Sipalay and Cauayan, covering a total of 4,722 hectares. Combining the different mining applications, a total of 8,223 hectares in Sipalay and Cauayan shall be subjected with mining exploration, which is quite a large area.
These applications are intended only for exploratory activities and may not entail environmental destructions, but once mineral deposits are confirmed then full-scale mining operations will eventually follow. The exploratory permits are based on initial information that Sipalay, Cauayan, and Hinobaan are among the mineral-rich areas of Negros Occidental. It was further reported that two other mining companies have previously conducted mining exploration for copper, gold, silver, and other mineral resources in these sites. Most probably, areas that will be covered by these mining exploration permits are timberlands in Cauayan and Sipalay. Although most timberlands in the south have already been wiped out with forest cover by commercial logging before, there are still remaining forest patches in Sipalay and Cauayan that are critical habitats of numerous endemic species of Negros Island.
The forest fragments in the south are now getting the attention of conservation communities because of the rediscovery of the
Philippine Bare-backed fruit bat (Dobsonia chapmani) in a remote village in Sipalay. This species was once thought as extinct because it has never been recorded since 1963 until it was rediscovered in 2003 by the group of Dr. Ely Alcala of the Silliman University. This mysterious species was earlier thought to be a Negros endemic species, until it was recorded in Cebu by the group of biologist Lisa Marie Paguntalan in 2001. Both the IUCN-World Conservation Union and the DENR have declared Dobsonia chapmani as critically endangered, because its population declined to about 80 percent over three generations (15-20 years).
There are also other endemic wildlife species, such as the critically endangered Philippine spotted deer and the Visayan warty pig, surviving in the remaining forest fragments in southern Negros Occidental. The protection of the remaining forest and the rehabilitation of denuded areas are necessary for biologically important species to survive in the wild. Mining operations will threatened the survival of these species because mining entails forest clearing, landscape alteration, and introduction of chemicals, among others.
The tourism potentials of southern Negros Occidental may also be affected once large-scale mining operations shall be allowed. Washed outs from mining operations will find their ways to river systems and to the coastal and marine ecosystems, which will greatly affect the natural environment. There are other environmental issues associated with mining operations and most if not all of the mined out areas in the Philippines still require massive rehabilitation. It is now a challenge to local officials and residents if they allow these mining explorations to proceed. After all, social acceptability is one of the important criteria in providing permits in various stages of mining development.
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