Developing diverse conservation models
BY: ERROL ABADA GATUMBATO
The Philippines is an amazing country endowed with a variety of life forms. Our geographic feature, as a group of islands,
enormously gifted us with numerous species of flora and fauna that could not be found elsewhere in the world or the so called endemic species. In fact, a good number of our species is restricted only to a particular island, which makes the Philippines as one of the world’s center of endemism. The diversity of our biological resources is also attributed to a wide range of habitats, from terrestrial ecosystems to coastal and marine ecosystems. Unfortunately, our environment and natural resources seem badly managed through the years such that many of our endemic species are already at the brink of extinction in the wild, and the different habitats are similarly deteriorating. The major causes for the endangerment of our species are excessive exploitation and habitat destruction. Several of our species are already classified as critically endangered, meaning their population in the wild is getting limited and they may likely extinct if no proper measures are implemented. The Negros Island, in particular, is among the candidate sites for extinction in the Philippines because most of its endemic species are already listed as threatened species by both the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the IUCN-World Conservation Union.
Given also the diversity of the situation in one island to another island, it is also necessary we explore various conservation regimes that will contribute to the protection of our threatened endemic species and their corresponding habitats. One of the most common approaches to biodiversity conservation is the protected areas system, and we have a very good policy framework on this, as enunciated in the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act or Republic Act 7586. While the NIPAS is known to be the most effective measure for biodiversity conservation, it suffered setbacks in the implementation because the DENR was caught unaware of rigorous processes and resources needed to make RA 7586 nationally operational, according to Director Mundita Lim of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau. Many of our protected areas are languishing from lack of the much needed resources, including technical and managerial assistance, and seemingly this challenge is far from resolution.
The constraint imposed by the protected areas system should be considered as an opportunity to look into other mechanisms and strategies in biodiversity conservation. The PAWB recognizes the need to explore some conservation models as alternatives to protected area, especially in areas where no protection measures are already in place. Lim said, this is precisely the motivation why the PAWB, in partnership with non-government organizations, is now implementing the New Conservation Areas in the Philippines Project, with a grant provided by the Global Environment Facility through the United Nations Development Programme. The NewCAPP capitalizes learning from some sites that have established conservation areas through local processes and approval and will hopefully emulate those lessons learned in other project sites. The experience of the municipalities of Polillo, Panukulan and Burdeos in the Polillo Group of Islands in establishing local conservation areas through issuance of Sangguniang Bayan ordinances is a pioneering effort that is working quite well in protecting the Polillos threatened endemic species. The model invoked the Local Government Code as a policy framework for LGUs to take the lead in natural resources management, in as much that the presence of the DENR could hardly be felt in the group of islands.
Since the Philippines is also a culturally diverse country, with several tribes of Indigenous People, it is worth looking into the traditional natural resources governance as a working model in biodiversity conservation. This involves establishment of Indigenous Cultural Conservation Areas in the ancestral domain claims of the IPs. Some studies show that the IP traditional resource management is in fact more sensitive to biodiversity because of the close association of the IP’s way of life to nature. The declaration of this traditional conservation paradigm solely lies at the IPs and it is important to work with tribal groups in promoting biodiversity. Other conservation models include private reserves and community managed conservation areas. One best example of a successful conservation initiative is the Danjugan Island in southern Negros Occidental. It is currently owned and managed by the Philippines Reef and Rainforest Foundation and conservation measures in the area are on-going. It is also being developed as a prime ecotourism destination in the region. Some marine protected areas and fish sanctuaries are also established as community managed conservation sites. With the diverse threats and issues facing our biodiversity, it is high time that we shall explore all mechanisms that will ensure proper protection of our threatened endemic species and habitats.
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