Campuestuhan: A tale of forest conservation
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
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
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
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, 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
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.
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