Errol Abada Gatumbato

Developing community based ecotourism in Northern Negros Natural Park

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

The author in Brgy. Patag, Silay City where communities started to engage in ecotourism services*

The author in Brgy. Patag, Silay City where communities started to engage in ecotourism services*

I visited several areas within the Northern Negros Natural Park in Negros Occidental province recently to conduct rapid assessment on different livelihood activities that maybe considered as biodiversity friendly. These are income-generating endeavors that do not in any way create negative impacts to the environment, particularly on habitats and species. Actually, it is not easy to determine biodiversity friendly livelihood, because there are many parameters that have to be considered. Just the same, I did focus my assessment on livelihood that maybe compatible on the status of the NNNP as a protected area. The assessment was part of the activities of the Biodiversity Partnerships Project of the United Nations Development Program – Global Environment Facility and the Biodiversity Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which is being implemented in NNNP by the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc.

One of the recognized potential livelihood initiatives that maybe carried in NNNP is related to ecotourism. When I say ecotourism, it means ecological tourism, a concept that has evolved through time as a form of tourism that is very sensitive to the fragility of ecosystems, and promotes conservation education, and community participation and benefits, among others. Ecotourism uses the natural environment as the main product and therefore it must be implemented in sites that possess unique features and characteristics, like NNNP and Mount Kanla-on Natural Park.

One of the sites, I visited is the famous Barangay Patag in Silay City, that has already established its reputation as one of the

One of the waterfalls in Gawahon, Victorias City*

One of the waterfalls in Gawahon, Victorias City*

major tourism destinations in Negros Occidental. The Silay City government has constructed some visitors’ facilities in the area. During summer thousands of people are visiting the place, while others use it as a jump off point for trekking in higher elevations, particularly in Mounts Mandalagan and Marapara. I am aware there are occupancy issues in Patag. Like in Salvador Benedicto town, another municipality within the NNNP, there are non-residents of Patag who have constructed and maintained vacation houses in the site. Patag is one the barangays within NNNP that is covered with the Integrated Social Forestry Program, which was devolved by the DENR to provincial government right after the enactment of the Local Government Code in early 1990s. Under this program, several residents of Patag availed the Certificate of Stewardship Contracts, giving them privilege to occupy and develop their respective areas for 25 years. Unfortunately, some CSC holders sold their claims to lowlanders, who are now maintaining vacation houses or fighting cock farms in Patag. These are issues that need to be addressed and resolved by the NNNP Protected Area Management Board, DENR, provincial government and the Silay City government. In spite of these challenges, it is interesting, that in Patag, community-based ecotourism has so much potential, and in fact it has started to evolve as an important enterprise, which may balance the requirements of communities for livelihood and the need to protect the natural features of the protected area.

The road to Salvador Benedicto*

The road to Salvador Benedicto*

At least five holders of the CSCs are now engaged in ecotourism services in Patag. They started to develop picnic and camping grounds and constructed vacation houses in areas covered by their CSCs. They also offer food and guiding services and some have constructed swimming pools. These CSC holders have never abandoned their claimed areas and they are also cultivating parts of their lots for agriculture. Admittedly, these community initiatives have no permits, since they started to develop their sites for tourism purposes prior to the declaration of NNNP under the National Integrated Protected Areas System. However, these community members may also qualify as tenured migrants of NNNP. While it is true that NNNP is a protected area, it is not absolute that occupancy is not allowed. Based on the revised Implementing Rules and Regulations of the NIPAS, or Republic Act 7586, 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. Tenured migrants shall be organized to avail of the Protected Area Community Based Resource Management Agreement from the DENR.

The author in Gawahon, Victorias City. Potential site for ecotourism development in NNNP*

The author in Gawahon, Victorias City. Potential site for ecotourism development in NNNP*

Community participation in ecotourism is a very good livelihood opportunity for occupants in the protected area. In fact, residents in Patag, who have started to venture on visitors’ services, are earning quite well, and they no longer engage in natural resources extractive activities. Although there are still many concerns in order to systematize and improve the ecotourism services in this part of the NNNP, Patag has a lot of potentials to become a major ecotourism destination in Negros Occidental. The promotion and development of ecotourism is very crucial so that non-residents of the NNNP shall be prevented from constructing vacation houses, resorts and related amenities in the protected area, like what is happening now in Salvador Benedicto and even in Patag. Communities, who are qualified as tenured migrants, should be organized and provided with necessary assistance to extend ecotourism services.

Salvador Benedicto could also be an ideal site for community-based ecotourism, because it has a lot of scenic sites and pristine natural environment. There are also residents of Salvador Benedicto, who are actually occupying portions of the NNNP. Instead of promoting the area for tourism development by non-residents, how about providing support and assistance to tenured migrants to become ecotourism service providers? By encouraging and supporting communities to develop their areas for ecotourism, they may tend to avoid selling their land claims in the area to outsiders. Once capacitated and provided with support system, communities would be encouraged to protect the natural environment of the NNNP.

It should be understood, however, that when we talk about ecotourism, we are referring to development that does not involve

The trail leading to the different waterfalls in Gawahon, Victorias*

The trail leading to the different waterfalls in Gawahon, Victorias*

destructive activities and should be sensitive to the fragility of ecosystems. In the event that infrastructures shall be constructed, they must be located in hazard-free sites, done without cutting of natural growing trees and with provision of soil and water conservation measures. Structures should not impair visual corridors and must blend with the natural environment, instead of becoming eyesores. It is also necessary to include conservation awareness and education in ecotourism development. Nature-based activities, such as guided bird watching, walking, trekking and camping, should be promoted, too.

The other potential site for ecotourism development in NNNP is Gawahon in Victorias City. The city government has already constructed some facilities, but they require improvement and maintenance. There are communities that can be tapped for ecotourism development in the area. Some community members in this part of NNNP are also engaged in wild honeybee collections. Although there are still legal issues on this kind of livelihood, it seems the collectors are engaged in sustainable harvesting, since they have been doing the collection for quite a time already.

June 29, 2014 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Ecotourism, Forest Ecosystem, Protected Areas | , , , , , , , , , | 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