Errol Abada Gatumbato

Closing a mountain for mountaineering: The story of Mt. Kanla-on

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

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The view of the Kanla-on Volcano from the MKNP Administration Center at Sitio Calapnagan, Brgy. Biak-na-Bato, La Castellana, Negros Occidental. Ma. Gina Gerangaya photo*

I was reminded of the closure for mountaineering of the Mount Kanlaon Natural Park in Negros Island, two decades ago, after I recently learned that authorities at the Mount Pulag National Park in Luzon are considering similar action, too. It was in 1996 when I, as the then Protected Area Superintendent of the MKNP, recommended to the Protected Area Management Board the closing of the mountain from trekking, due to a number of pressing issues and concerns. There were oppositions from several mountaineering groups, but the PAMB stood firm to impose the temporary closure. It was a decision worth sharing again and again, so that other protected areas, particularly those sites with similar features to MKNP, may be able to learn some lessons and insights from it.

The prime consideration for the possible closure of Mt. Pulag is reportedly due to damages

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Mithi Laya Gonzales Suarez above the hovering clouds at Mt. Pulag. Leo Suarez photo*

created by the influx of visitors during the past years. The peak of Mt. Pulag, towering at 2,922 meters above sea level, is the highest in the entire Luzon and 3rd highest all over the Philippines, making it one of the favorite mountain destinations not only of local trekkers, but foreigners, too. Thousands are flocking to the area every year.

Mt. Pulag straddles several municipalities covering the provinces of Benguet, Nueva Vizcaya, and Ifugao. It is famous for its deep ravines, steep terrain, and the so-called “cloud forest”. A trek to Mt. Pulag is popularly known as an adventure above clouds, because there is a point where one is actually above the hovering clouds. Aside from mountaineering attractions, Mt. Pulag is similarly identified as one of the Key Biodiversity Areas of the Philippines, since it harbors numerous species of flora and fauna in various habitat types.

Phreatic explosion and other safety concerns

In August 1996, the Kanlaon Volcano exploded without prior indication, and at that time, there were 18 trekkers at the summit. The phreatic explosion took the lives of three trekkers, while several others were wounded. The incident reminded us that the four-kilometer radius from the crater is actually a permanent danger zone, as classified by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, and, therefore, it is supposedly close to all human activities.

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The active crater of the Kanla-on Volcano. Photo from MKNP Facebook Page*

The Phivolcs recommended the implementation of strict safety measures and standards if we will continue to allow trekking at the summit of the MKNP. While we were planning what safety measures shall be carried out, we saw the need to temporarily close the MKNP from trekking.

It was also observed that during the rainy season, it is not advisable to trek at the park, because of safety considerations. There were recorded accidents of mountaineers who trekked to the crater during the rainy season, since the visibility in the area is poor during this period.

Unregulated entry of trekkers

We conducted assessment on the impacts of mountaineering at the park, and our findings showed there were numerous trails leading to the summit, and they were expanding, to the extent of degrading the natural vegetation. Some areas were cleared of vegetation to serve as campsites. Numerous hikers, especially those from surrounding communities, were cutting natural growing trees for their camping tents and firewood. We noticed several graffiti that were engraved in big stones near the crater, and even in some giant trees. Solid wastes were cluttered in trails and campsites.

During the Holy Week in 1996, we found out the unregulated entry, not only of mountaineers, but thousands of faith healers who were in pilgrimage at the crater of the volcano during the Good Friday. These healers started trekking on Holy Thursday and camped overnight near a cave at the Margaha Valley, a dormant crater just below the present and active crater of the Kanla-on Volcano. At the campsite of these healers, we found out clearing and cutting of high elevation growing trees and gathering of plants believed to have medicinal values. However, we were not able to make immediate actions, because our team was outnumbered, and several unknown persons holding bladed weapons were surrounding us.

Biodiversity considerations

Aside from the MKNP’s feature as an active volcano and the negative impacts of

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The Margaha Valley. Photo from MKNP FB Page* 

unregulated entries of trekkers, there were biodiversity concerns that also need to be addressed. The MKNP is one of the most important protected areas in the country. It was one of the 10 pilot sites for the implementation of the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act, through the World Bank supported Conservation of Priority Protected Areas Project in the Philippines of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, from 1995 to 2002.

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The threatened Visayan warty pig*

The biodiversity assessment revealed that some trails and campsites leading to the peak of the MKNP are habitats of assorted species of flora and fauna. The “shoulder” of the volcano, popularly known to mountaineers as the “saddle”, is host to a variety of wild flora, and many of these plants are left unstudied, even to date. The Margaha Valley was found to be a grazing area of the threatened Visayan spotted deer. Traces of the equally threatened Visayan warty pigs were noted in Hardin Sang Balo and other campsites along the trails, from Murcia town to the summit of the MKNP.

Drafting of guidelines

Amidst all these challenges, the PAMB, led by the late Cornelio “Bob” Aizpuro, who was then the PAMB Ecotourism Committee chairperson and former City Planning and Development coordinator of La Carlota, drafted the first mountaineering guidelines for the MKNP. Edwin Gatia, a seasoned mountaineer and the officer-in-charge of the Department of Tourism in Negros Occidental province at that time, provided the necessary technical assistance in the preparation of the guidelines, which have been subjected to technical reviews and consultations with various stakeholders, such as communities, local governments, and mountaineering groups. The mountaineering permit at the MKNP was adopted after more than a year from its closure.

Mountaineering regulations

Official campsites and trails were properly designated with billboards and signs. Per expedition, only a maximum of 10 members, including the expedition team leader, is allowed. The team composition excludes mandatory guide (one guide to five climber ratio) and optional porters. In every trail, only one expedition party is allowed in a given time. Four trails are used for trekking to the summit. Other trails were closed for trekking.

Mountaineering is open from March to May and October to December at the park. Other months are low season where only one expedition party per trail is allowed in a month. Once PAGASA declares a weather disturbance or PHIVOLCS declares volcanic activity, the area shall be closed automatically from mountaineering.

Issuance of climbing permit, with corresponding fees, from the PASu is a mandatory requirement in trekking at the MKNP. Climbing parties are required to submit booking form, mountaineer information sheet, and notarized waiver of responsibility of the expedition members. Booking shall be made at least three months before the expedition. No one is allowed to enter the park for mountaineering without the approved permit from the PASu. The PAMB has imposed accreditation of porters and guides from communities, who underwent training on mountaineering and safety courses.

Compulsory climbing equipment and other materials are required, including individual sleeping bag, tent, pressure stove for cooking, and personal first aid kit. All expeditions are obliged to provide themselves with their own food rations, subject to inspection and approval. Only ready-to-cook food is allowed and campfires are prohibited. The carry in – carry out policy is included in the guidelines. All are expected to strictly observe the basic rules and ethics on environmental protection and conservation.

After I left the MKNP as park superintendent in 2002, to date, the mountaineering guidelines are being observed. I guess, however, that there is a need to revisit the different provisions of the guidelines, how they were carried out, and how they impacted, either positively or negatively, on the biodiversity, communities, and mountaineers through time, so that we can learn more lessons and insights on this aspect of nature recreation in protected areas. After all, there is such a thing as “responsible mountaineering”. EAG*

 

March 8, 2016 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Initiatives, Mountaineering, Mt. Kanla-on, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The KGB of Mount Kanla-on

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

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One of the lagoons in MKNP. Photo from MKNP Facebook Page*

Say KGB and one would immediately associate it with the defunct state security agency of the Soviet Union that was known for high-level espionage. The KGB is the acronym of Russia’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti, or the Committee for State Security. When I was appointed as the Protected Area Superintendent of the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park in Negros Island in 1995, I gave KGB another meaning – the Kanla-on Green Brigade, which until today, remains a vanguard in forest protection and law enforcement in one of the Key Biodiversity Areas of the Philippines.

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The author (3rd from left, 2nd row) with some KGB members*

Through the years, KGB members evolved not only as forest wardens, but also as mountain guides, porters, rescuers, and communicators, in addition to being involved in biodiversity monitoring. After my seven-year stint as the PASu of the MKNP in June 2002, I was provided with opportunities to visit and work in some other protected and conservation areas in the Philippines, until to date. As I progressed in these assignments, and while I would like to say that the KGB scheme has its own fallouts, limitations, trying moments, and even weaknesses, I am confident to claim, too, that, so far and after two decades, it is one of the most sustained mechanisms in forest protection in the country.

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The author at the MKNP Administration Center in Sitio, Calapnagan, Brgy. Biak-na-Bato, La Castellana, Negros Occidental*

What are the necessary elements of this sustainability? Community participation and benefits, continuing education, and imparting values and commitment to local folk in biodiversity conservation are among the key factors why the KGB of MKNP survived the challenges in protected area management through time. This is what I truly call community unity and efforts in protecting the area they call home and where they also derive their livelihood and income.

How the KGB in MKNP started? One of the major concerns we faced when we organized the PASu Office of the MKNP in 1995 was the limitation of personnel and financial resources for forest protection in the entire protected area covering about 24,557 hectares. We thought then that MKNP personnel alone could hardly implement forest protection, and, therefore, we need to create strategies to involve local communities and other concerned groups and agencies. It was timely, because the World Bank-supported Conservation of Priority Protected Areas in the Philippines Project of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources included MKNP as one of 10 project sites in the country.

Combining the newly hired and seasoned staff of MKNP, with forester Edgardo Rostata as my deputy PASu, now a full-fledged Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer in Cadiz City, and in partnership with the Multi-Sectoral Alliance for Development-Negros, we brainstormed how we should carry out biodiversity protection and law enforcement in MKNP. From the very start, my notion to make conservation efforts work was to involve communities in whatever undertakings.

With our team, I floated the idea of organizing community groups to become volunteers in biodiversity protection and law enforcement. There was hesitation on the part of some MKNP staff, because of the belief that communities will not get involve if they could not see any personal benefits and favor from that scheme. The security of those who will be involved was another consideration, including the possibility that they shall be alienated from community affairs. The other concern was how to proceed with organizing, especially with the logistical and financial requirements we need.

Amidst all these challenges, our team tried to dissect each issue and came out with possible options, and the first step was to intensify community awareness and education on the biodiversity significance of Mount Kanla-on. The formation of KGB started, not only on biodiversity awareness, but, more so, in inculcating deeper understanding and values on the importance of the MKNP to the lives of every community member. This was made possible by choosing clear and appropriate conservation messages and medium that created personal and emotional impacts to the target communication receivers. Effective communication strategies involved were direct interactions, dialogues, meetings, and immersion to communities.

The participation of nongovernment organization was another crucial element in the formation of KGB, and, through the support of the CPPAP, MUAD-Negros initiated social preparation, capacity building, and organizing the KGB in every barangay within the MKNP. Inter-phasing with the formation of KGBs, the MKNP park rangers were trained to assist in strengthening the organizations of different volunteers. Eventually, the park rangers became team leaders and they supervised the operations of KGB groups.

With the formation of KGBs, logistical and material support was secured from local government units, particularly the provincial government. In addition, instead of providing salaries or honorarium, the PASu Office and MUAD-Negros jointly sought livelihood projects, including reforestation projects, for KGBs. The KGBs further earned additional income from guiding and porter services in MKNP. They also became effective communication agents in the protected area, by conducting different information and education activities in communities.

Since protection and enforcements require skills and knowledge on legal matters, it was necessary to provide training on para-legal for KGBs. It was here when the PASu Office linked with the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office and NGOs with legal services to provide capacity building. It was very fortunate that then fiscal, and now judge, Philadelfa Agraviador, was the assigned prosecutor to handle environmental cases in Negros Occidental. She actively supported the KGBs with her legal technical assistance in capacity building, and in the filing and prosecuting of cases against suspected violators. From 1995 to 2002, the PASu Office has filed more than 40 cases involving illegal activities, leading to the conviction of at least 18 violators.

It is also necessary to highlight the important role of the PASu in maintaining the operations of KGBs. Since the time I was the PASu of the MKNP, from 1995 to 2002, and until now, the KGB scheme has already been integrated as a vital component of the protected area management. The MKNP management plan clearly articulated this scheme relative to the biodiversity protection and law enforcement strategy of the protected area.*

December 15, 2015 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Initiatives, Governance, Protected Areas, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Negros species vulnerable to extinction

BY: ERROL ABADA GATUMBATO

The status of the Visayan warty pig did not improve through the years. From vulnerable, its threat category has been elevated to critically-endangered because dangers to its existence in the wild are still very high.

The status of the Visayan warty pig did not improve through the years. From vulnerable, its threat category has been elevated to critically-endangered because dangers to its existence in the wild are still very high.

On March 3, 2015, the Philippines joined the commemoration of the World Wildlife Day, which was declared during the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly in December 2013. The secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) is taking the lead in implementing the World Wildlife Day every 3rd day of March. The Philippines is a signatory to this convention, which is intended for the protection of threatened species of the world. This inter-government treaty also aimed to ensuring that the international trade of wild animals and plants does not threaten the species survival in the wild.

The celebration of the World Wildlife Day is very important to the Philippines, because many of our endemic flora and fauna are already included in the Red List of Threatened Species of the IUCN – World Conservation Union and the Department of Environment Natural Resources. These species are classified as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable to extinction. The determination of threatened species is based on its population estimate in the wild and the degrees of threats facing its existence, among others.

Negros Island is of major concern when it comes to threatened faunal species. It has numerous endemic species that are already at the brink of extinction in the wild. For instance, the Negros fruit dove (Ptilinopus arcanus), discovered in Mount Kanla-on Natural Park from a single specimen in 1953, is already considered a lost species. It has never been recorded elsewhere after it was known to exist. The Birdlife International recommends thorough field survey of the Negros fruit dove in MKNP and other sites of Negros and Panay to determine if the species is still extant.

Another crucial species known only to occur in Negros, Panay, and Guimaras is the Rufous-headed hornbill

This pair of Rufous-headed hornbill is undergoing captive breeding at the Mariit Wildlife Conservation Park. Successfully bred species shall be programmed for reintroduction in vacant habitats. This is a joint initiate five of PBCFI, West Visayas State University and DENR. Photo grabbed at the FB Page of PBCFI.

This pair of Rufous-headed hornbill is undergoing captive breeding at the Mariit Wildlife Conservation Park in Iloilo province. Successfully bred species shall be programmed for reintroduction in vacant habitats. This is a joint initiative of PBCFI, West Visayas State University, and DENR. PBCFI photo*

(Rhabdotorrhinus waldeni), also known as Writhed-billed hornbill and Walden’s hornbill, which is suspected to be functionally extinct in the wild in Negros, according to IUCN, since it has never been recorded in the island for more than 10 years. However, in the survey conducted by the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. last year, the species was rediscovered in Northern Negros Natural Park. The species remains as critically endangered in terms of its threat category.

The status of the Visayan warty pig (Suss cebifrons) did not improve through the years. From vulnerable, its threat category has been elevated to critically-endangered because dangers to its existence in the wild are still very high. The population of this species is now limited in Negros, Panay, and possibly in Ticao Island. It is already extinct in its former range in Cebu, Guimaras, and Masbate. The late William Oliver, a British biologist who devoted more than two decades of his life in conserving the Philippines’ endemic wildlife, described the Visayan warty pig as the most threatened species of pig in the whole world.

The Negros Naked-backed fruit bat or Philippine Bare-backed fruit bat (Dobsonia chapmani) was formerly declared extinct because it has never been recorded since 1964. This species was formerly known to occur only in Negros until it was discovered in Cebu in 2001 and was later on rediscovered in southern Negros Occidental in 2003. The species remains classified as critically endangered because its survival is still bleak, especially since the lowland forests in Negros, where this fruit bat is known to occur, are now very limited.

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The Northern Negros Natural Park is host to numerous endemic species.

Several other endemic species found in Negros are already susceptible to extinction, because their population in the wild keeps on decreasing through the years, and they are not yet fully secured in the remaining habitats where they are currently surviving. The Negros bleeding-heart pigeon (Gallicolumba keayi), a lowland specialist bird, is another declared critically endangered species of Negros. It was earlier thought to be found only in Negros until its discovery in Panay in 1997. The survival of the Negros bleeding-heart requires the protection of the remaining lowland forests in Negros and Panay, and the rehabilitation of denuded areas to ensure that this colourful bird shall remain in the wild. Both Negros and Panay have already lost much of their lowland forests. Another contributing factor to the declining population of the Negros bleeding-heart is hunting, especially so that this particular bird is a ground-dwelling species. It is being hunted for food and as household pet.

The IUCN and the DENR have further declared numerous endemic species found in Negros as endangered species, which is the second highest level of threat assigned to a particular species that is not critically endangered but its survival in the wild is unlikely if the causal factors continue to exist. One of this species is the charismatic and beautiful Visayan spotter deer (Rusa alfredi), or Philippines spotted deer, that is only surviving in Negros and Panay, since it is already extinct in Cebu, Guimaras, and Masbate where the species was known to exist before. Massive hunting and habitat destruction are the two major causes why the Visayan spotted deer remains threatened to date.

Aside from critically endangered Negros naked-back fruit bat, another fruit bat found in Negros has also been declared as endangered species. The Philippine tube-nosed fruit bat (Nyctimene rabori), that can be found in Cebu and Sibuyan Island, too, is suspected to have less than 2,500 mature individuals in the wild, and threats to its existence, particularly deforestation and hunting, are still prevalent.

It is also interesting to note that Negros and Panay shared another species that could not be found elsewhere and it is a species of frog called the Negros forest frog. Although the population of this species in Panay has never been assessed in recent times, the Negros forest frog has been classified as endangered species, because threat to its survival is also high. The species has been known to occur in MKNP and in the forest patches in southern Negros Occidental.

Another kind of hornbill has been included in the list of threatened species, because its population in the wild is similarly declining. The Visayan tarictic hornbill (Penelopides panini) is a Philippine endemic species that is known to occur in Negros, Panay, Guimaras, Masbate, and Ticao. In the 19th century, the Visayan tarictic hornbill has been reported to be widespread and common in areas where they have been recorded.

The Negros striped-babbler (Stachyris nigrorum), a species known to exist only in Mounts Talinis and Kanlaon in Negros, is another threatened species classified as endangered, although there was another report of its sighting in Mantikil, Siaton town in Negros Oriental. Just like other species of birds, the Negros striped-babbler requires immediate protection on its remaining natural habitats.

These are only some of the important species that may soon be declared extinct, once threats to their existence, especially deforestation and hunting, shall not be totally curtailed. It is therefore very important that efforts on habitat protection and restoration shall be further strengthened in Negros and elsewhere where these species are known to survive. EAG.

March 17, 2015 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Initiatives, Deforestation and Degradation, Species Conservation | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The monkey sanctuary in Calatrava, Negros Occ.

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

I had the opportunity to visit the famous monkey sanctuary in Calatrava town in northern

The author at the monkey sanctuary*

The author at the monkey sanctuary*

Negros Occidental sometime last year and, indeed, it has potential for ecotourism if only proper conservation measures, especially in the management of animals, are applied. One bad example that is currently being tolerated is the feeding of monkeys so they would gather once visitors are in the area. There should be phase-out mechanisms for this practice, because the monkeys have started to be dependent on the food offered by the sanctuary’s caretakers and visitors.

Specifically located in Sitio Paitan, Barangay Paghumayan in Calatrava, the monkey sanctuary, also known as the wildlife sanctuary, covers almost 11 hectares of private land purchased by the municipal government for the purpose. It is located in a hilly portion, and where secondary forest patches of limestone forests are now growing in some of its portions and surrounding areas.

IMG_4597The protection of the forests and even the rehabilitation of denuded parts are very critical to maintain a healthy habitat for monkeys, and possibly to other available wildlife species in the area. It is necessary to establish a production site for the food supply of the monkeys. The municipal government has started to do this, but there is a need to expand and diversify the food sources of the monkeys. The production area should have a semblance of the site where the monkeys are securing their food naturally, and not through feeding. Eventually, the monkeys will be used to again getting their food requirements from the wild.

The other equally relevant measure that should be carried out is the modular tour and nature interpretation of the site. The monkeys in the sanctuary are already highly disturbed and they should be left in a place where they are comfortable. The current practice of calling the attention of animals to gather once visitors are in the site is another improper management of animals in the wild. There is an existing viewing deck at the sanctuary, which can be used to see the monkeys from afar. The management may provide binoculars to the visitors to see the monkeys where they are staying. In addition, it is important to develop a trail system and additional viewing areas where visitors can see the monkeys without directly interacting with them. This is also to avoid “person-wildlife” contaminating each other with possible illnesses or diseases.

IMG_4607The trail system shall be used then in modular and guided tours for visitors. It is a requirement, therefore, to organize and train local tour guides and they should be provided with sufficient information about monkeys and other wildlife species that may interest the visitors. As a wildlife sanctuary, the place should be devoted to the protection of the wildlife species, with limited opportunity for visitors program that should be specifically designed for conservation education and research. As such, picnic areas and cottages are not advisable since the visitors may opt to stay for a much longer period, and may bring their own food that would further attract the attention of monkeys. Viewing areas and trails system for guided tours are therefore sufficient amenities in the site. Fully secured toilets for visitors may be provided, too.

At this point, the sanctuary lacks nature interpretation program. There should be carefully-designed signage about the sanctuary and the monkeys. For instance, there are no warning signs along the road where the monkeys are also crossing. Vehicles should be advised to slow down and avoid the blowing of horns. The interpretation should also include the setting up of informative displays and other interesting presentations that would provide added attractions of the area. There are many possible things that can be done and I am sure it is not too late to make this place in Calatrava a world-class sanctuary of monkeys, where nature interpretation and education program is also given equal importance. EAG.

January 25, 2015 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Initiatives, Ecotourism, Nature Interpretation, Wildlife Species | Leave a comment

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

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