Errol Abada Gatumbato

Mt. Kanla-on reopens for mountaineering

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

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The active crater of the Kanla-on Volcano. Leiza May Gersalia photo*

The trails of the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park in Negros Island are once again open for mountaineering after they have been closed for a while due to volcanic alert level. The Phivolcs has recently lowered the Kanla-on Volcano’s alert level, from one to zero. MKNP Protected Area Superintendent Concordio Remoroza announced this development after his office has conducted site assessment. It was found out that the trails and campsites in the park are still serviceable. The summit of the MKNP, where the Kanla-on Volcano’s active crater is situated, towers at 2,435 meters above sea level. It is the highest peak in the Visayas and the 16th highest in the Philippines. In spite of the danger, the summit-crater is the ultimate destination for mountaineering in the MKNP.

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Margaha Valley, a dormant crater just below the existing and active crater. Leiza May Gersalia photo*

The volcano exploded without prior indication in August 1996 while there were 18 trekkers at the summit. It took the lives of three trekkers and wounded several others. The incident and other considerations prompted the MKNP’s Protected Area Management Board, at that time, to develop and implement mountaineering guidelines, which have been updated through the years. The guidelines include the automatic closure of the MKNP for mountaineering once the Phivolcs declares volcanic alert level 1 or higher. The MKNP is one of the favorite destinations of mountaineers because it is physically and emotionally challenging to reach its peak. The diverse and pristine sceneries along the trails and campsites are marvelous sites of different forest structures, colorful vegetation, and beautiful lagoons that can be viewed while one is progressing to higher elevations. There are four designated mountaineering trails in the MKNP.

The Guintubdan Trail in Sitio Guintubdan, shared by both La Carlota and Bago cities, is

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The author at the Guintubdan Entrance Station*

the most popular entry point. It is roughly 8.5 kilometers away from the summit-crater, and where the most breathtaking views of lush forests and numerous waterfalls are found. Some mountaineers may reach the peak using this trail within five to eight hours of continuous ascending hike. For those who wish for a more relaxing trek, there are two campsites along this trail where you can pitch a tent for overnight. The longest trail to the peak is the Wasay Trail, with the entrance located above the Mambukal Mountain Resort in Murcia. It will take two days to use this long, winding, and ascending trail to the summit with a distance of about 14 kilometers. This is the most picturesque trail, passing by the lovely “Hardin sang Balo” (widows’ garden), where various plants are competing for their beautiful colors and appearance amidst stunted trees, and the gorgeous PMS and RAMS lagoons.

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One of the waterfalls in the MKNP*

For adventurous trekkers, the Mananawin Trail in Brgy. Masulog, Canlaon City in Negros

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The view of the crater from the MKNP Administration Center in La Castellana*

Oriental might be one for you. While it is only seven-kilometer away from the crater, it will immediately expose climbers to direct and stiff assault terrain in open-cultivated and grassland areas with no water sources along the trail. The Mapot Trail in Brgy. Malaiba, also in Canlaon City, is a bit easier than Mananawin Trail, but it is also a direct assault kind of trail. The crater can be seen from these two entrance stations in Canlaon City when it is not cloudy.

The MKNP’s mountaineering season is during March, April, May, October, November, and December. A group, composed of a maximum of 10 trekkers, is allowed to trek in a day per trail during this period. The rest of the year is considered as low season, when only one group with a maximum of 10 trekkers is allowed in a month per trail. Issuance of mountaineering permit, with corresponding fees, from the PASu is a mandatory requirement in the MKNP. Climbing parties are required to submit booking form, mountaineer information sheet, and notarized waiver of responsibility of the expedition members. The booking shall be made at least three months before the expedition. The mountaineering fee is P500 for Filipinos and P1,000 for foreign nationals. There is an additional charge of P250 when you will be using different entry and exit points, except for Mananawin/Mapot entry and Wasay exit and vice-versa where additional fee of P450 will be charged.

The PAMB has imposed accreditation of porters and guides from communities, who underwent training on mountaineering and safety courses. It is mandatory to have a guide to a ratio of one guide to six trekkers. Hiring of porters is only optional. The fees are P750 and P500 per day for guiding and porter services, respectively.Compulsory climbing equipment and other materials are required, like individual sleeping bag, tent, pressure-stove for cooking, and personal first aid kit. Only ready-to-cook food is allowed and campfires are prohibited. The carry in-carry out policy is included in the guidelines. For further details and booking, you may email mknp.pasu@mail.com .*

July 6, 2017 Posted by | Ecotourism, Forest Ecosystem, Mountaineering, Mt. Kanla-on, Protected Areas, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Flowering trees in Mount Kanla-on gaining public attention

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

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The blooming flowers of Antsoan tree with the imposing background of the Kanla-on Volcano in Negros Island. Errol Gillang photo*

Beautiful photos of flowering trees at the foot slope of the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park in Negros Island have spread online during the past weeks. Specifically found in Sitio Calapnagan, Brgy. Biak-na-Bato, La Castellana in Negros Occidental, about two to three hours drive from Bacolod City, the blooming trees, with the imposing background of the Kanla-on Volcano, were photographed by several persons and they uploaded some photos in social media. The views are, indeed, marvelous as they really look like the Cherry blossoms, or Sakura trees, which are popular attractions in Japan. From then on, according to MKNP staff, the number of visitors increased at Calapnagan, where the administration center of the park is also located.

Alleged Palawan cherry blossoms

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Many though this is Palawan cheery blossom. Errol Gillang photo*

One article posted at www.choosephilippines.com claimed that residents in the area called these trees Palawan cherry blossoms. It caught my curiosity, because I was suspecting that the trees, with a mixture of pink, red, white, and yellow colored flowers, are not the Palawan cherry blossoms (Cassia javanica ssp. nodosa) that are recently known to me. The photo accompanying the said online article reminded me of similar pictures I took at the site almost two decades ago.

I requested one of the MKNP staff, Errol Gillang, to take close-up photos of the flowers, trunk, and leaves of the tree so I could consult some of my friends, who are botanists or with interests and working on botanical concerns, as to the exact identification of the species. After receiving several photos from my namesake, I shared them online, particularly Facebook, and responses to my post are interesting. Some friends pointed out the tree is similar to Palawan cherry, but a few suspected it as Salingbobog, known to science as Craveta religiosa, and one of our native species that can be found as well at the Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines. Surprisingly, Gillang told me they found a plate in one of the trees that states it is Akle (Albizia acle), a species native in the country.

Antsoan and Pink shower trees

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The flower of Pink shower tree, a species native to tropical America. Errol Gillang Photo*

It was botanists Pat Malabrigo and Pieter Pelser of the UP Los Baños and University of Canterbury, respectively, who confirmed that the species is Cassia javanica ssp. javanica or Antsoan, which is a non-native species of the Philippines, or an exotic one. Malabrigo further asserted that the so-called Palawan cherry, known as Pink cassia or Java cassia, is not native to the Philippines although it bears Palawan as its popular name, simply because it is widespread in that province.

Gillang sent me additional set of photos of lovely pink-colored flowers of another tree he found in Sitio Pabrica, Brgy. Cabagna-an, La Castellana and within the MKNP, too. I similarly posted the photos on my Facebook account, and Pelser identified it as Cassia grandis, a species native to tropical America. The common English name of this tree is Pink shower, according to biologist Renee Paalan of the Silliman University.

My Facebook posts on the two flowering plants received numerous and varied reactions. Many of my friends were amused of the beautiful color and gorgeous look of flowers, and some requested information where to secure the seeds or seedlings of trees, while many expressed interest to visit the sites where the two species are found. On the other hand, several friends in the conservation community were alarmed to know the presence of these exotic species in the protected area, and they urged the planting of indigenous or native trees, while suggesting the eradication of non-native species, because they might affect the biodiversity of the MKNP.

Forester Edgardo Cueto, a Ph. D on forest resources management recommended for the conduct of risk analysis to determine the impacts of exotic species on the MKNP’s biodiversity. He said the introduction of exotic species might “entail the modification of entire ecosystems, including overgrowing and shading out native species, changing fire regimes, and modifying water and nutrient systems.” Cueto added the species hybridization and introgression and ultimately the invasive meltdown are possible consequences. The result of the assessment shall be used in the decision-making by either extirpate the species or let them be managed properly, Cueto said.

Other exotic species and reforestation

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Other exotic species found at the MKNP administration centre are mahogany, eucalyptus, gmelina, and a species of teak*

The Antsoan is not the only exotic plant found at the MKNP administration center, as there are also mahogany, gmelina, eucalyptus, and a particular species of teak (Tectona grandis), among others, although several native species are available at the site, too. These trees were planted in the 1960s to 80s as part of the reforestation project of the then Bureau of Forest Development, and later on the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, forester Johnny Flores, who served as a manager of the project site at one point in time, said.

I could only assume that the planting of these exotic species in the area was done with noble intention of reforesting the site that was badly deforested prior to it, according to local folks. I think, the issue of exotic species in relation to biological diversity has never been considered seriously at that time. If my recollection is right, it was only in the mid 80s when the issue of biodiversity started to become popular and the advocacy for planting of native plant species emerged.

I could recall that the late forester Larry Cayayan, who was then the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer of Negros Occidental in early 1990s, once told me the reforestation at Calapnagan included the planting of flowering trees at the park’s boundary so there would be visible markers that will separate it from private lands. He opined that in a way these flowering trees would be an added attraction of the park.

Most likely, with the influenced of the government’s reforestation project, settlers, not only at Calapnagan but also in other barangays within Mount Kanla-on, planted trees, comprised mostly of exotic species, in their backyards and farm lots, while others established tree farms. While Mount Kanla-on was established as a national park in 1934, it has never been spared from settlements that became political units as barangays through the years.

Mount Kanla-on and NIPAS

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The recovering forest at the MKNP administration center*

Mount Kanla-on became an initial component of the National Integrated Protected Areas System with the enactment of Republic 7586 in 1992. The NIPAS Act transformed the national parks and other nature reserves to protected areas, and from then on, biodiversity conservation was the focused on the establishment and management of these sites. Prior to this, we were largely following the American-tailored national park system, as introduced by the American colonial regime in 1932. As one measure to protect the biodiversity, the DENR came out with a guideline prohibiting the introduction of exotic species in protected areas.

When I was the park superintendent of the MKNP, from 1995 to 2002, my staff and me were aware of the presence of these exotic species. We knew these flowering trees, but with all honesty, we were unsure at that time if this so called Palawan cherry is an exotic species, although we were more in suspicion that it is, indeed, a non-native tree. I did not take much interest over these trees, because some are planted in the disputed “private lands” within the MKNP. I reviewed the 1st management plan of the MKNP, but unfortunately it did not list and discuss exotic species.

Considerations and possible options

The Protected Area Management Board of the MKNP, when I was still the park superintendent, came out with a policy allowing the cutting of planted and exotic species in the area. The purpose of the guideline was to minimize pressure to remaining natural forests by allowing communities to utilize and benefit from their planted exotic trees. In every tree cut, a replacement of five native species was required. It was also a way to eradicate exotic species in the area. The policy did not include cutting of trees at the government’s reforestation sites, as there might be issues on audit regulations.

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Some exotic species are now populated with vines and other plants*

I was at the MKNP administration center last year, and I observed that it seems the number of these exotic trees did not increase. I noticed some mahogany trees are already invaded with vines and other plants, while several undergrowth species are noticeable. The interest of the local government of La Castellana to promote this area for tourism purposes is understandable and a good idea. In fact, in the original management plan of the MKNP, this site has been identified as ecotourism zone, because, aside from the remaining natural forests found in the area, it is here where one can have a good view of the towering Kanla-on Volcano, and it is ideal for picnic, camping, and other outdoor activities.

I am amendable to Cueto’s recommendation to conduct a study on exotic species and its impacts, not only at Calapnagan, but the entire MKNP so that appropriate conservation measures shall be adopted by the PAMB. MKNP is also gifted with numerous native flowering plants that can be propagated. The MKNP Act of 2001, or Republic Act 9154, prohibits the establishment and introduction of exotic species with allelopathic effect, or those detrimental to endemic species, or without prior PAMB permit.*

April 17, 2017 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Ecosystems, Ecotourism, Forest Ecosystem, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Energy exploration and development in protected areas

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

Several protected areas in the Philippines are now confronted with proposals for the exploration and development of energy resources. The Northern Negros Natural Park in Negros Occidental is one of these PAs being eyed for geothermal survey. Other PAs known to me that have similar energy issues with the NNNP are the Naujan Lake National Park in Oriental Mindoro and the Bulusan Volcano Natural Park in Sorsogon. Although not officially listed as a PA but recognized as a key biodiversity area, Mt. Talinis, or Cuernos De Negros, is another site proposed for the expansion of a geothermal project in Negros Oriental.

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The NNNP accounts the largest remaining natural forest in Negros Island*

These energy proposals in PAs are actually not new, since geothermal projects already exist in the Mt. Kanla-on and Mt. Apo Natural Parks in Negros and Mindanao, respectively. However, circumstances on how these projects entered in the two PAs were different from the current status of the NNNP and all other declared natural parks and strict nature reserves, which are already placed under the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act, or Republic Act 7586.

 

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Bulusan Volcano Natural Park in Sorsogon is another protected area facing geothermal energy concern*

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Naujan Lake National Park in Oriental Mindoro is also being eyed for geothermal energy development*

Geo-scientific study

I’ve learned from Provincial Environment and Management Office personnel of Negros Occidental that the Lopez-controlled Energy Development Corp. has presented its proposed geo-scientific study to the NNNP Technical Working Group. The EDC has similarly sought endorsement for this proposed study from different local government units in the province. The EDC has an existing geothermal service contract with the Department of Energy covering Mount Mandalagan, a thickly forested mountain range that accounts for a large part of the NNNP. Reportedly, about 20 megawatts of geothermal energy can be sourced out from the site, but it is only an initial estimate based on available information. This is probably the reason why it is necessary for the EDC to conduct further study in NNNP.

This proposed study, once implemented, would not in anyway entail damages to the environment and biodiversity of the NNNP. A geo-scientific study does not involve use of heavy equipment, landscape alteration, cutting of trees, wildlife displacement, and other disturbances. Moreover, geothermal is a renewable resource and clean energy source that may be able to substitute non-renewable and dirty sources of power.

Important considerations

It should be understood, however, that the NNNP is a declared PA. Several provisions of

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NNNP is a declared protected area under the NIPAS*

the NIPAS Act require serious considerations before any decision is made on the EDC proposal. Aside from legal concerns that maybe subjected to numerous interpretations, we need to discern and evaluate, too, the very purpose of establishing a PA, and how valuable it is in terms of biological diversity, ecosystem services, and other crucial and long-term benefits it offers to the environment and people.

It is not a question of choosing between “the devil and the deep blue sea”, or “the good and the bad”, just like these sayings usually imply once we are pressed with difficult choices and decisions. This is a matter of exploring more viable options and alternatives so we can both address the maintenance of ecological balance for our survival and common good, and the pressing requirements of renewable energy sources that will not destroy our natural environment.

It is very vital to take into account ecological concerns, especially in areas where natural ecosystems are already badly impaired and require immediate rehabilitation. Negros, for instance, had lost most of its natural forests, and where a good number of endemic species of flora and fauna is highly threatened, some of which are restricted only to this newly declared region of the Philippines.

In my opinion and understanding, having been provided with the opportunity to work in several PAs for the past two decades, and to participate in some deliberations and consultations on the proposed NIPAS Act, before it was enacted into law in June 1992, it is the intention of RA 7586 to spare PAs categorized as a strict nature reserve or natural park from energy study or survey, exploration, and utilization. The energy development in PAs was one of the contentious issues taken up during the drafting and consultations of the proposed NIPAS Act almost three decades ago.

NIPAS Act energy provisions

Framers and authors of the NIPAS Act provided adequate measures to safeguard declared natural parks and strict nature reserves from energy exploration and utilization, as they included a specific prohibition on energy surveys in these sites. Section 14 of the NIPAS Act articulates, “Consistent with the policies declared in Section 2, hereof, protected areas, except strict nature reserves and natural parks, may be subjected to exploration only for the purpose of gathering information on energy resources and only if such activity is carried out with the least damage to surrounding areas”.

The same section of the NIPAS Act further states, “Surveys shall be conducted only in accordance with a program approved by the DENR, and the result of such surveys shall me made available to the public and submitted to the President for recommendation to Congress. Any exploitation and utilization of energy resources found within the NIPAS areas shall be allowed only through a law passed by Congress”. These two last sentences of section 15 of RA 7586 seemingly refer to protected areas that are not categorized as a strict nature reserve or natural park. The NIPAS Act offers other PA categories where energy exploration may be allowed.

Section 15 underscored the policy declaration set forth in Section 2, which claims, “It is the policy of the state to secure for the Filipino people of present and future generations the perpetual existence of all native plants and animals through the establishment of a comprehensive system of integrated protected areas within the classification of national park as provided in the Constitution”.

The policy declaration acknowledges the profound impacts of human activities to all components of the natural environment, citing the effects of increasing population, resource exploitation, and industrial advancement, while clearly recognizing “the critical importance of protecting and maintaining the natural biological and physical diversities of the environment, notably on areas with biologically unique features to sustain human life and development, as well as plant and animal life”.

NIPAS Act intention

With these enunciations of RA 7586, it is clear that surveys for energy should not be allowed in natural parks. Some may claim that a geo-scientific study is different from exploration. If I will make a reference to what I’ve learned from various presentations of the EDC, it is true, because exploration, in the parlance of energy companies, involves locating energy reserves and drilling. However, “exploration”, as being referred to in the NIPAS Act, means the gathering of information on energy resources. I am wondering if the proposed geo-scientific study of the EDC will not entail generating data on energy resources in the NNNP. Given the existing geothermal service contract of the EDC with the DOE covering Mt. Mandalagan, the proposed study presumably would include survey on geothermal resources in the area.

Regardless of the associated provision of RA 7586 granting authority to Congress to pass a

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The critically endangered Negros bleeding-heart pigeon exists in the NNNP. PBCFI Photo*

law for any exploitation and utilization of energy resources found within the NIPAS sites, it is doubtful how the lawmaking processes will proceed if prior gathering of detailed information on the potential energy resources at the targeted natural park or strict nature reserve has never been allowed. It is precisely the motivation why the NIPAS Act prohibits gathering of information on energy resources in natural parks and strict nature reserves, because it aims to protect these areas for the ultimate goal of “securing for the Filipino people the perpetual existence of all native plants and animals,” and not for any form of energy exploration and development, either it is renewable or not, or with least damage to the environment.

Mounts Apo and Kanla-on

One may further ask why geothermal utilization was allowed then in Mt. Apo and later on in Mt. Kanla-on (then spelled Canlaon)? When the geothermal reservation was sliced from the Mt. Apo National Park in 1992, it was only a few months before the NIPAS Act was enacted. On the other hand, Mt. Kanla-on was not yet declared as a natural park when the former government-controlled Philippine National Oil Corporation-EDC proposed its geothermal project in the area. In fact, it was the main reason why the PNOC-EDC insisted and worked hard for the exclusion of its proposed geothermal site from the proclamation of the MKNP in 1998.

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A buffer zone for geothermal energy development was included in the declaration of the MKNP as protected area*

NNNP declaration

Presidential Proclamation 895 declared the former Northern Negros Forest Reserve as a protected area under the category of a natural park, and it is now called the NNNP. The NNNP has an estimated land area of about 80,454.50 hectares, covering Mounts Marapara, Canlandog, Silay, and Mandalagan in the northern part of Negros Occidental. It is being managed in accordance with the NIPAS Act, as mandated by its proclamation.

Extractive resource uses are not allowed in natural parks, and supposedly, they are being maintained to protect outstanding natural and scenic areas of national or international significance for scientific, educational, and recreational purposes. The biological and ecological values are important factors for the NNNP’s designation as a natural park.

The PA has the largest remaining intact forests in Negros Island, and where limited and yet biologically diverse lowland forests still exist. It is habitat to numerous endemic species, and accounts for several ecosystems that provide various ecological services, such as watershed and carbon sink. It helps mitigate the impacts of natural hazards and risks, like heavy flooding, landslides, and soil erosion, among others. Its potential for nature-based tourism could not be understated, because it has several scenic and beautiful attractions.

Geothermal development impacts

The valuation and accounting of the NNNP’s ecological services may likely outweigh the benefits from 20 megawatts of geothermal energy that may be generated from this area. Geothermal is a clean source of energy, but its development entails adverse impacts to the environment. In Mounts Kanla-on and Apo, geothermal development involved forest clearing, since specific sites where geothermal can be sourced out were forested. Access roads, which connected the different drilling pads, were constructed to tap the geothermal energy. Clearing was further done in every one-hectare drilling pad and plant site.

The consequence of forest clearing is the loss of vegetation comprising not only of trees, but other native floral species and organisms, too. Once forest is cleared, it will dislocate faunal species that used to inhabit there, and further add threats to the endangered wildlife in surrounding areas. It will affect the source of our water, since the forest and its immediate environs are natural water reservoirs. Geothermal development will ultimately alter and modify nature designed and created landscapes.

Other major issues

The NNNP is already facing numerous issues. More than half of its area is now heavy with permanent settlement and agriculture, community centers, and infrastructures, to name a few. There are pending proposals to exclude certain parts of the PA for declaration as alienable and disposable lands, and relocation site for rebel returnees. Several private vacation houses and resorts were constructed in the area without permits. These challenges have yet to be resolved, and here comes the proposal on geothermal energy. Do we want to maintain the NNNP as a PA, or do we want to disestablish it for other purposes? The disestablishment of the NNNP as a PA is still an option, if we don’t care enough for the remaining gifts and wonders of nature found in NNNP, and the associated benefits they offer to present and future generations.

Energy requirements

How about the pressing needs of energy today and in the future? Shall we continue relying on fossilized and other non-renewable energy sources? Are there no other viable renewable energy resources, except geothermal? Arlene Infante, an entrepreneur who is privy on energy issues, has only this to say, “ Our solar farms are sprouting like mushrooms, and we don’t need to compromise our last remaining forests and water source.”

Lawyer Eli Gatanila, a realtor who also follows energy development in Negros Occidental, provided me with a list of solar energy projects in the province, and they are quite promising. Based on the list, there are already four operational solar power plants with a combined capacity of 261.6 megawatts in Negros Occ., while two others, with a total capacity estimate of 80 megawatts, are under construction. Can we not rely on these power sources? I am sure there are pros and cons between geothermal and solar energies, but one good thing in solar power plant was no forest clearing has been done on its development in Negros Occidental.EAG*

August 10, 2016 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Ecosystems, Energy Development, Forest Ecosystem, Mt. Kanla-on, Protected Areas, Renewable Energy, Species Conservation, Uncategorized, Watershed | Leave a comment

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

Wetlands of international importance in Negros Occidental

BY: ERROL ABADA GATUMBATO

Waterbirds in Pulupandan, Negros Occidental. Godfrey Jakosalem Photo*

The recent Asian Waterbird Census in Negros Occidental jointly conducted by the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc., Negros Forest and Ecological Foundation, Inc., Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Provincial Environment and Management Office affirmed the province’s importance in terms of biodiversity conservation in global scale. The findings of the survey may also boost the potential of Negros Occidental as an important birding site in the Philippines.

Lisa Paguntalan, PBCFI Director for Field Operations and one of the members of the survey team disclosed that migratory bird species are abundant in wetlands and coastline areas of Pulupandan, San Enrique, Pontevedra and Ilog municipalities and Kabankalan City. The variety and number of species found in these areas are good enough to propose their declaration as Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention.

Migratory birds in San Enrique, Negros Occidental. Godfrey Jakosalem Photo*

In Pulupandan, the survey team recorded a total of 38 waterbird species comprising of 2,851 individuals. This site accounts the highest number and population of duck species among the areas covered by the survey. Among the species recorded in this site were Black-winged stilts, Egrets and Whistling duck. The endemic Philippine duck has been noted also in Pulupandan wetlands. In San Enrique-Pontevedra wetlands, some 37 waterbird species involving 10,939 individuals were counted by the survey team. Thirty two species in these sites are migratory birds. Species identified in San Enrique-Pontevedra wetlands included Asiatic dowitcher, Chinese egret, Eurasian curlew, Far eastern curlew and Black-tailed godwits.

On the other hand, the survey in Kabankalan-Ilog wetlands recorded a total of 50 waterbird species of which 34 are migratory birds. The individual species count in these wetlands reached about 13,764.  Some species identified in these sites are similar with the species discovered by the survey team in San Enrique-Pontevedra wetlands.

Paguntalan, an ornithologist by profession, said the recent waterbird census in Negros Occidental yielded some interesting scientific notes and facts. She claimed the survey recorded the Little stint (Calidris minuta), which was only recorded in the country in 1903 and it was the first record of the species in Negros since 1888. The survey also resulted to the 4th record of Caspian tern in the Philippines and so far the highest number of individuals recorded. The 4th record in the Philippines and second record in Negros of Sanderling (Calidris alba) were similarly obtained during the waterbird census. The 3rd country record of the Broad-billed sandpiper (Limicola falcinellus) was further made during the survey.

The surveyed areas are actually considered migration or navigational routes of the migratory birds or also known as Migratory Flyways. In the Philippines, only the Olango Island in Cebu has been recognized as part of the East Asian – Australian Flyway. These migratory sites are very important to several species of birds that are taking refuge in tropical countries during winter.  Usually migratory birds attract the interest of global birding community.

So far, there are only four sites in the Philippines declared as Wetlands of International Importance and these are the Olango Island in Cebu, Naujan Lake in Oriental Mindoro, Tubbataha Reef in Palawan and Agusan Marsh in Agusan del Sur. The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance or popularly known as Ramsar Convention is an inter-governmental treaty providing the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation of wetlands and their resources.  It is the only global environmental treaty focusing on a particular ecosystem and was adopted in 1971. The Philippines is one of signatories of the treaty. (This article is also published at the 20 February 2012 issue of the Visayan Daily Star, Bacolod City).

February 19, 2012 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Coastal and Marine Ecosystems, Ecosystems, Species Conservation | , , , , , | 1 Comment

The unique Savannah ecosystem of Calamianes

BY: ERROL ABADA GATUMBATO

CORON, PALAWAN – The moment I disembarked from a commercial flight from Manila to this northern tip municipality of Palawan province last week, I immediately noticed a different kind and yet an awesome environment, which I thought could only be found mostly in African regions. The relatively dry scenery, with forest patches scattered in vast grasslands, reminded me of African animals that were transported and are surviving in Calauit, one of the islands comprising the Calamian Group of Islands or Calamianes. This island group also includes Culion, Busuanga and over a hundred more islands. Coron and Busuanga municipalities occupy the Busuanga Island, while Culion is a separate island municipality. Coron is another island in Coron municipality, a popular tourist destination in this part of the Philippines and an important ancestral domain of the Tagbanwas.

As we traversed the road from the airport to the town proper, several sites offer glimpses to what I compared with Jurassic, because you seem to be in an isolated place, with some strange animals may suddenly appear, especially with the mystique and serene ambient provided by the late afternoon’s Sun.  With the beautiful landscape, I could only imagine that I was in an African Safari. When I shared this observation to Lisa Paguntalan, she told me the scenery is actually a semblance of what the Calamianes, also known as Calamian Islands, looked like some 23,000 years ago.

Paguntalan, Director for Field Operations of the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc., and I were in Coron to attend the First Coron Environment Forum organized by Coron Initiative, through the efforts of Susan Santos de Cardenas of the Sustainable Tourism, Hospitality, Events and Marketing, and Al Linsangan of the Calamianes Cultural Conservation Network, Inc., with the participation of various local, national and international institutions. Paguntalan, a biologist by profession who has conducted intensive faunal study in Calamianes, further said there was a recent publication describing the ecosystem of Calamian Group of Islands as more of a Savannah type that is quite unique and different compared with other ecosystems usually found in other parts of the Philippines. This probably explains why those African species in Calauit survive and thrive, because the Calamianes is characterized by Savannah ecosystem, which is the original habitat of those animals.

Unlike with tropical rainforest, Savannah is actually a grassland ecosystem interspersed with relatively smaller trees that are widely distributed. The canopy of trees in a Savannah ecosystem is open, allowing grasses to survive and bloom in between trees.  Africa accounts the largest Savannah ecosystem in the world. This type of ecosystem is also exemplified with distinctive assemblage of flora and fauna. The features of Calamianes can be traced to the geological and biological history of the Philippines.  Scientists claim the Philippines Archipelago was divided by deep water channels and bisected by one of the world’s major bio-geographic divides, known to science as Huxley’s Line that produced several separate and highly distinct faunal regions. Palawan Island and its associated islands, or collectively called as the Greater Palawan Faunal Region, are the only parts of the Philippines lying west of Huxley’s Line. Such formation makes Palawan’s characteristics closely associated with the Greater Sunda Islands, comprising of Borneo, Java and Sumatra, than the rest of the Philippines. This explains why the biological composition, particularly the fauna and habitat, of Palawan is quite different from other islands in the country, as clearly presented in terms of its species endemism, accounting at least 16 endemic mammals and 17 endemic birds and a large but still poorly known endemic herpetofauna.

Through time, however, Calamianes reportedly evolved as a distinct group of islands and seemingly maintained its original Savannah ecosystem, while tropical rainforests developed in Palawan mainland.   It is by this account that Calamianes is considered as a sub-center of endemism within the Greater Palawan Faunal Region, because there are restricted species confined only in this group of islands, such as the famous Calamian deer, Busuanga tree squirrel and Culion tree squirrel, although there also regional endemic found in the area, like the Palawan stink badger, Palawan porcupine, Palawan flying fox and Palawan bearded pig.  The exceptional features of the Calamianes make this group of islands as an important biodiversity conservation area not only of the Philippines but the entire world.  The protection of the unique ecosystems and endemic species found in the different islands is therefore of paramount importance and that is precisely the primary motivation why it is being considered as one of the priority conservation sites of our organization, the PBCFI.

Author’s Note: Photos appearing in this article are all provided by Lisa Paguntalan of the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc. (PBCFI)

November 14, 2011 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Initiatives, Ecosystems, Species Conservation | Leave a comment

Negros Occidental faces more ecological stress

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

Negros Occidental has barely four percent forest cover out of its total land area*

The environmental condition of Negros Occidental is already in critical state with the deterioration of its numerous ecosystems. The natural forest of the province is hardly four percent of its total land area, and its capacity to provide ecological services is already threatened. The remaining forests of Negros Occidental are primarily confined in the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park, Northern Negros Natural Park, and some forest patches in the southern part of the province.  These minimal forests are not yet fully secured because they are still threatened with destruction, especially in southern Negros Occidental where there are several mining applications and operations. Mining is a key environmental concern not only in Negros Occidental but the entire country, because most mining sites are similarly situated in the remaining forested areas.  Mining operations entail forest clearing, landscape alteration, and pollution. Washouts from mining operations also find their way into river systems and ultimately into coastal and marine ecosystems. Mining activities also affect wildlife and their habitats. Based on scientific studies, the forests in southern part of the province serve as critical habitats of important wildlife species, many of which are already threatened with extinction in the wild. The presence of threatened species clearly indicates the bad and worsening state of the environment.

Adding pressures to the already deteriorating ecological situation of Negros Occidental are the proposed coal-fired power plant and the offshore magnetite sand mining. Coal is known as a dirty source of energy and it contributes carbon emission in the atmosphere, not to mention that it is likewise hazardous to human health. Coal-fired power plant is being entertained because of the reported power shortage in Negros Occidental but ultimately it will likely result to a more serious environmental problem. The proposed offshore magnetite sand mining in the different parts of the province is really a disturbing development because it will create environmental havoc. Very recently, a scoping was held for the environmental impact assessment of the proposed magnetite sand mining covering more than 20,000 hectares offshore areas in Silay City and EB Magalona. The reported proponent of this offshore mining is the Massart Mineral Resources, Inc. based in Ermita in Manila City.

This proposed mining operation will surely affect the coastal and marine ecosystems, because it involves dredging and barging and construction of port facilities, among others.   Just like the forest, the coastal and marine ecosystems in Negros Occidental are already in terrible state with limited mangrove forest left and the coral reefs are fragmented and in poor condition. The proposed offshore mining may possible cover mangrove sites, particularly in Barangay Balaring in Silay where mangroves are still available. The fact that this mining operation will entail dredging of minerals will loosen and destabilize the sand. Moreover, this mining claim will dislocate the economy of fishing communities because the proposed area of operation is basically within the municipal waters, which are intended as fishing grounds of municipal fisher folks. 

While it is true that these proposed environmentally critical projects may offer economic opportunities, it is very important that we shall also consider their social and environmental costs. Unfortunately, the environmental impact assessment in the Philippines does not provide detailed cost and benefit analysis and valuation, to determine if these proposed projects are indeed beneficial in the long-term.  The economic benefits derived from these projects may not be enough to compensate environmental damages and far below the ecological services provided by natural ecosystems. If all these projects will finally be approved, Negros Occidental will become highly industrialized but how long the critical ecosystems of the province can withstand with these?

May 17, 2011 Posted by | Coastal and Marine Ecosystems, Deforestation and Degradation, Ecosystems, Forest Ecosystem, Mining | 4 Comments

Good Friday is Earth Day

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

The 2011 Logo of the Earth Day in the Philippines*

The Lenten Season started with Palm Sunday last April 17. Many Catholic devotees are spending Holy Week in prayers, reflecting the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, due to the long break during this period, a good number of people is also maximizing the week for outdoor vacations, usually in beaches, mountains, and other natural sites. During the Holy Week, most popular tourist destinations in the country are full and where prayerful mood is hardly felt.  Whatever anyone will do and wherever it will be, let us be reminded that the forth coming Good Friday is also the world’s Earth Day commemoration. Several years ago, the United Nations declared April 22 as Earth Day to highlight the importance of the only known planet thus far that is habitable to human beings. In the Philippines, both government and non-government organizations are launching numerous activities to highlight environmental messages. Some groups are observing Earth Day by implementing protest actions against projects and policies they viewed as detrimental to the environment, while certain institutions are showcasing their conservation initiatives.

A Catholic bishop was quoted in national news urging the postponement of Earth Day celebration since many people are busy reflecting and doing sacrifices on Good Friday.  On the contrary, I find the coincidence of Earth Day and Good Friday as a meaningful turn of event, because just like the sufferings of Jesus Christ, our Earth, which for the faithful is God’s truly creation, is agonizing from severe devastation inflicted by its supposed stewards.  Probably, the suggestion of the said bishop is on the notion that Earth Day celebration is a festive one and inappropriate during the Good Friday. However, commemoration can also be done solemnly after all we have really nothing to celebrate about the Earth because of its deteriorating state. It is therefore timely that during this Good Friday we shall also reflect on what’s happening with God’s creations in this Planet Earth.

In the 80’s, the Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines came out with a pastoral letter about what’s happening to our natural environment, which described numerous issues from the forest, water, land, air, marine, and other natural resources. If my memory serves me right, the title of that pastoral letter was “Living Lightly over the Earth”, and it was a very good reading material on the biblical context of nature and the role of people as stewards of God’s majestic creations. It said something like “one need not to be an expert to see what is happening to our once beautiful land” and this message still holds true today.

One glaring manifestation of the Earth’s continuing deterioration is the climate change phenomenon, primarily due to the destruction of the ozone layer and other ecological problems. The changing climatic conditions have adversely affected the global climate, including the increasing temperature and rising sea water level. The weather is getting unpredictable and is now affecting the seasonal cropping and fishing patterns not only of the Philippines but also of other nations.  There seems to be a never-ending list of environmental issues we are facing today.  Air, water and land pollution, deforested mountains, damaged coral reefs, enormous solid waste, presence of toxic chemicals, and unregulated and over exploitation of natural resources are among of the serious ecological challenges confronting us today.  Most if not all of these are anthropogenic in nature and probably it is important for us to reflect during this Lenten Season on what we as an individual, as a community, and as a nation can do to make our Earth a “better place to live”, as one line of a song goes.  If Jesus Christ died to redeem the sins of the world, it is only worthy that each of us, Christians, will also do something in protecting and conserving what have been created for us, supposedly to be used wisely and sustainably and not by exploiting them beyond repairs.

April 20, 2011 Posted by | Climate Change, Conservation Events, Conservation Initiatives, Ecosystems | 2 Comments

The pitfalls of the logging ban EO

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

True to his words, President Benigno S. Aquino III issued last week Executive Order No. 23, relative to logging issues in the Philippines. I believe EO 23 is one of the rightful recognitions on the profound impacts of the changing climatic conditions and the importance of ecological services and functions offered by the forest ecosystems, more than the short-term economic benefits from the massive exploitation of forest resources.  The critical condition of the Philippines’ forests, which unfortunately have been recently described by Conservation International as the world’s 4th most threatened forests, requires concrete and bold steps, although I hope it is not yet too late for the country.

I am particularly emphasizing that EO 23 refers to logging-related concerns because I found inconsistencies and pitfalls on how it was actually crafted in relation to its main intent of imposing a logging ban throughout the nation. The Executive Order offers some promising provisions, but there are disturbing circumstances and questionable sections associated with this supposedly a milestone policy declaration of the Aquino administration.

Last February 3, I browsed the website of the Official Gazette and immediately noticed the posted title of EO 23 was “Declaring a Moratorium on the Cutting and Harvesting of Trees in National and Residual Forests and Creating Anti-Illegal Logging Task Force”.  When I further scrutinized the EO, I discovered several sentences stating that cutting and harvesting of trees in “national and residual forests” are indeed prohibited.  I wondered then why the term “national” was used when referring to a forest. With the advent of social media, I posted my observation as a status in my Facebook account with a link to the Official Gazette’s website.  The following day, Rina Bernabe of Conservation International called my attention, pointing out that the website of the Official Gazette has already corrected all the “national forest” to “natural forest” in EO 23. Such development makes me speculate on what really the exact words provided in the signed EO.

For some of us the term may not be that important at all, but for an executive order, I think, every term used is very relevant because it will be subjected with numerous interpretations, particularly when it comes to technical matters.  For more than two decades of my involvement in environment and natural resources management, both in government and non-government institutions, I am not aware that there is a classified “national forest” in the Philippines, although in some other countries it is used to describe a forest under the management of a national government.  Obviously, with the corrections made in the Official Gazette’s website, the intention of EO 23 is to impose a logging moratorium in “natural and residual forests”, which refer to forests that have evolved naturally.  I could only wish the EO 23 signed by the President was accurately worded, otherwise, there is no point of issuing a regulation for a non-existing matter, like “national forest”. Much more, I would like to be optimistic that it was just an encoding error on the part of responsible personnel in the Official Gazette because legal questions may come out against the said EO.

The second important issue in EO 23 I found ironical is in Section 2.2 that states, “The DENR is likewise prohibited from issuing/renewing tree cutting permits in all natural and residual forests nationwide, except for clearing of road right of way by the DPWH, site preparation for tree plantations, silvicultural treatment and similar activities, provided that all logs derived from the said cutting permits shall be turned over to the DENR for proper disposal”. The exemption on tree cutting and harvesting in natural and residual forests for road clearing and construction is very alarming because there are in fact existing issues of forest destruction due to road projects of government and some private corporations.  It is just like saying the government is allowing itself to wipe out natural forests for purposes of road development while imposing a total log ban.

I don’t find it logical, too, that permits for tree cutting maybe issued for site preparation of the so called “tree plantation”. Do we need to cut natural-growing trees to plant more trees? I am not sure what the intention of this provision is, but I am apprehensive that it will be used particularly for industrial tree plantation purposes.  Most of the Timber License Agreements before are now converted into Industrial Forest Management Agreements.  The IFMA is a production sharing agreement between the DENR and qualified applicants, usually wood producers, granting the latter with exclusive right to develop, manage, protect, and utilize a specified forestland primarily intended for industrial tree plantation.

I am afraid the exemption on cutting naturally-growing trees provided by EO 23 shall be invoked by IFMA holders for their industrial tree plantation, which in a way, would become another logging in a different form. In the same manner, other forestland tenure instruments, such as Socialized Forest Management Agreements and even Community Based Forest Management Agreements, may take the opportunity of the EO’s exemption in requesting permits with the DENR in cutting naturally-growing trees for purposes of tree plantation. These exemptions defeat the very objective and essence of Executive Order 23 to impose a total log ban in the Philippines.

February 7, 2011 Posted by | Climate Change, Conservation Initiatives, Deforestation and Degradation, Ecosystems, Forest Ecosystem, Watershed | 1 Comment

Moratorium on tree cutting for charcoal production in Negros Occ.

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

Charcoal production contributed to the deforestation of Negros Occidental*

The Negros Association of Chief Executives is now proposing for the declaration of a tree cutting moratorium on charcoal production in Negros Occidental.  This development came after the January 11 flooding in Bacolod City and northern part of the province, particularly in Talisay, Silay, and Victorias cities, and EB Magalona municipality. The flooding, caused by almost a day of heavy rain, had brought intense damages to agriculture and property, and one was reportedly died.  The widespread deforestation in Negros Occidental is being seriously considered as one of the main contributing factors to the said flooding, and there is no doubt about it. Scientific facts will tell us how important the forest in mitigating the impacts of natural disasters, like heavy flooding. The incident was not actually the first time in the province because similar devastating flooding already occurred in the past. The province has barely four percent forest cover left, out of its total land area.

The charcoal production is directly associated with deforestation because of the impression that much of the volume of charcoal used in the province are still sourced from the remaining forest.  Somehow such notion is relatively accurate because there are still several cases of charcoal apprehension in Negros Occidental. Last year, I personally witnessed the charcoal production within the classified timberland, while stockpiles of charcoal made from natural growing trees, as claimed by some charcoal traders themselves, are lining along roadsides in southern part of the province.  The demand for charcoal is very obvious in Negros Occidental, especially in Bacolod City, which is popularly associated with its delicious and mouth watering chicken barbecue or commonly known as “inasal”. The increasing prices of petroleum may also trigger the further demand for charcoal and fuel wood, particularly in rural areas. However, in remote and poor villages, charcoal and fuel wood are still widely used for cooking. These circumstances are important considerations in making a final decision on what to do with charcoal production in Negros Occidental.

Negros Occidental is already severely denuded*

Supposedly, there is no need to declare a tree cutting moratorium for charcoal production if only existing forestry regulations are properly enforced, and measures to protect the remaining forests are pursued vigorously.  It should be noted that logging ban is still in effect in Negros Occidental and all forms of gathering, cutting, and collecting of natural growing trees in classified timber or forestlands, either primary or secondary forests, are illegal. This similarly includes gathering and cutting of natural growing trees for purposes of charcoal production. There may be some exemptions, but generally gathering and cutting of trees from natural forests for commercial purposes are prohibited.  There are questions therefore why truckloads of charcoal are still ordinary sites in major thoroughfares of the province?  Are these charcoal come from legal and legitimate sources? What makes the charcoal legal? Without considering the use of charcoal in relation to the Clean Air Act of the Philippines, the existing forestry guidelines provide two major conditions, which constitute the legality of a charcoal production. The first one is the source of charcoal comes from planted trees in private lands, and secondly, charcoal produced out of planted trees in timberlands covered with land tenure instruments, such as Certificate of Stewardship Contracts, Community Based Forest Management Agreements, and communal forests, to name some.  In both instances, transport permits for the delivery of charcoal are required from the community offices of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.  The popular modus operandi usually employed by charcoal traders is to secure permits out of a limited private tree plantation, but they will not use such plantation for charcoal production, and instead buy the charcoal produced from the forest by marginalized and poor forestland dwellers.  The traders will stock all the volumes of charcoal they bought from upland dwellers and later on deliver these stocks to urban centers. In some occasions, traders are lucky enough in the event that their transport permits are left unchecked by authorities, and they can recycle such permits for another round of charcoal delivery.

The proposal of the Negros Association of Chief Executives is very interesting and it further shows the growing awareness on the importance of our forest, more than the short-term economic benefits derived from it. However, various mechanisms are already in place if we really want to seriously regulate the charcoal production in Negros Occidental.  It is important to strengthen the on-site forest protection activities because apprehending illegally-sourced charcoal, while may deter commission of other similar cases, is already a lost cause since natural growing trees were already cut from their very source, which is the forest. It is therefore necessary for all local government units to implement meaningful forest protection initiatives in their respective areas of jurisdiction.

January 31, 2011 Posted by | Deforestation and Degradation, Ecosystems, Forest Ecosystem | Leave a comment