Errol Abada Gatumbato

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

Developing community based ecotourism in Northern Negros Natural Park

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

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

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

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

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

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

One of the waterfalls in Gawahon, Victorias City*

One of the waterfalls in Gawahon, Victorias City*

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

The road to Salvador Benedicto*

The road to Salvador Benedicto*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Protecting our island biodiversity

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

The whole world commemorated the International Biodiversity Day last May 22. The United Nations General Assembly declared this event in 2000 to increase awareness and understanding on biological diversity and its associated issues and challenges.

This year’s celebration focused on the theme, “Island Biodiversity”, to coincide with the designation by the UN of 2014 as the International Year of Small Developing States. This is also to strengthen the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The theme is very relevant to the Philippines, because it is composed of numerous islands and islets, a good number of which are considered smaller islands, but yet, they contain unique ecosystems, habitats, flora and fauna. Many of our small islands have exceptional and beautiful features that are worth protecting for recreational, educational and scientific activities, while at the same, sustaining whatever ecological and environmental services they offer to the people. However, there are also small islands that have been subjected to extensive development for tourism, logging and mining, thereby altering their natural landscape and seascape.

It is also important to note that many of our small islands harbor endemic species, meaning some species are only restricted to a particular island and could not be found elsewhere. For instance, Negros Island has numerous island endemic species, such as the Negros fruit dove, which is now suspected to be extinct, since it has never been recorded after its discovery in 1953 at the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park.

Although Cebu has suffered intensive deforestation, it is very important in terms of biodiversity, because it has Cebu flower picker, Cebu hawk owl, Cebu cinnamon tree and Cebu black shama, that are only known to occur in this island.

The Ilin Island in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, is the only locality where the Ilin Bushy-tailed cloud rat, or the Hairy-tailed cloud rat, has been recorded. Similarly, the Sulu bleeding heart pigeon is only restricted in Tawi-tawi, while Camiguin has also its own endemic species, such as the Camiguin hawk owl. The Calamianes in Palawan has several endemic species, the most popular of which is the Calamian deer. The island of Mindoro, although it is relatively a larger island, contains a variety of endemic species, like the Mindoro bleeding heart pigeon and the famous Tamaraw, which is considered as the largest mammal recorded in the country. Polillo Islands in Quezon province has several endemic sub-species of birds. The Dinagat cloud rat is only found in Dinagat Island in Mindanao.

The unique island endemism of the Philippines makes our country as one of the mega-diverse countries on biodiversity. However, most, if not all, of our island endemic species are already listed as threatened species in the Red List of Threatened Species of the IUCN-World Conservation Union and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The likely extinction of island endemic species may happen once the remaining habitats in the islands where they occur are further destroyed. It is therefore very necessary that the remaining natural habitats shall be protected and those degraded ones restored.*

June 14, 2014 Posted by | Conservation Events, Conservation Initiatives, Forest Ecosystem, Protected Areas, Species Conservation | , , , , | Leave a comment

Demolish illegal structures in NNNP

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

The Protected Area Management Board, the site-based policy and administrative body of the Northern Negros Natural Park, should heed the recommendation of its Technical Working Group to order the demolition of illegal structures in the protected area, especially those that were constructed by private individuals, who have no right to stay in this biodiversity-important site.

The scenic NNNP*

The scenic NNNP*

The recommendation of the TWG came after it was tasked by the PAMB to assess and evaluate the different structures in the NNNP and to come out with possible courses of action.

It can be recalled that the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office has issued at least 89 cease-and-desist orders to private individuals, who have been found to have constructed vacation houses in the NNNP without prior permit from the PAMB. Since NNNP is a component of the National Integrated Protected Areas System of the Philippines, as provided for in Republic Act 7586, it is a requirement that the construction or maintenance of any kind of structure, fence or enclosures, and conducting business enterprise, require the issuance of appropriate permit from the PAMB.

The author at the NNNP> The cool temperature in NNNP has attracted some prominent persons in Negros Occidental to construct vacation houses in the area*

The author at the NNNP> The cool temperature in NNNP has attracted some prominent persons in Negros Occidental to construct vacation houses in the area*

The PAMB is not in the position to make any decision that are contrary to the NIPAS. The regional executive director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Region VI, who acts as the chair of the management board, should make sure that the PAMB acts within its power and authority, and in conformity with appropriate laws, rules and regulations. The DENR Secretary has the power to overturn decisions rendered by the PAMB that are not appropriate in the management of protected areas, like the NNNP.

While it is true that NNNP is a protected area, it is not absolute that occupancy is not allowed. However, it is only allowed in the designated multiple use zone and restricted only to the so-called tenured migrants. Based on the revised implementing rules and regulations of the NIPAS Act, the household head shall be considered a tenured migrant if proven to have actually and continuously occupied a portion of the protected area five years before its designation under the NIPAS, and solely dependent therein for subsistence.

NNNP accounts the largest natural forest cover among the different important conservation sites in West Visayas Biogeographic Zone*

NNNP accounts the largest natural forest cover among the different important conservation sites in West Visayas Biogeographic Zone*

Tenured migrants should be organized to avail a land tenure privilege, known as the Protected Area Community Based Resource Agreement, which shall be awarded by the DENR upon the endorsement of the PAMB. The purpose of this arrangement is to control occupancy and create strong social fence. It is the responsibility of the beneficiaries of land tenure to ensure that no additional migrants will stay in the awarded sites.

Based on the initial evaluation by the DENR, the recipients of the CDOs are not actually tenured migrants, since all of them are residents of areas outside the NNNP and they are not subsistence persons.

Aside from violating the NIPAS once the PAMB allows the owners of these vacation houses to occupy portions of the NNNP, it shall become a precedent and others may also follow. If that is the scenario, the PAMB will be out of control and becomes an ineffective management body of the NNNP.

June 14, 2014 Posted by | Conservation Initiatives, Forest Ecosystem, Governance, Protected Areas | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sugar industry in Negros contributed to the depletion of Philippine teak

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

SAN JOSE, Occidental Mindoro – In a workshop here organized by the Mindoro Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. for its Ilin and Ambulong Islands Forest Conservation Project, I was surprised at the revelation that the sugar industry in Negros has contributed to the depletion of an important endemic species of the country, the Philippine teak (Tectona philippinensis). It is only known to grow in Ilin and Ambulong islands in San Jose town, Occidental Mindoro, and in the towns of Lobo and San Juan in Batangas. Because of its restricted distribution and population depletion, the Philippine teak has already been declared as critically-endangered species by both the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the IUCN-World Conservation Union.

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(The Philippine teak)

This means that the species is under protection and its exploitation is already prohibited. Unfortunately, some local communities are still utilizing this species because it is commercially viable, although they also attest that the population of the species in Ilin and Ambulong Islands is now getting limited.

While I was facilitating the workshop, which was designed to engage local stakeholders in the implementation of MBCFI’s conservation project in the two islands, I asked for the factors that contributed to the reduction of the species’ population in the two islands of San Jose. Some people, who have been living in Ilin and Ambulong for some time now, testified that bulk of Philippine teak and molave trees were cut and transported from the islands to Negros to supply the need for railways of trains, which were used then in transporting sugarcane from haciendas to sugar mills.

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(The author during the workshop sponsored by MBCFI)

This species of tree is known for its hardwood quality. It is usually found in coastal to lowland limestone forest and tends to dominate the semi-deciduous forests, the IUCN said.

The IUCN recommended the implementation of a conservation program that would re-establish the stable natural population of T. philippinensis in its known habitat. It also suggested that a rapid assessment of the species and long-term ecological research shall be conducted, to determine the physical and biological characteristics of the habitat, coupled with a recovery and management program, public education, community consultation and resource stewardship and policy initiatives.

The MBCFI, with funding support from the Philippine Tropical Forest Conservation Foundation Inc., and the Malampaya Ventures, is initiating a project to enhance the population of the Philippine teak in Ilin and Ambulong Islands. It also aims to establish woodlots to address the timber requirements of the local communities, and increase the awareness of local folks on the importance of the teak and other endemic species and their associated habitats.

Ilin Island, in particular, is the only known locality for the Ilin Bushy-tailed cloud rat, or the Hairy-tailed cloud rat (Crateromyspaulus). This species was once listed as critically endangered, but is now categorized as Data Deficient, because of its limited information. The IUCN said the species was only known from the holotype, that was reportedly purchased in Ilin Island. Several attempts to rediscover this cloud rat in the island failed.

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(The author in Ilin Island)

June 8, 2014 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Initiatives, Forest Ecosystem, Species Conservation | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The forestland use planning

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources is now crafting a policy for the formulation of forestland use plan by each local

The forestland use planning includes identification and delineation of protection forest*

The forestland use planning includes identification and delineation of protection forest*

government unit in the Philippines. This proposed policy is to strengthen the existing guidelines on forestland use planning jointly issued by the DENR and the Department of the Interior and Local Governments. Such guideline mandates every LGU to formulate FLUP, which shall be integrated to their respective Comprehensive Land Use Plan or CLUP. The main intention of FLUP is to determine the most appropriate uses of forestlands, also known as timberlands, and to maximize the participation of LGUs in managing these areas. Although the primary mandate in administering forestlands remains with the national government, the LGU may enter a co-management agreement with DENR for a particular forestland under its administrative or territorial jurisdiction.

It should be noted that forestland is one major land classification presented in the 1987 Constitution, although its specific definition and descriptions are provided in the different implementing rules and regulations of the Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines or Presidential Decree 705. However, it doesn’t follow that classified timberlands have existing forests, since much of these areas are already denuded and converted into other land uses. Other land classifications in the country include national park (now protected area), mineral land, agricultural or alienable and disposable lands. Except for agricultural lands, other classified lands could not be alienated or privately owned. It is by this particular account that only stewardship and other contracts are issued in timberlands. Unfortunately, there are forestlands that have been covered with private land titles, which is quite dubious how the titling happened. In Negros Occidental, there are more than 400 land titles situated in forestland.

Critical habitats shall be included as protection forest*

Critical habitats shall be included as protection forest*

The forestland use planning is a process by which the DENR, a particular LGU and concerned stakeholders have to identify the current situation of timberland. This would include determination of the existing vegetative cover, particularly the old growth and secondary growth forests, as well as areas that have been reforested. In addition, during the planning process, it is also necessary to determine the different forestland tenure instruments issued by the DENR, such as Certificate of Stewardship Contracts and Community Based Forest Management Agreements, among others. Open access areas, meaning those sites not covered with any tenure instrument, shall also be identified.

Once the current situation of forestland is assessed, the planning will proceed in determining the best uses of forestland covering a particular LGU. The primary considerations in formulating land use options are the ecological values of the forest, especially its function as habitat to wildlife, watershed, soil erosion control and even carbon sequestration potentials. Forestlands identified as important habitats should be protected along with critical watersheds. Areas requiring rehabilitation shall also be determined and where restoration efforts shall be implemented.

Another important component of forestland use planning is the identification of areas needed for timber production. This is very

Protection of the forest ecosystem services is one of the key objectives of FLUP*

Protection of the forest ecosystem services is one of the key objectives of FLUP*

essential, especially with the imposition of logging ban, to meet local timber supplies and demands. Timber production may also be implemented in areas covered with land tenure instruments. In fact, holders of existing land tenure instruments, like CSCs and CBFMAs are supposedly required to establish tree plantations for protection and utilization purposes. Other uses, such as for ecotourism and recreational, may further be specified in the FLUP. Interested LGUs may enter a co-management agreement with DENR for open access timberlands, including critical watersheds, and ecotourism sites. However, specific strategies for the development of the areas subject of the proposed co-management shall be clearly presented in the FLUP. Once completed, the FLUP shall then be integrated into the CLUP of a particular LGU through enactment of specific ordinance by the Sanggunian and translated further into zoning ordinance.

July 6, 2013 Posted by | Forest Ecosystem | Leave a comment

DENR assures action on death of MKNP personnel

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

Siapno

DENR VI Regional Executive Director Adeluisa Siapno. Photo from the Facebook post of DENR RPAO Region VI.

A few days ago, I received a letter from Regional Executive Director Adeluisa Siapno of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Region VI. The letter was in reaction to my article about the death of Mat Sarcino, personnel of Mount Kanla-on Natural Park, who was gunned down by two motorcyle-riding persons at the MKNP Administration Center in Sitio Calapnagan, Brgy. Biak-na-Bato, La Castellana, on 29 October. The shooting incident happened after MKNP personnel apprehended volumes of illegally-sourced forest products. Cecil Cañada, MKNP Protected Area Superintendent, said the incident was intended to intimidate and harass them from pursuing aggressive forest protection in Mount Kanla-on. Reports claim that illegal forest activities are getting rampant, including transporting of charcoal with no valid permit and authority.  A truckload of charcoal seized by MKNP forest rangers is allegedly owned by a policeman.

In his letter, Siapno said the DENR is closely coordinating with concerned agencies to address the issue in MKNP.  She added that the Philippine National Police and the provincial government of Negros Occidental are already taking actions to ensure that the killing of Sarcino shall be investigated and suspects are prosecuted. The incident in MKNP was not the first shooting involving forest rangers in Negros Occidental. Cadiz City Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer, Andre Untal, also informed me that, earlier this year, Oscar Magbunua, a forest ranger of Victoria City, was shot dead in broad daylight at the city’s public plaza. The case was also associated with forest protection being initiated in the Northern Negros Natural Park. Magbanua’s case remains unsolved, Untal claimed.

It is assuring that the DENR and other concerned agencies are taking actions on these reported killings, but I hope these should be done by fastest means, especially so that the lives of forest rangers are still at risk. If the suspected killers of Sarcino and Magbanua remain free, they may continue to harass those who will prevent their illegal forest operations. It would also mean the continuing destruction of the remaining forest since the forest rangers may no longer implement forest protection measures as they are further endangering their lives. It is quite unfortunate that persons working for the protection of threatened species and habitats are becoming endangered, too. It is, therefore, rightly to say now that Negros Occidental is home of threatened endemic species, habitats and forest rangers.  While the two killings that occurred in the province might be isolated cases, these are no joke since lives were lost. These incidents showed that working for environmental protection is a dangerous kind of job.

Several cases of harassments, intimidations and killings involving persons who were opposed projects that may cause ecological damages have been documented in various parts of the Philippines, particularly related to illegal logging.  Usually, the victims are government employees and members of nongovernment organizations involved in environmental protection and natural resources conservation. The incumbent Regional Executive Director of DENR Region VI is a very straight forward person, and I am confident that she will take every effort to solve the case of Sarcino. Given her background in human resources development at the DENR, I am also aware that she is passionate and committed to the safety and welfare of her personnel. I used to work before with RED Siapno when she was assigned as the Regional Technical Director, also in Region VI, and I also witnessed how she effectively delivered concrete results.

December 3, 2012 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Initiatives, Deforestation and Degradation, Forest Ecosystem, Protected Areas | Leave a comment

Mainstreaming biodiversity conservation in agricultural landscapes

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

Negrenses Pledge – (L-R) Provincial Planning and Development Coordinator Marlin Sanogal, PBCFI Vice President and Managing Director Errol Gatumbato and Provincial Environment Management Officer Wilmon Peñalosa sign in the biodiversity pledge during the recent launching of the UNDP-GEF supported Biodiversity Partnerships Project of DENR in Quezon City*

The Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources  is now embarking in what may be considered as an ambitious and yet a very significant step in further promoting biodiversity conservation in the Philippines.  This time, PAWB is not only eyeing on protected areas but also attempting to integrate and mainstream biodiversity concerns in agricultural landscapes through its project dubbed as “Biodiversity Partnerships Project: Mainstreaming in Local Agricultural Landscapes”, or shortly known as BPP. This initiative is supported by the United Nations Development Programme-Global Environment Facility covering a six-year period.

One of the key concerns in the Philippines’ biodiversity conservation is the conversion to agriculture of important terrestrial habitats, particularly the forest ecosystems. Through time, agricultural development has expanded in classified forestlands and declared national parks and other forest reserves.  Today, the national park model seems no longer feasible because of the presence of settlement and associated development in formerly proclaimed national parks. As a concept, national park is only intended for recreational and scientific purposes, and should be free from other human activities, like settlement, agriculture and industrial activities.

The National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992 or Republic Act 7586 introduced a radical framework from the traditional national park system to a more flexible management regime in protected areas. It introduced land tenure security for the so called tenured migrants and may allow other activities that are within the scope of the management plan of a particular PA. And this is where the BPP is relevant in promoting biodiversity friendly livelihood activities in agricultural areas within and adjacent to the different PAs.

Many of our agricultural practices are detrimental to the conservation of our biological diversity. One destructive agriculture form is the slash-and-burn-farming, which does not only wipe out the land vegetative cover but is also affecting the soil fertility. Some upland farmers are engaged in the production of high valued crops that are dependent on inorganic fertilizers and pesticides, which are not only harmful to wildlife but also to our health and the environment, in general. Many exotic agricultural species invaded our biodiversity sites and in some instances they are becoming invasive species. This is particularly true in mono-cropping system of agriculture that has contributed to the vanishing of economically productive native varieties. In most cases, agricultural development has no provisions on soil and water conservation measures.

Since BPP involves agriculture, the DENR is partnering with the Department of Agriculture in developing policies and tools in mainstreaming biodiversity in agriculture.  The task includes providing specific definitions, criteria and standards on what is biodiversity friendly agriculture in the real sense.  These guidelines, once formulated at the national level, shall be piloted in eight demonstration sites in the Philippines, which include the Northern Negros Natural Park in Negros Occidental.

The BPP will be working with local government units to ensure that local development planning considers the integration of biodiversity conservation in agriculture and other development initiatives. It will promote mainstreaming of biodiversity in the comprehensive land use plan and other short and long-term development plans of LGUs in eight demonstration sites. The Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc and the Negros Forest and Ecological Foundation, Inc are the NGO partners of DENR-PAWB in implementing the BPP in NNNP.

November 26, 2012 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Events, Conservation Initiatives, Forest Ecosystem, Governance, Protected Areas | Leave a comment

Negros Occidental’s increasing forest cover

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

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The Northern Negros Natural Park

In what could be a welcoming development in Negros Occidental is the report of the Provincial Environment and Management Office claiming that the forest cover of the province is already increasing. Although the report claims there is a need for actual ground validation, it states that Negros Occidental’s forest cover has increased from 4.7% (37,780 has) in 1987 to 9.4% (74,870.70 has) in 2011. For 24 years, the increased forest cover was estimated at 37,090.70 hectares. This is still relatively low compared with areas requiring immediate rehabilitation, but somehow a very good and positive indicator of forest renewal.

Negros Occidental is one the provinces in the Philippines that has been greatly affected with massive deforestation. Out of the 792,607 hectares total land area of the province, roughly 31.82% or 252,221.38 hectares is classified as timberland or forestland, while the remaining 68.18% or 540,385.63 hectares is considered as alienable and disposable (A&D) land. However, it is unfortunate that much of the Negros Occidental’s timberlands are already converted into other land uses, particularly agriculture, settlement and even industrial sites. The remaining forest cover in the province can only be found in Northern Negros and Mount Kanla-on Natural Parks and some remaining forests patches in southern Negros Occidental.

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The Mount Kanla-on Natural Park

The deforestation history in the province is closely associated with commercial and large scale logging, which was considered as one of the lucrative business industries in the past, not only in Negros Occidental but in the entire country, too. Available records show that during 1890, basically the entire province was heavily forested until such time that logging companies started operating in different areas of Negros Occidental. One of the biggest logging companies in the world, the Insular Lumber Corporation, locally known as ILCO, started its operations in the northern part of the province in the early 1900s and later on transferred in the south. It was estimated that about 40,000 hectares of natural forest was cleared in 1949 and massive deforestation continued until in 70’s to 80’s.  Logging did not even spare Mount Kanla-on and Northern Negros Forest although they were long declared as reserves.

The conversion of timberlands into other land uses was made easier because of the geophysical state of Negros Occidental. Much of the province’s land area is known as lowland with gentle and moderate slopes. As such, a large track of Negros Occidental’s timberland is now permanently use for agricultural development. Since forestland could not be alienated, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has crafted instruments allowing certain uses of timberlands through various stewardship contracts. However, some timberlands in the province are also open access and are still subject to other uses.

The statistics released by the PEMO did not specify the type of forest cover that has increased, but even so, this is an interesting development. I would like to assume that part of that is the regenerated logged over or the so called natural regeneration areas. This is particularly true in certain sites in NNNP and MKNP, which through time the forest has naturally regenerated because of protection measures that were implemented. Earlier, the PEMO also reported that the NNNP forest cover has increased. I would like to believe, too, that the reforestation efforts may have contributed in the increasing forest cover of Negros Occidental, because we have seen a lot of these initiatives from both government and non-government institutions in recent times.  However, it is also possible that the reported additional forest in the province includes industrial tree plantations, which are for production purposes. 

November 24, 2012 Posted by | Conservation Initiatives, Deforestation and Degradation, Forest Ecosystem, Protected Areas | Leave a comment