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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, July 25, 2016
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Conservation Matters
with ERROL A. GATUMBATO
OPINIONS

Conservation sites
outside protected areas

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources Negros Island Region is convening the 1 st NIR Protected Areas Summit on July 28-30 in Bacolod City.

Several DENR key officials, including Secretary Regina Paz Lopez, are invited at the opening ceremonies of this confab, which shall gather protected area practitioners to present and share lessons learned and insights on PA management in the region. The summit will culminate with the formulation of recommendations on how to address issues, concerns, and challenges facing the different PAs in NIR.

The declared PAs in Negros are Mount Kanla-on, Northern Negros and the Balinsasayao Twin Lakes Natural Parks, Sagay Marine Reserve, the Apo Island Protected Landscape and Seascape, and the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape. These PAs contain remaining natural ecosystems that are serving as habitats to assorted species of endemic flora and fauna and provide numerous ecosystem services. Protected areas system is the most popular modality when it comes to biodiversity conservation.

However, there are also other conservation sites outside the boundaries of PAs that require immediate attention, since they are similarly biologically important areas.

The remaining forest patches at the boundaries of Candoni, Cauayan, Sipalay and Hinoba-an in Negros Occidental and Bayawan in Negros Oriental have been identified as the South Western Negros Key Biodiversity Area, because they are considered as lowland forests, which are getting limited and scarce in Negros. Based on the survey of the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc., this KBA is a habitat to numerous endemic species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. The SWN-KBA is still highly disturbed with timber poaching, wildlife hunting, charcoal making, and slash-and-burn farming.

The Ilog-Hilabangan Watershed, bordering Ilog, Kabankalan, and Mabinay at the core of Negros Island, is one of the largest water basins in the country. The DENR has classified the Ilog-Hilabangan Watershed as a critical one, since its capacity to store and supply water is threatened due to massive deforestation of its forest cover. This watershed helps mitigate the impacts of landslides and flooding in low-lying areas during heavy downpours. A large part of the watershed has been converted into agriculture and settlement.

The forest patch in Barangay Banban, Ayungon in Negros Oriental is hardly known, but it is also included as a KBA. It is one of the priority areas of the DENR's National Greening Program. I've learned that the DENR is partnering with a people's organization, known as the Asosasyon sa Katawhan sa Lamigan, Nabhangug Banban Nga Nagkahiusa in forest protection and rehabilitation in the area. This site requires documentation, because it might be an example of community-based forest management.

The northern and southern coastal wetlands of Negros Occidental are known for migratory birds, and natural mangrove forests are still available in these areas. The southern coastal wetlands traverse from Bago City to Ilog, while the northern coastal wetlands are found from Silay City down further to EB Magalona. These areas have several ecosystems, like mangroves, seagrasses, coral reefs, and marshes. The protection of these sites is not only for biodiversity, but including security and enhancement of fishery production.

The southern coastal wetlands are now being processed to become Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention of the United Nations. I am hoping that similar application shall be pursued for the northern coastal wetlands of the province.

One of the interesting conservation sites in Negros Occidental is the Bago River Watershed, because a large part of its coverage is within the NNNP and MKNP. Some forested parts of this watershed are covered with land titles. In fact, there are certain areas within this watershed that have been subjected to Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. Since it is already prohibited to cut natural growing trees even if they are found in private lands, it might be of interest to work with landowners in developing the remaining natural forest in their titled lands as private forest reserves.

The Danjugan Island in Barangay Bulata, Cauayan is a model and showcase of a private conservation site. The Philippine Reef and Rainforest Foundation Inc., headed by one of the pioneers in the conservation community in the country, Gerry Ledesma, owned and managed the whole island and its immediate coastal and marine environment. This could be a learning site for the management of other islands and islets within the coastal waters of Negros. *


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