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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, February 13, 2017
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Sipalay forest patches

It's a welcome information that the city government of Sipalay in southern Negros Occidental takes extra efforts in ensuring the protection of its remaining forest patches.

While the city had passed an ordinance a decade ago declaring its remaining forest patches as tropical forest protection areas and wildlife sanctuary, it was only recently that it came to my attention that some conservation initiatives are being undertaken now. Sipalay City Ordinance 2006-008 declared pockets of forests, estimated at about 2,000 hectares, located in Sitio Omas, Barangay Camindangan, Sitio Dung-i, Barangay Manlucahok, and the Calatong forest in Barangay Cabadiangan as protection areas and wildlife sanctuary.

The remaining forests in Sipalay are remnants of logged over forests that have been spared from logging industry, and they are part of the South Western Negros Key Biodiversity Area, as identified by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and several nongovernment organizations. They are entirely known as lowland forests and classified as karst and limestone forests, which are unique ecosystems. These forest patches constitute as remaining habitats of several biologically important species of flora and fauna in southern Negros Occidental.

It is in Calatong forest where the critically-endangered Negros Naked-backed fruit bat, or Philippines Bare-backed fruit bat, was rediscovered in 2003. The species, known to science as Dobsoniachapmani, was thought to be endemic only in Negros until it was discovered in Cebu in 2001. Prior to its rediscovery, this fruit bat has already been declared as extinct, since it was not recorded for decades. There were also sightings of other threatened species in the area, such as the Visayan spotted deer, Visayan warty pigs, and numerous species of birds.

Leo Chua, an employee of the city government, said the management board and technical working group of the Sipalay's protection forests have already been formed and operational. The management plan and manual of operations for these forests were likewise formulated, including the implementing rules and regulations of Ordinance 2006-008. Members of the local Bantay Bukid Brigade are reportedly active in forest protection and monitoring, while continuing information and education campaigns on the importance of these forests are implemented. The Protected Area Management Enhancement Project of the Germany's GIZ provides support for these initiatives.

Southern Negros Occidental has been subjected to intensive logging in the past. Several logging concessions operated in this part of the province, because the forests then contained commercially viable dipterocarp species and terrains in the uplands are not so steep. One of the world's logging companies, the Insular Lumber Corporation, has its own share of extensive utilization of timber in the south after it ceased its operation in the northern part of Negros Occidental.

After the cessation of logging, a large part of logged over areas was converted into kaingin, and is now devoted to permanent agriculture and settlement. However, there are still barren areas in the south that await restoration. Mining, particularly in Sipalay and Hinoba-an, accounted for deforestation in the south, too. The forest in Damutan Valley in Hinoba-an has been reportedly wiped out in recent years. Some of the remaining forests in the south remain as primary sources for fuel wood, charcoal, and timber requirements of upland communities.

The local governments are mandated to share responsibility with the national government in forest protection and restoration, as provided for in the Local Government Code of the Philippines. Several case studies in the country showed that forest protection initiatives are much more successful with the involvement of local government units and communities.

The declaration of the remaining forests in Sipalay as protection areas and wildlife sanctuary, by virtue of a local ordinance, and the subsequent conservation efforts are promising, and it is my hope that these initiatives shall be sustained in the long term.*

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