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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, November 18, 2019
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with Errol A. Gatumbato
OPINIONS

Conservation outcomes

Rock & Refuge

Negros Occidental is one of the provinces in the country where movement for environmental protection and biodiversity conservation is relatively advance, with both government and nongovernment organizations spearheading, to raise the environmental awareness and consciousness of the general public.

The provincial government of Negros Occidental was among the pioneering local governments in the Philippines that had established the Provincial Environment Management Office, and declared the 3 rd week of June as Environment Week and November as Wildlife Month.

Campus and off-campus youth organizations advocating for environmental protection are also present in the province, as well as numerous local and national NGOs primarily catering to biodiversity conservation in terrestrial and marine ecosystems.

The movement for organic farming, free from genetically-modified organisms, is also getting prominence in Negros Occidental, while the tourism sector considers ecotourism as one important concern.

There is another call to make Negros Occidental a renewable energy capital of the country and it should be free from any coal-fired power plant.

These are noble intentions and undertakings, but probably it is also important to determine the conservation impacts of such initiatives, because, at the end of the day, we want to see how the different ecosystems in the province have improved and provided the much needed ecosystem services for the Negrosanons.

We are trying to conserve nature and protect the environment because we want them to continuously provide benefits to all of us.

Negros Occidental has three protected areas, the Sagay Marine Reserve, Northern Negros Natural Park, and Mount Kanla-on Natural Park, partly shared by Negros Oriental, and several Key Biodiversity Areas. It has recognized wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention of the United Nations – the Negros Occidental Coastal Wetlands Conservation Area in southern part of the province. There are sites declared as Local Conservation Areas, while private initiatives in the management of other important sites are also worth mentioning.

One of the conservation outcomes that Negros Occidental should establish is on forest cover. Did the forest cover of the province increase through the years, either through natural regeneration, assisted natural regeneration, or reforestation?

When I talk of reforestation, I am referring to the restoration of the forest out of diverse indigenous or native species of trees. As early as in the late 80s, it was found out that the province has barely four percent natural forest cover left, out its total land area. The increasing forest cover indicates that we are successful in our forest protection and restoration projects.

The real success in forest protection is not in the volume of confiscated forest products and the number of arrest of suspected violators, but more so on how many hectares of forest has been totally protected.

During the past years, was the mangrove forest, seagrass beds, and coral reefs increased in the province? These ecosystems are vital, not only in maintaining ecological balance, but also in the fishery production. Just like the terrestrial forest, the mangrove forest has depleted, while the excellent coral cover could only be found in a few isolated sites in the province.

How about the air quality in major urban centers in the province? I hope stationary emissions from sugar mills and other industries are no longer contributing to pollution. Was the anti-smoke belching campaign against motor vehicles effective? The practice of burning rice and sugarcane fields after the harvest had already been stopped?

Another important indicator when we talk about conservation outcome is the quantity and quality of freshwater supply. In the next few years, would there still be enough sources of water for domestic, agricultural, and industrial requirements? What is the current quality standard of the major river systems in Negros Occidental?

While it is difficult to determine the impacts when it comes to species level conservation, this is also something important that we should consider. Are the remaining habitats of endemic species found in Negros Occidental already secured from destructive activities? Has the population of single-island endemic species found in the province increased?

These are just few of the indicators that we can say that our efforts in conservation are getting successful. I’m sure assessments to determine some of these indicators are possible, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and PEMO are in the position to take the lead in doing so, in partnership with other concerned institutions.*

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