Better protection provided for Mindanao watersheds

RICH BIODIVERSITY | Conservationists and environmental activists in Davao City have lobbied to declare the Makabol-Alikoson mountain range as critical habitat for the conservation of its rich biodiversity. The area has nesting sites for the endangered Philippine eagle. (Image from IDIS INC)

Z AMBOANGA CITY, Zamboanga del Sur, Philippines – The first time the late Environment Secretary Gina Lopez stepped foot in Pasonanca Natural Park in 2018, she immediately fell in love with it.

“If La Mesa [Watershed] it’s gold [Pasonanca Natural Park] “It’s a super, super diamond,” Lopez marveled during a tour of the park’s buffer zone in the village of Canucutan, just 5 kilometers from downtown Zamboanga. strict protection zone.

Pasonanca Nature Park was originally established in 1987 as a watershed forest reserve covering an area of ​​10,560 hectares. In 1999, it was expanded to 12,107 hectares and classified as a nature park.

According to conservationists, the park has the largest remaining block of old-growth lowland dipterocarp forest on the Zamboanga Peninsula.

Rock formations, springs, and waterfalls can also be found within the park, which covers the villages of Pasonanca, Lunzuran, Lumayang, Cacao, Lapacan, Lamisahan, Bungiao, La Paz, Balurno, and Dulian, and part of Sibuco, Zamboanga del Norte. province.

About 60 percent of the park is forested, and the rest is intended for agricultural production, tourism, and residential areas.

According to Zamboanga City Water District (ZCWD) Acting General Manager Mark Paredes, the park’s forest cover supports various streams and rivers that provide safe and clean fresh water to almost one million people in Zamboanga City.

According to Paredes, the ZCWD is only able to use 38 percent of the estimated 100,000 cubic meters of water generated daily by the park’s forest due to a lack of infrastructure, mainly due to the flood dam.

Valerie Gutierrez, ZCWD’s manager of environment and water resources, said that when the park’s water sources are used, its 68,000 service connections can be fully serviced even during droughts.

In 2016 and 2019, ZCWD had to ration water due to El Niño, where production dropped by 50 percent, leaving many households in the highlands without water supplies.

On an average, ZCWD requires 68,000 cubic meters of water daily.

Philippine Eagle

Philippine Eagle (Photo ERWIN M. MASCARIÑAS / Inquirer Mindanao)

Flora, fauna reserve

The park is home to Mindanao narek, yakal-magasusu, gisok-gisok, badam, white lauan, kalunti, mayapis, tanguile, Mindanao narig, Mindanao palosapis and dao, endangered dipterocarp tree species, according to Domiliza Campaner, head of the protected area department. This was announced by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

In addition, the watershed is also home to 15,000 species of flora, 50 percent of which are endemic and 193 of which are currently classified as endangered species. Some of these are the rare orchid species Amesiella monticola, Phalaenopsis stuartiana, Cymbidium aliciae, Vandopsis lissochiloides and common and giant thorn ferns.

According to Campaner, the watershed is home to 109 species of birds, 24 species of mammals, 71 species of reptiles, 44 species of amphibians and 77 families of insects.

Campaner said several Philippine eagles have been found in the park.

Other birds found in the park are the Mindanao bleeding heart, Philippine pygmy kingfisher, Philippine leafbird and lesser pebble flybird, classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the rare Zamboanga bulbul. loss of residence.

Forest guards are required

According to Paredes, due to its economic and ecological importance, there is a need to strengthen measures for the protection of the park.

“We cannot allow intruders to destroy it. We must inculcate in the minds of our people that this watershed is not fair [a] Forest. It is the life of every Zamboangueño, including endemic and endangered flora and fauna,” he said.

At present, a total of 45 forest rangers spread over 15 stations protect the park from wildlife hunters and poachers. ZCWD used to employ 145 forest guards, but due to financial constraints, it was forced to reduce this number while the management focused on solving the problem of unprofitable water due to leaks from old and rusting pipes.

Councilor Joselito Makrohon recalled that the previous local government administration had committed to increasing the number of forest guards by 80 people. However, recruitment has been suspended due to the pandemic.

The campaigner said national government support would also be needed to solve the problem.

CENTURY Pasonanca Natural Park tour-goers are dwarfed by century-old trees as they marvel at the giant and robust hardwood species in the forested area of ​​Zamboanga City. —(Photo by JULIE S. ALIPALA / Inquirer Mindanao)

Makabol-Alikoson mountains

In Davao City, groups have pushed for the DENR to declare the Makabol-Alikoson mountain range as critical habitat to strengthen its protection.

Among the promoters of the event are Interfacing Development Interventions for Sustainability, Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF), Sustainable Davao Movement, Ecoteneo, Bantay Bukid and residents of Barangay Salaysay.

Based on a series of expeditions between July and August, the area has been identified as a breeding ground for the Philippine eagle and habitat for other important wildlife species.

A critical habitat is a zone outside a protected area that is known to contain endangered species and is based on scientific data. The DENR has specific regulations for its proper administration. As a result of research conducted by the University of Mindanao in the Philippines, it was found that there are 119 species of terrestrial vertebrates in the area. These include 88 birds, 16 amphibians, six reptiles, five bats and four non-volatile mammals. About 39 species are endemic to the country, and an additional 23 species can only be found in Mindanao.

Of these, the white-collared fruit bat (Megaerops wetmorei) is listed as vulnerable by the IUCN; The Philippine tarsier (Carlito syrictha) is endangered; The Mindanao flying dragon or lizard (Draco mindanensis) is vulnerable; The Mindanao toothed frog (Limnonectes magnus) is endangered; The Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) is endangered; The Mindanao hawk-eagle (Nisaetus pinskeri) is endangered; and the giant owl (Otus gurneyi) is vulnerable. The Mindanao horned frog (Megophrys stejnegeri) found in the area is listed as “Other Threatened Species” by the DENR.

Philippine endemic trees such as white lauan, badam, binuang, ulayan, almaciga, yacal, sagimsim and mountain agoho are also found.

PEF research and conservation director Dr. Jayson Ibañez said that based on research, the area needs to be declared a critical habitat.

The park's more than 7,000 hectares of forest cover serve as natural rain catchers that meet the drinking water supply needs of local communities.

The park’s more than 7,000 hectares of forest cover serve as natural rain catchers that meet the drinking water supply needs of local communities. (Photo by JULIE S. ALIPALA / Inquirer Mindanao)

Potential heritage site

“Besides the Philippine eagle, there are other endangered species that are on the verge of extinction and need protection. These indicators are in line with the guidelines for declaring critical habitat,” Ibañez said.

Covering an area of ​​approximately 8,819 ha, the Makabol-Alikoson mountain range provides the city’s sources of drinking water supply and the livelihood of Salaysay’s nearly 6,000 residents.

Late last year, the groups protested when the DENR authorized the cutting of 121 trees from the area, prompting a petition to preserve the mountains.

Among those who signed the petition was American scientist James W. Grier, who is considered the “midwife” of the 1992 hatching of the Philippine eagle Pag-asa.

Grier, a professor emeritus in the Department of Biological Sciences at North Dakota State University and an adviser to PEF, said the Makabol area should be left as “natural” as possible, “including leaving old and even fallen trees naturally in place.”

In a letter addressed to DENR Regional Executive Director Bagani Fidel Evasco, Grier said he plans to recommend the Makabol site as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage Site.

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