Simultaneous with the other entry points to Mt. Apo, the municipality of Sta. Cruz has conducted a Biodiversity and Threats Assessment along the Sibulan Trail to Mt. Apo Summit on March 15-19, 2015 with LOGSAC team leading the job. The activity was aimed at identifying the existing flora and fauna of Mt. Apo Natural Park, including the existing environmental threats that may affect the stability of the entire park in the coming years. LOGSAC was commissioned by the Biodiversity and Watershed Improved for Stronger Economy and Ecosystems Resilience (B+WISER), a USAID-funded program that is tasked to direct helpful interventions to selected protected areas in the Philippines, particularly on the aspects of sustainable park development and conservation.
Along with Ronnie Torlao and Julius Biala, I led the first group via the Sibulan-Cabarisan-Lower Tibolo trails on April 15 while the upper part comprising the following areas: Baruring, Colan, Tumpis, Garuc, Basakan, Tinikaran and Boulders, was conducted by a Mt. Apo super guide Roger Navarro and his team along with the Sibulan Porters Association.
As per observation not only during the assessment but also with my frequent climbing to the country’s highest peak, there are portions of Mt. Apo that have already been identified with high conservation value. Several flora and fauna dwells in this part of the country, whether common to the Philippines or unique in MANP. The presence of multi million-peso structures, as well as ecotourism activities and constant increase of settlements are observed to be reasons why MANP is very vulnerable to destruction. Habitat loss is an obvious remark as farming activities by the residents already approaches within the forest portions.
During the whole course of the assessment, we saw more of the threats than biological resources. There is variety of life, of course, in MANP but we identified it through indirect observations. The threats, on the other hand, were very obvious such as landslide, inappropriate farming activities by the locals, cases of kaingin, illegal cutting of trees, hunting, grass fires and the likes.
These observations should not gain momentum in at least three to five years, otherwise, biodiversity in MANP will be another subject of severe extinction. With the complicated scenario of MANP in all areas, we could not afford to just let it run through the flow without efforts for conservation in a strongest possible manner. Ecotourism should be regulated, whether we like it or not. The local community should also be empowered as they have better stance towards biodiversity conservation being in the area for the rest of their existence. Existing industrial investments should level up their initiatives for Corporate Social Responsibility with focus on environmental restoration. And, further industrial development in MANP should be thoroughly reviewed to a point of giving more weight to environmental considerations.
Presently, there are efforts towards MANP conservation as spearheaded by the Protected Area Management Board (PMB) with strong support by B+WISER particularly the ecotourism committee where a uniform trekking policy will be implemented sometime in May this year. This is foreseen to be a vital step towards habitat protection and restoration. Personally, I think a change is within reach in as far as mountain climbing regulation is concerned. Unlike before when ecotourism policies were not harmonized and every LGU had different guidelines, today’s newly-approved policy will definitely set the tone towards a more comprehensive ecotourism program implementation.
Biodiversity is what we look for as source of life. Yet, its efforts for conservation have been practically overlooked. While it is true that biodiversity is the soul for survival of the human race, its importance had been ignored through the years. If we throwback the timeline of creation in whatever way we believed there was, there were very little effort for biodiversity conservation. We always converse on biodiversity conservation but we act the other way around.
What’s next after all these efforts of biodiversity assessments? Are we just going to compile the results in our respective databases? I supposed these have to be presented to higher authorities for appropriate action, but how long will we wait?