Critical Habitat Establishment: A Conservation Strategy to Protect the Mountain Range of Central Panay
To protect the globally significant biodiversity of Central Panay Mountain Ranges (CPMR) is the overall objective ofForest and Climate Protection (ForCLIM) Panay Project funded by the German International Cooperation (GIZ). Its project components are geared toward the protection, rehabilitation and restoration of CPMR.
One of its project components and strategies is to protect the remaining forest areas of CPMR through the establishment of a Critical Habitat (CH) – another conservation strategy in the management of forests and forestlands integrated in Forest Land Use Plan (FLUP).
The inclusion of CH in the FLUP is among the sustainable forest management strategies, specifically to protect and conserve the threatened species (flora and fauna) for ecological and economic importance. CH refers to areas outside protected areas (PA) under Republic Act No. 7586 that are known habitats of threatened species and designated as such based on scientific data taking into consideration species endemicity and/or richness, presence of man-made pressure/threats to the survival of wildlife living in the area, among others. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) DAO 2007-02 specifies the procedures in Critical Habitat Establishment, which include identification and validation of threatened species, population estimate and rapid habitat assessment, community consultation, review and recommendation by DENR, declaration of areas as CH by DENR and/or local government units (LGU) and ground truthing.
Haribon Foundation as the local NGO partner of GIZ is tasked to assist the local government units and DENR in the establishment of critical habitat and formulate the required management plan after its declaration. The ForClim Project undertakes the process of CH declaration through the local initiative of partner LGUs, and ensures its integration in the FLUP process. Procedures for the establishment of CH integrated in the FLUP adopt the following process: secondary data gathering, identification and validation of threatened species, population estimate and rapid habitat assessment, establishment of CH through FLUP, declaration of CH by LGU, and lastly, the formulation and adoption of a management plan.
The 5 threatened species of Panay also known as the “BIG Five” - Walden’s Hornbill (Dulungan), Visayan Warty Pig (Baboy talunon), Spotted Deer (usa), Mabitang and Rafflesia - were considered as the indicator species by the ForCLIM project to declare CH. Other threatened species both flora and fauna are also considered for this purpose. The project used these indicators as bases for declaration considering their conservation status (as critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable, among others) and endemicity.
Because of the distribution and massive population of Rafflesia Speciosa,
Brgy. Marigne, Barbaza has been declared a Critical Habitat area.
The municipalities of Sebaste, Valderamma and Barbaza are among the partner LGUs in Antique wherein CH establishment is at the stage of declaration. To date, the municipal ordinance supporting its declaration and management plan formulation has been deliberated by the Sangguniang Bayan.
In the case of Valderramma and Sebaste, their approved Forest Land Use Plan specified and allocated 2,567 hectares and 12,000 hectares of forestland for CH establishment, respectively. Throughout the entire process, population estimate and rapid habitat assessment require more effort as it needs technical expertise to characterize the area. The LGUs, DENR with the ForClim Project Staff agreed to use the standard methodologies for biophysical survey. In this case, the methodology used purposive search method of the BIG FIVE species. Assessment of other species, both flora and fauna, was also included in the research methodology.
On February 22 to March 2, 2013, a substantial forest area within the jurisdiction of LGU Sebaste, a possible Critical Habitat, was visited and surveyed by the project team to validate and confirm the presence of the Big 5 species and determine their current population estimate in the wild. Out of 2,567 hectares, the survey team carefully studied the site considering its topography vegetation and the distribution of the big five species based on secondary data, ethno-biological survey, community consultation and key informant interviews (KII) and the species distribution map prepared by the project team. The survey validated and confirmed the presence of Dulungan, Visayan Warty Pig, Mabitang and Rafflessia at the study areas, except for the Spotted Deer. Techniques/Methods for estimating its population were also employed during the survey.
The 12,000 hectares of forestland in Valderramma, as indicated in their FLUP, also underwent the same process with LGU Sebaste. The only difference, LGU Valderramma has to conduct the bio-physical survey to estimate the population of the big five species and rapid habitat assessment. On April 2013, a purposive search will be employed for the big five threatened species to estimate their population and to further characterize their habitat. Once population estimate of the big 5 species and a rapid habitat assessment has been conducted, results will serve as bases of the local Sangguian to formulate related laws and municipal ordinance for its declaration and management plan formulation will follow.
LGU Barbaza, on the other hand, underwent the process of Critical Habitat Establishment without a Forest Land Use Plan (FLUP). The distribution and massive population of Rafflesia Speciosa located in Brgy. Marigne pose an alarm action to the local DENR and LGU to declare the area as CH considering the various threats such as kaingin encroachment in forest areas through farming and livestock raising, among others ) were prevalent in the area. Awareness raising activities like community consultation, lecture and other forms of educating the public about CH and biodiversity of Central Panay were done by the GIZ-ForCLIM team to stakeholders such as the DENR, LGU and concerned communities to get their full-support without any hesitations to protect and conserve their area. The results of the biophysical survey showed that about 70 buds or flowers of rafflesia were discovered and seen during the survey last March 2012. The socio-economic activities of the local community such as farming and livestock raising were documented to have an overall picture of the current forest management practices employed by the local communities. Around 40 hectares of forestland in Barbaza is allocated for CH establishment.
Recognizing the importance of Rafflesia is very evident in Barbaza since it is already integrated in their annual Kigihan Festival (Abaca Harvesting), highlighting the presence and importance of the said species. Lanot kag Rafflesia sa Barbaza (Abaca Fiber and Raffesia in Barbaza) captures the attention of local tourist and other local stakeholders to take part in conserving and protecting its habitat.
203 hectares covering Tinagong Dagat and adjoining forest declared as a Critical Habitat
In 2008, the LGU of Lambunao and DENR Region 6 forged a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) for the establishment of 203-hectare forestland surrounding a 5-hectare mountain lake known as the Tinagong Dagat to be declared as a critical habitat. Indeed, biophysical survey is needed to further characterize the area and validate the presence of threatened species.
A biophysical survey was conducted last December 2012 with technical assistance from the ForCLIM Project team, academe and local communities to validate and confirm the presence of big 5 including other taxa, take account of their population estimate and further characterize their habitat, and to assess the socio cultural and economic practices of the community living within the proposed CH.
Host plant (tetrastigma vine) of rafflesia, bird call of tarictic hornbill, availability of food plants of Dulungan and Mabitang were found during the survey. The local community of Sitio Tinagong Dagat, together with the survey team, found buds and flowers of rafflesia during the survey. One of the community informants told the survey team that raflessia blooms during the month of March to May. Other species of Philippine endemic forest trees can also be located such as almaciga, white and red laua-an. The Visayan spotted deer and Visayan warty pig were also present in the area 10 years ago based on the KII and Focus Group Discussions (FGD) conducted by the survey team.
Based on the series of biodiversity assessment orientations and leveling off workshops for CH establishment, FLUP Process, FGDs, KII and biophysical surveys conducted by the ForCLIM Project and the FLUP Municipal Technical Working Group (MTWG), slash and burn agriculture (kaingin) is ranked as the number one (1) threat to the forests ecosystem. Other threats include hunting, use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, increasing population and introduction of exotic and invasive species such as gmelina and mahogany to the forest and the introduction of tilapia and carps to the lake puts direct pressure to the critical habitat.
The two hundred three hectares (203 has.) of forests including the Tinagong Dagat is expanded into one thousand eight hundred forty eight hectares (1,848 has.). This local action by LGU of Lambunao is a strategy to cover huge forestlands to be protected and conserved including other wildlife forms together with local communities. The wildlife fauna does not have boundaries, and there are substantial forest cover surrounding the Tinagong Dagat as an ecosystem. It is also based on the premise that, the larger the area the more species will be conserved and protected. The proposed area for CH fall within the protection forest, therefore, extractive activities are not allowed as indicated in the management zone of the FLUP.
To date, FLUP of Lambunao is on final write up stage integrating the Critical Habitat as one of the management mechanisms. The Critical Habitat Map is being endorsed by LGU to DENR- City Environment and Natural Resources Officer (CENRO) Barutac for their endorsement and approval. Once the FLUP has been approved as well as the Critical Habitat Map, declaration and establishment of Critical Habitat through a Municipal Ordinance will follow including the formulation and implementation of a CH management plan
These initiative that started in Barbaza, Sebaste, Valderramma and Lambunao manifest that Central Panay Mountain Ranges could be declared as one Critical Habitat or a network of Critical Habitat areas if there’s a strict implementation of laws and ordinances, and a strong political will and cooperation from LGUs.