Why does the selection and acquisition of restoration sites in the revival of our forests matter? The answer, quite simply, lies in the profound impact these endeavors have on our resources, our climate, and our global well-being.
In the first and second quarter of 2022, HARIBON’s Engaging Multi-stakeholder Participation towards Ecosystem Restoration for Community Resiliency (EMPOWER) project team set out to select its forest restoration sites. In the process, the team engaged in discussions with government agencies to successfully acquire three project sites: Pantabangan-Carranglan Watershed Forest Reserve (PCWFR), Aurora Memorial National Park (AMNP), and Bicol Natural Park (BNP). They undertook a sequence of significant activities, including delineation and mapping, signing of Memorandum of Agreements (MOAs), and are in continuous collaboration with local stakeholders and partner organizations to obtain necessary approvals for the project’s conservation initiatives.
Restoration sites are essential in environmental preservation for several reasons. Firstly, these locations serve as sanctuaries for indigenous wildlife and flora, allowing them to thrive within their natural habitats. Through the creation of Protected Areas (PAs), we are able to protect biodiversity and ensure the continued existence of a multitude of native plant and animal species. Secondly, restoration areas enrich the overall health and sustainability of ecosystems while also promoting people’s appreciation and stewardship for the environment. Projects aimed at restoring these sites and habitats contribute to mitigating the effects of climate change through methods such as the reintroduction of native species, thereby restoring their ecological balance.
Acquiring the restoration sites
For HARIBON’s EMPOWER team, the first steps that provided a strong foundation for the project involved the proper selection of restoration areas suitable for a long-term sustainable plan, as well as the negotiation with government agencies for site acquisition. This is a crucial but difficult phase because it requires a strong commitment in the consistent follow-up and coordination with stakeholders. The EMPOWER team persistently met and negotiated with government officials, local partners, and community leaders. These initial meetings then led to securing the permits and required documents for acquiring the sites, and at the same time, helping forge connections, providing information about community needs, and building trust.
How does a PAMB clearance shape the future of conservation?
Prior to any conservation project, it is vital for the organization to acquire a clearance or resolution from a site’s Protected Area Management Board (PAMB).
A PAMB is a decision-making body assigned for each protected area (PA) in the Philippines that is tasked with approving funding proposals, deciding budget allocations and any matters relating to planning, protecting and administering an area aligned with its general management strategy via its members’ majority vote. Furthermore, the group considers the importance of hearing from various stakeholders including, but not limited to, local communities and government agencies, thus ensuring that their perspectives are considered whenever crucial decisions about a PA are being made.
Because the sites that the board manage are potential sanctuaries for endangered species and are often considered Important Biodiversity Areas (IBAs), it must be ensured that any organization working within a PA has met all documents and agreements so that activities are carried out responsibly. These documents and resolutions were necessary requirements that officially allowed HARIBON to move forward with its restoration initiatives. At that time however, the EMPOWER team had to redouble its efforts to meet all requirements in time for the PAMB meetings and get the official green light on the project’s implementation. This is due to PAMB en Banc meetings being held only once every quarter, and because a majority vote which is decided on meetings, are needed to approve clearances for projects.
The team carried out the following activities to obtain the essential documentation and approvals for each conservation site:
- Coordinated with PCWFR key individuals, such as Forester Cherica Ruby G. Claudio from the Technical Services Division and Forester Leonardo Udasco Jr., the Assistant Protected Area Superintendent (APASu)
- Presented the project to the PAMB and secured project approval on August 31, 2022 at Hotel Francesco in San Jose City
- Facilitated the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) process with the Bugkalot Ancestral Domain Environmental Management Council (BADEMC) on October 12, 2022, ensuring that local communities were informed and engaged in the project
- Coordinated meetings with Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Office (MENRO) Angelina Tuliao of the Pantabangan Local Government Unit (LGU)
- Conducted a courtesy visit to Mayor Roberto Agdipa of the Pantabangan LGU
- Carried out a project presentation at Barangay Villarica in Pantabangan on February 26, 2023
- Presented the project to the Sangguniang Bayan of Pantabangan on March 6, 2023
- Presented the EMPOWER project and obtained PAMB approval on August 17, 2022
- Presented the project to Barangay LGUs
- Coordinated with Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) of Aurora, Alfredo B. Collado
- Conducted a courtesy visit to Mayor Ariel S. Bitong of the Municipality of Maria Aurora
- Conducted a courtesy visit to Fidel Herminigildo of San Luis, Province of Aurora, Municipal Planning and Development Office (MPDO)
- Conducted a courtesy visit to Gil Dinglasan of Bongabon, MENRO
- Presented the EMPOWER project and obtained PAMB approval on May 31, 2022
- Presented the project at the Sangguniang Bayan (SB) of Lupi LGU on December 9, 2022
- Coordinated with Sooc, Lupi Barangay Chairman Arnel Bugagao
- Conducted a courtesy visit to Nestor Franz A. Fortuno of Camarines Norte, PENRO
- Conducted a courtesy visit at the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) Sipocot with the office’s Eduardo Ampongan and Supervising Ecosystem Management Specialist (SVEM) Melinda Rivera
- Conducted a courtesy visit to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Regional Director Francisco E. Milla, Jr.
Delineation and mapping of the project sites
The EMPOWER team initiated the delineation and mapping activities for the project sites simultaneously with the review and finalization of the MOAs between the DENR, LGUs, and HARIBON. This meant that as the groundwork for forest restoration was being laid out, the administrative processes that were equally important to complete the initial stages were also underway.
‘Delineation’ is the process of identifying the specific areas and boundaries of a restoration site, while ‘Mapping’ involves the use of the data gathered from the former, where they are transformed into visual representations that people can understand, such as maps.
During these activities, the team collected a wide range of data on the restoration sites. These included satellite images, aerial photographs, soil information, topographical data, and ground surveys, which are all vital in defining the boundaries of the areas for rehabilitation. The sites were then cross-referenced with a list of barangays together with a map from the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP), which indicated the locations of their facilities. These facilities include power transmission towers, substation transformers, insulators, and other electrical equipment that form part of the country's power grid. Their location in the vicinity of the project sites were taken into account for the safety and effectiveness of the forest restoration project in the areas.
The site delineation activities were carried out by a composite team of representatives from the DENR, LGUs, People's Organizations (POs), and the EMPOWER team. Additionally, HARIBON enlisted the assistance of the Protected Area Management Offices (PAMO) in each project site, whose members verified and validated the identified boundaries. PAMOs possess the necessary expertise and authority to determine which areas are suitable for restoration. They also have access to detailed Control/Database Maps, which provide precise information to locate these restoration sites. Through advanced technologies such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS), the PAMB created detailed maps illustrating the boundaries of the areas, as well as key features such as water bodies, access roads, and existing infrastructure.
After gathering all this data, the EMPOWER team submitted the results from the delineation, particularly the map of the restoration sites, to their respective DENR Regional Offices in order to facilitate the ongoing review of each project site’s MOA.
Importance of partnerships in restoration site acquisition
Embarking on a quest to find suitable land for environmental conservation, or in the case of the EMPOWER project, forest restoration, is no easy task. In fact, it is one of the biggest challenges in conservation. Selecting land that is both ecologically valuable and sustainable can be taxing since even the process of negotiating partnerships with government agencies managing the land takes time and diligence. For this reason, forging and cultivating relationships with stakeholders, building their trust, providing education, and involving communities in decision-making are crucial for conservation initiatives such as EMPOWER to be sustainable.
The project team brought together different stakeholders composed of government agencies, local communities, and indigenous peoples to protect and restore the forests of Central Luzon. Today, the team remains committed partners with the stakeholders to continue this work. The combined expertise and resources of these organizations will ensure the effective management of the restoration sites.
HARIBON values the wisdom and perspective of local communities and indigenous peoples in the fulfillment of its projects. By utilizing a consultative approach and involving them in the decision-making processes, while educating them about the importance of environmental conservation, their sense of ownership and stewardship for the land is nurtured. This fosters a deeper commitment towards supporting restoration efforts which helps them and biodiversity thrive for the long term.
This approach is applied towards all stakeholders, and the process is similar to a series of roundtable discussions where each member organization’s representative is given a seat at the table, so that all voices are heard. The process is applied throughout the project, allowing members to make informed decisions together as they consider diverse opinions and lived experiences, thereby helping create strategies that are effective and just for those involved.
The EMPOWER team had already overcome this hurdle in biodiversity conservation, a reminder that while the path of conservation comes with difficulties, each one can also be met with its own diverse solutions. HARIBON will continue to uphold its spirit of conservation together with its partners. With support from NGCP, the organization will be able to follow through with their commitment and efforts towards biodiversity conservation.