Did you know that people rely on forests more than we realize? They are not just home to numerous wildlife species, but they regulate the climate and provide benefits that impact our daily lives. However, not all forest management practices are sustainable.
The EMPOWER project has organized various orientation sessions to encourage Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) in protected areas (PAs). From June to July of 2023, HARIBON foresters oriented stakeholders on SFM and the SFM Bill at its restoration sites of Aurora Memorial National Park (AMNP), Bicol Natural Park (BNP), and Pantabangan-Carranglan Watershed Forest Reserve (PCWFR). These discussions served as platforms to raise awareness and understanding on SFM practices and their importance in preserving our forests.
On June 29 and July 20, 2023, HARIBON’s Lead Forester, Thaddeus Martinez, delivered presentations orienting community partners on SFM and its corresponding bill at the AMNP and PCWFR, respectively. For BNP, Forester Mark Vincent Felicitas held an orientation of the SFM to people’s organization (PO) partners on July 19, 2023.
Through the Engaging Multi-stakeholder Participation Towards Ecosystem Restoration for Community Resiliency (EMPOWER) project, HARIBON is able to help conserve these PAs while empowering local communities and ensuring that they benefit from sustainable, eco-friendly livelihoods. This approach creates a win-win situation for both the environment and the partner communities.
The role of sustainable forest management in conserving protected areas
Protected areas, such as national parks, wildlife reserves, and forest reserves, play a crucial role in preserving biodiversity and safeguarding fragile habitats. These areas act as vital refuges for countless plant and animal species, providing them with the space and resources they need to thrive, thereby preventing their extinction that could disrupt the delicate balance of our ecosystems. They also help mitigate climate change by acting as carbon sinks. At the same time, they support the well-being and cultural heritage of local communities.
But how do we ensure the long-term sustainability of these protected areas? That's where SFM comes into play. A method used to care for forests in a responsible way, SFM contains practices that balance the needs of the environment, economy, and society. Its goal is to guarantee the use and enjoyment of forests today while safekeeping the ability of future generations to experience the same benefits.
The use of SFM is key to PA protection and sustainability as it encourages responsible practices such as forest restoration and protection, and wood production in appropriate areas or land use zones. This ensures that there remains enough forest cover that can keep providing a growing population valuable services like clean water and air, carbon storage, biodiversity, and soil conservation. The activities introduced in SFM also strengthens the participation of the communities living in and around the PAs. By involving them in the decision-making process and providing sustainable livelihoods, communities are encouraged to take responsibility for their environment and become more invested in protecting their natural surroundings.
Biodiversity at the EMPOWER sites and addressing threats through sustainable forest management
The AMNP, BNP, and PCWFR are among the Philippines’ protected areas that are crucial for biodiversity conservation and sustainable forest governance.
Aurora Memorial National Park: The AMNP is a large area of land that covers about 6,516.93 hectares. It is located along the Sierra Madre Mountain Range stretching across three municipalities: Maria Aurora and San Luis in Aurora province, and Bongabon in Nueva Ecija. The AMNP is a critical area for biodiversity due to the wide range of plants and animals living there. In fact, it is also recognized as an Important Bird Area (IBA) because of the various bird species found in the park. While the number of species are vast at AMNP, there are 20 animal species that are in danger of extinction at this park. One example is the Philippine Eagle, which is categorized in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as critically endangered with an estimated population of only around 500 individuals existing in the wild throughout the entire Philippines (Birdlife International, 2023). Philippine Eagle sightings are extremely rare at AMNP, making it very special to see one of these majestic birds. In addition to the animals, there are also plant species at risk, with 16 different varieties considered under IUCN’s Threatened category. One particularly fascinating species in the AMNP is the Rafflesia Manillana, which is believed to be the smallest of Rafflesias in the world. It's pretty amazing to see such unique and rare plants in this park!
Threats to the park include poaching, unlawful mining, and wood laundering. It is also vulnerable to typhoons and landslides, which have the potential to seriously harm plants, animals, and also people living in and near it.
Bicol Natural Park: The BNP is a protected area located in a specific region of the Philippines, covering a large land mass that’s about 5,466 hectares. This park is unique because it is the only place in the country with a lowland dipterocarp forest. In it are a vast array of animal species that living on land - around 190 species to be exact! Some of these animals are categorized as endangered or rare. Take for example the Gray Monitored Lizard, which is in danger of disappearing. There is also the Woodsworth frog, a species not commonly found in the country’s forests. And lastly, there is the Luzon Hornbill, a beautiful bird that is also a rare sight.
Threats to the BNP are unlawful hunting, kaingin or slash-and-burn agriculture, and wood laundering. The park is also vulnerable to calamities caused by nature, including volcanic eruptions and landslides.
Pangtabangan-Carranglan Watershed Forest Reserve: The PCWFR is a protected area with a massive land area covering about 94,170.92 hectares. It is divided among three provinces: Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya, and Aurora. Its two main rivers, the Carranglan River and the Pampanga River, flow into the Pantabangan Dam, which is also called the Upper Pampanga River Basin. Unfortunately, a number of dangers exist at the reserve, including wood laundering, kaingin or slash-and-burn farming, and mining operations. Additionally, it is prone to typhoons and landslides, among other natural disasters.
To address the threats facing these PAs, specific sustainable forest management activities can be implemented, including forest restoration, forest protection, and sustainable harvesting of non-timber forest products (NTFPs). Community-based forest management and actively involving communities in park management are also measures that can be implemented to improve the situation and survival of these forests and their ecosystems for the long-term..
For the long-term survival of these PAs, SFM activities must be carried out to address the threats facing these ecosystems.
The principles and practices of sustainable forest management
- Maintaining Forest Health: This principle means taking care of forests to keep them healthy and robust. It involves protecting trees from diseases and pests, replanting trees when they're cut down, and keeping the forest diverse with a variety of species of plants and animals.
- Protecting Biodiversity: Biodiversity is like the assortment of life in forests, including all the different flora and fauna. SFM preserves this diversity by ensuring that activities in forests do not harm or destroy important habitats for various wildlife.
- Respecting Legal Rules: SFM follows laws and regulations to provide fair and responsible management of forests. This includes getting the right permits and making sure that all activities are done in conformity with the existing forestry and environmental laws and policies.
- Supporting Local Communities: This principle is about helping the people who live near the forests. SFM helps local communities benefit from forests by providing jobs, resources, and opportunities without harming the environment.
- Balancing Benefits: SFM does its best to balance the various ecological services that forests provides, such as wood, clean water, and recreation. This is to make certain that people do not abuse the use of forest resources, which can harm the ability to provide other things we need that only these ecosystems can provide.
- Planning for the Long Term: SFM is all about thinking ahead and planning for the future. It means ensuring forest health for the long term and its sustainable use for the benefit of future generations to come.
- Monitoring and Learning: SFM involves keeping an eye on what's happening in forests and learning from our experiences. If something isn't working, we can change our methods to make sure forests stays healthy.
The EMPOWER project's role in sustainable forest management for protected areas
The EMPOWER project has undertaken reforestation through its Rainforestation initiatives to restore and expand forest cover in its project sites at the AMNP, BNP and PCWFR. By planting native trees and nurturing their growth, the project helped restore habitats and enhance the overall resilience of the forests in its sites.
For the past year, the project team was able to equip local communities, including indigenous people, with the necessary skills and knowledge to restore forests through a capacity building program that provides training in Rainforestation and Citizen's Action for Monitoring Ecosystems (CAME). Some activity highlights include Participatory Situational Analysis (PSA) prior to project implementation while the establishment of Community Ecological Sanctuaries (CES) occurred concurrently with these activities at the three project sites. The PSAs were conducted on June 28-29, 2023 at Sevilla Paradise Resort for AMNP, on June 22-23, 2023 at the PAMB Office in Buhi, Lupi, Camarines Sur for BNP, and on July 19 - 20, 2023 at Brgy Villarica, Pantabangan Nueva Ecija for PCWFR.
By providing education on SFM practices, the project enabled its partner POs at the sites to actively participate in the conservation and management of their forest resources. The communities were involved in decision-making processes and EMPOWER has raised a sense of ownership and responsibility among its partners towards the preservation of these PAs. This collaborative approach will not only lead to positive impacts on the conservation of the restoration sites, but it will also improve the livelihoods of the communities involved.
The project continues to work closely with local stakeholders and aims to strengthen forest governance through the implementation of robust monitoring mechanisms with CAME. This monitoring system will help enforce regulations and combat illegal activities such as logging and deforestation.
The success of EMPOWER in raising awareness on SFM relies heavily on the teamwork between the Haribon Foundation, local communities, and indigenous people, with the assistance of the partner Local Government Units (LGUs) and National Government Agencies (NGAs), particularly the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). These groups are the primary stakeholders of the forest resources that the project aims to conserve. Their support and active participation continues to fortify lasting partnerships and secure the sustainability of the project's outcomes.
Through the EMPOWER project, HARIBON has played a significant role in the field of sustainable forest management within PAs. It has achieved notable success in the prioritization of biodiversity conservation through community-based resource management, and strengthening the systems that govern forests, contributing to the well-being of local communities and helping reduce deforestation at the project sites. However, challenges like limited resources and the need for better policies and their enforcement must be addressed for the progress of Rainforestation initiatives. The National Grid Corporation of the Philippines’ (NGCP) continued support has allowed HARIBON to expand its achievements and share its methods. The partnership has the potential to shape a future where protected areas flourish and our invaluable natural heritage endures for generations to come.