Protected Areas (PAs) are vital to conservation and the sustainability of forest restoration. For HARIBON’s EMPOWER project, we look at three of the Philippines’ key PAs, the Pantabangan-Carranglan Watershed Forest Reserve (PCWFR), Aurora Memorial National Park (AMNP), and Bicol Natural Park (BNP), and their significance to protecting ecosystems and sustainable development.
Engaging Multi-stakeholder Participation towards Ecosystem Restoration for Community Resiliency (EMPOWER) strives to improve the management of PAs through a review of the three sites’ Protected Area Management Plans (PAMP). Held on August 16 – 18, 2023, the project team, led by Project Manager Thaddeus Martinez, assessed if there have been developments on the plans and their governance over time.
The main goal of EMPOWER’s PAMP Review was to analyze and compare the current situation of the three project sites and protected areas with their corresponding management plans. This was made through the documentation of the performance of each PAMP’s vision, mission, and goals and whether these are being fulfilled with their current management and governance. The assessment’s specific objectives included identifying the factors that hinder the achievement of goals, providing recommendations for sustainability, and collating information for future project activities. With that, insights were gathered from community partners and EMPOWER team members on issues such as stakeholders' participation, gender inclusion, and potential conservation projects.
The mere establishment of PAs is not enough to ensure their long-term subsistence and effectiveness. To efficiently and sustainably protect and manage these areas, it is crucial to develop and implement tools such as PAMPs.
Why is it important to review the PAMP?
Considered as living documents, PAMPs are dynamic and require regular updating. The review’s results are based on a plan’s own contents which are then compared with on-site scenarios. The EMPOWER project’s PAMP assessment includes crafting recommendations for improving the overall management and governance of the PAs. This allows these plans to maintain their efficacy through adaptable and relevant conservation strategies that meets the specific needs of each site and are kept up to pace with new challenges and opportunities (Day, Dudley, Hockings, Holmes, Laffoley, Stolton, Wells & Wenzel, 2019).
- It maximizes the protection of biodiversity
- Human activities that pose threats to protected areas and biodiversity can come in old and new forms, such as the introduction of invasive species and land development that lead to habitat degradation. PAMP reviews provide conservation workers with the right information to understand the current and changing conditions of critical habitats, identify other emerging threats, and determine the necessary strategies, management techniques, and right investments to address these dangers and better protect biodiversity.
- It helps preserve ecological services
- PAs provide ecosystem services like water, climate regulation, and disaster protection. These services directly and indirectly impact human well-being. Reviewing PAMPs allow us to assess how effective management strategies are in preserving these ecosystem services and determine whether any changes are necessary to ensure that they continue to serve this benefit.
- It promotes sustainable development
- PAMPs focus not only on protecting and conserving natural and cultural resources in PAs but also on promoting sustainable development. Reviews help determine whether current management strategies are efficiently promoting sustainable economic and social development and create opportunities for stakeholders to see whether there is a balance between conservation efforts and accommodating human activities in protected areas.
An overview of the three EMPOWER sites’ PAMPs
The EMPOWER team took a look at its three sites to assess whether the project is meeting each protected area’s PAMP goals.
Pantabangan-Carranglan Watershed Forest Reserve
The PCWFR, located in Central Luzon, is noted for its rich biodiversity and critical role in water conservation. The site’s management plan focuses on sustainable forest management approaches that conserve biodiversity while also ensuring water security for neighboring towns. It includes programs such as reforestation, animal conservation, and community-based ecotourism projects.
Aurora Memorial National Park
The AMNP, located in the province of Aurora, is a refuge for nature enthusiasts seeking tranquility amidst lush foliage and unspoiled scenery. Its PAMP strives to maintain its unique ecosystems by enforcing serious restrictions on illegal logging and hunting. Furthermore, it stresses community engagement through livelihood initiatives that promote sustainable tourism while improving environmental awareness.
Bicol Natural Park
The BNP, which spans six provinces in the Bicol Region, is a testimony to the locality’s natural history. Its tropical rainforests and marine reserves serve as habitats to a wide array of indigenous plant and animal species. Its PAMP prioritizes biodiversity protection via habitat restoration, wildlife monitoring, and sustainable resource management methods. It also encourages eco-tourism activities that create economic opportunities for local communities while simultaneously promoting environmental education and awareness.
What are the weaknesses in PAMPs?
One of the biggest problems facing protected areas in the Philippines is the lack of policies supporting their conservation and sufficient implementation. Even though laws are in place to protect these sites, economic growth is often prioritized over the protection of the environment, which can result in difficulties and inconsistencies in law enforcement. The office responsible for carrying out park laws and safeguarding natural resources does not receive enough support due to an absence in strong policies or in some cases, the need to strictly implement already existing laws and policies is evident.
Another challenge is the need for secure land rights by indigenous communities and settlers living in PAs. Improving the planning process for managing protected areas can be challenging as well because it takes time and the commitment and participation of various stakeholders including LGUs, environmental experts, NGOs, and local communities.
Lastly, poverty in communities within and near protected areas also adds pressure to these ecosystems. Many people living in these areas are dependent on forest ecosystems for their food and source of income. According to the 2015 SRPAO, for instance, a significant portion of households of AMNP (61%), specifically indigenous people, rely on its natural resources for their livelihood (PAMB-AMNP, 2019). Addressing social inequalities, especially land ownership issues, is crucial for protecting the country's biodiversity and its PAs (SEPO, 2021).
What is the best approach in reviewing PAMPs?
There are several methods that can be used to assess the health of a protected area. Available resources also need to be considered, such as time, money, and the reason for conducting the assessment. Below are different approaches that may be utilized in PAMP reviews:
- An in-depth approach: This can be used to study a few important areas in detail and make changes based on learnings, after which a long and detailed procedure may be used.
- A site-level scorecard-based approach: This is used to keep track of the performance of a good number of areas. The scalability of a site-level scorecard-based approach is flexible. For example, if the assessment focuses on a specific sector, the number of sites assessed may vary based on the location of those sites. In other cases, researchers choose a representative sample number of sites while others can assess all relevant sites for a more comprehensive output. A simpler method may be used for the scoring of each area.
- A system-level approach: This is used to identify ways to improve the whole system of PAs, which is a more comprehensive process that considers a big picture perspective.
- A categorical approach: This can be used if there is a need to simply gain a quick idea of the problems in an area, a simple technique that does not require an extensive amount of time.
There are cases when various approaches may be combined to attain a more complete view of the situation of a PA. It's also good practice to use other approaches that fit ever-changing landscapes and situations.
To fully achieve the purpose of PAs, there is a need to address interconnected issues such as inadequate management, financial constraints, and law enforcement problems. Local communities must be provided with appropriate human resources such as conservation experts to conduct training, as well as coordinators to facilitate the implementation of activities. They could also benefit greatly from financial and social support, particularly those whose livelihoods directly depend on forest and marine ecosystems.
Investing in natural resource protection and conservation can help prevent future pandemics while providing jobs and economic stimulus. It is critical for Protected Area Management Boards (PAMBs) and Local Government Units (LGUs) to continuously partner with other institutions to make efficient use of available resources and opportunities, and also receive financial assistance from grant-giving organizations. For better enforcement, the government can also further strengthen its efforts through initiatives such as creating educational programs, forming support networks, and providing incentives to local enforcers (SEPO, 2021).
Through the EMPOWER project, the Haribon Foundation and National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) are working together to protect and manage the PCWFR, AMNP, and BNP, which are critical biodiversity areas in the Philippines. We need to have effective management plans for these areas to survive and thrive, benefiting both people and other species. Through PAMP reviews, we can take a comprehensive look at the situation of the biodiversity in each PA, discover new ways to protect them, and support their sustainable development. While problems exist in PAs, such as inadequate laws and increasing poverty, solutions are available through participative and inclusive action between local communities, the government, and private sector partners. With these considerations, we are one step closer towards ensuring that protected areas are continuously safeguarded and that help is accessible for people and the environment.