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Ilonggo Network

Forest protection a challenge

The province of Negros Occidental commemorated the 23 rd Provincial Environment Week last week, and numerous activities were initiated to remind the public of the importance of environmental protection.

During the awarding of the Seal of Good Environmental Governance to various institutions with commendable efforts on environment, which was one of the highlights of the week-long celebration, Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr. encouraged everyone to continue to work hard in protecting the environment, because its benefit is intergenerational.

As far as I could remember, Negros Occidental was the pioneer province in the Philippines that observed this kind of event. The affair has gone a long way after the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Negros Occidental has declared every 4th week of June as the province's Environment Week 23 year ago. It was prompted by the declaration of the environment war by former Governor Rafael Coscolluela. From then on, the Environment Week is becoming a major event in the province. Some cities and municipalities, like Cadiz, Kabankalan and EB Magalona, have already localized the holding of the Environment Week.

Although there were considerable efforts from both government and nongovernment organizations in promoting environmental protection in Negros Occidental, there are still numerous challenges that await concrete actions to address environmental degradation and depletion of the province's natural resources.

The Provincial Environment Management Office claimed that the forest in Negros Occidental has increased, from four percent to seven percent of the province's total land area during the past years. While this is a significant and important development, it is still far below, compared with the 35 percent classified forestland of Negros Occidental. A large portion of Negros Occidental's forestland has already been converted into other uses, such as agriculture and settlement, and, therefore, further forest restoration remains a major challenge in the province.

Forest restoration is a key concern in Negros Occidental, because numerous forest-dependent species are already declared as threatened species, many of which are endemic to Negros and West Visayas Biogeographic Zone. One of the major factors for the endangerment of our endemic species is the destruction of natural habitat, particularly the forest ecosystem.

During the recent field survey of the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc., it was found out that some species formerly occurring in Mount Kanla-on Natural Park could hardly be found and recorded now, particularly hornbills and doves, in some sites of the protected area. Rampant hunting has also been observed at the Murcia side of Mount Kanla-on.

The remaining natural forests in Negros Occidental are not yet fully secured from destructive activities. One concrete example was the forest destruction in the wilderness area in Hinoba-an town, while the remaining forest patches in Sipalay, Cauayan and Candoni have no clear management mechanisms to ensure that they are protected. This is a very important issue, especially so that the said forest patches comprise the South Western Negros Key Biodiversity Area.

In the same manner, the forest in the Northern Negros Natural Park, considered as the largest forest block in Negros Island, is threatened with conversion into settlement with the construction of several vacation houses and private resorts in the area.

In many areas of the province, natural forest is still the major source for local timber and fuel needs, including charcoal. This is particularly true in areas where there are no legitimate and legal lumber suppliers. It is, therefore, very important that programs promoting tree plantations for production purposes shall be pursued. Forest protection could not be primarily addressed solely by law enforcement, but we also need to address local demands for timber and fuelwood. *

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