Z AMBOANGA CITY, Zamboanga del Sur, Philippines – The late Environment Secretary Gina Lopez immediately fell in love with Pasonanca Nature Park the first time she set foot there in 2018.
“If La Mesa [Watershed] that’s gold [Pasonanca Natural Park] is a super, super diamond,” Lopez said admiringly during a tour of the park’s buffer zone in the village of Canucutan – just 5 kilometers from downtown Zamboanga – where a number of giant, century-old trees served as fortresses before entering the park. strict protection zone.
Pasonanca Natural Park was originally established in 1987 as a watershed forest reserve covering 10,560 hectares. It was extended to 12,107 ha and reclassified as a natural park in 1999.
Conservationists say the park has the largest remaining block of ancient lowland dipterocarp forest on the Zamboanga Peninsula.
Rock formations, springs and waterfalls can also be found inside the park which spans the villages of Pasonanca, Lunzuran, Lumayang, Cacao, Lapacan, Lamisahan, Bungiao, La Paz, Balurno and Dulian, and a part of the city of Sibuco in the province of Zamboanga del Norte.
About 60% of the park is covered with forests while the rest is devoted to agricultural production, tourism and housing.
According to Mark Paredes, Acting Chief Executive of the Zamboanga City Water District (ZCWD), the park’s forest canopy is home to various streams and rivers that provide safe and clean fresh water to nearly one million residents of the city of Zamboanga. Zamboanga.
But due to a lack of infrastructure, mainly a check dam, ZCWD can only use 38 percent of the estimated 100,000 cubic meters of water generated daily by the park’s forest, Paredes said.
Valerie Gutierrez, ZCWD’s environmental and water resources manager, said the park’s water sources, once tapped, could ensure that its 68,000 service connections are fully serviced even in drought conditions.
In 2016 and 2019, ZCWD had to ration water due to El Niño, when its production dropped by 50%, leaving many households in high areas without a water supply.
On average, ZCWD requires 68,000 m3 of water per day.
Flora, stock of fauna
The park is home to endangered dipterocarp tree species like Mindanao narek, yakal-magasusu, gisok-gisok, almon, white lauan, kalunti, mayapis, tanguile, Mindanao narig, Mindanao palosapis and dao, Domiliza Campaner, superintendent of l protected area of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
In addition, the watershed is also home to 15,000 species of flora, 50% of which are endemic and 193 are now classified as endangered species. Some of them are rare orchid species Amesiella monticola, Phalaenopsis stuartiana, Cymbidium aliciae, Vandopsis lissochiloides, and ordinary and giant staghorn ferns.
The watershed, Campaner said, is also home to 109 species of birds, 24 species of mammals, 71 species of reptiles, 44 species of amphibians and 77 families of insects.
A pair of Philippine eagles are found in the park, Campaner said.
Other birds found in the park are the Mindanao bleeding heart, Philippine dwarf kingfisher, Philippine leafbird and lesser slate flycatcher, which are listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. the wild (IUCN), and the Zamboanga bulbul which is becoming rare due to habitat loss. Rangers needed
According to Paredes, it is necessary to strengthen the protection measures of the park because of its economic and ecological importance.
“We can’t let intruders destroy it. We must make our people understand that this turning point is not only [a] forest. This is the life of every Zamboangueño, including endemic and endangered flora and fauna,” he said.
Currently, only 45 rangers, spread over 15 posts, secure the park against wild animal hunters and poachers. ZCWD employed 145 rangers, but due to financial constraints it was forced to reduce their numbers while management focused on solving its non-revenue water problem due to leaks from its old pipes. rusty.
Councilor Joselito Macrohon recalled that the previous local government leadership pledged to increase the number of rangers by 80. However, hiring was stalled due to the pandemic.
To solve the problem, Campaner said the support of the national government would also be needed.
In Davao City, groups lobbied for a declaration of the DENR as a critical habitat of the Makabol-Alikoson mountain range to strengthen its protection.
Among those pushing for the measure are Interfacing Development Interventions for Sustainability, Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF), Sustainable Davao Movement, Ecoteneo, Bantay Bukid and the people of Barangay Salaysay.
Based on the series of expeditions between July and August, the area was found to be a breeding ground for the Philippine eagle and the habitat of other important wildlife species.
A critical habitat is an area outside a protected area known to harbor threatened species and designated as such on the basis of scientific data. The DENR has special rules for its proper management. Research conducted by the University of the Philippines in Mindanao revealed that there are 119 species of terrestrial vertebrates in the region. These include 88 birds, 16 amphibians, six reptiles, five bats and four non-flying mammals. Some 39 species are endemic to the country and another 23 can only be found in Mindanao.
Of these, the white-necked fruit bat (Megaaerops wetmorei) is listed by the IUCN as vulnerable; the Near Threatened Philippine Tarsier (Carlito syrictha); the vulnerable flying dragon or Mindanao lizard (Draco mindanensis); Mindanao Fanged Frog (Limnonectes magnus) Near Threatened; Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) Critically Endangered; Mindanao falcon eagle (Nisaetus pinskeri) endangered; and the vulnerable giant screech-owl (Otus gurneyi).
Philippine endemic trees are also found in the area, such as white lauan, almon, binuang, ulayan, almaciga, yakal, sagimsim, and mountain agoho.
Dr. Jayson Ibañez, PEF director for research and conservation, said based on the studies, there was a need to declare the area as critical habitat.
Potential heritage site
“Besides the Philippine eagle, there are other endangered species that are on the verge of extinction and need to be protected. These indicators are consistent with the guidelines for declaring critical habitat,” Ibañez said.
Stretching over some 8,819 ha, the Makabol-Alikoson mountain range is home to the town’s drinking water sources and the livelihoods of some 6,000 Salaysay residents.
Late last year, groups raised howls of protest with the DENR issuing a permit to cut down 121 trees in the area, leading to a petition for the mountains to be preserved.
Among those who signed the petition was American scientist James W. Grier, believed to be the “midwife” to the 1992 hatch of the Philippine eagle Pag-asa.
Grier, a professor emeritus in the Department of Biological Sciences at North Dakota State University and an adviser to the PEF, said the Makabol region should be left in its “natural state” as much as possible, “including leaving old and even fallen trees naturally in place”.
In the letter to DENR Regional Executive Director Bagani Fidel Evasco, Grier said he plans to recommend the Makabol region as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage Site. Culture.
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