Natural resources, no matter how numerous and vast the reserves may be, are not infinite nor inexhaustible. Such notion that it will never be depleted has long been debunked after decades of almost insatiable wants for its raw materials and highly irresponsible methods of exploiting them. With lessons learned, the trend now is towards protection and conservation and sustainable use of the remaining natural resources and restoring lost ones. 

Responding to that call, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) through the Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB), has facilitated the legislation of 244 protected areas (PAs) nationwide. With the passage of Republic Act 11038 or the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas (E-NIPAS) System of 2018, the country has now more than 7 million hectares of protected areas. This Act is also instrumental in saving at least a dozen species from extinction.

No less than Secretary Roy A. Cimatu has shown his utmost appreciation to the successful completion of the designation of protected areas by the BMB, whose mandate is to conserve and sustainably manage the country’s rich biological diversity.

Among these legislated protected area is the Lake Danao Natural Park in Ormoc City, Leyte.

MONITORING THE BIODIVERSITY OF LDNP

A key component for an area to be designated as a protected area is the presence of rich diverse flora and fauna and ensuring that it thrives. To do this, an important regular activity of any protected area is the conduct of a biodiversity monitoring system (BMS). 

The BMS has been designed to contribute to the improved conservation and sustainable use of forests, freshwater and marine wetlands. In particular, protected areas have been established to conserve the Philippine samut-saring buhay or ‘biodiversity’. Repeated data sampling or monitoring can show if the biodiversity of an area is being maintained in accordance with the NIPAS Act and the management objectives of the area. (BMS Manual for Protected Areas, February 2021).

The biodiversity monitoring system is an important tool to monitor the trend of the population of the biodiversity in the protected area and the tabulated data can be used to craft an effective action plan that is responsive to the actual situation”, says Forester Abel Tulin, Forest Extension Officer (FEO) assigned at the LDNP and participates in the regular conduct of the BMS.

Likewise, the main objective of the BMS is to improve the database that will be readily available to those tasked to formulate policies towards effective protected area management. By focusing on the trend of biodiversity and how it is being utilized, crafting of policies and action plans will be tailored fit for the protected area. A task that is lodged with the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB), the highest policy making body of any protected area.

Through the analysis on data gathered during the BMS, the PAMB will be equipped to effectively determine the effectiveness of policies they crafted which includes livelihood programs on natural resource use, resource use permits, establishment of sanctuaries and possibly seasonal closures, municipal/city ordinances, and its other management interventions including the concerned local government unit to address threats to the protected area.

The BMS also includes the conduct of focus group discussions with the local community. It encourages dialogue between personnel of the PA and the communities near and within the PA. Said dialogue includes discussion on the status and trend of PA resources management which is expected to result in a healthy collaboration of all stakeholders in the regulation of resource use, prohibition of encroachment by outsiders and law enforcement within the PA.

Likewise in the conduct of BMS activity, members of the community are tapped as a guide during the established transect walk route. They are also involved in field and photo documentation activities and in the conduct of focus group discussion at the barangay level on what they observed during the BMS. The purpose here is for the communities near and within the protected area to have an increased awareness of the activities that affect biodiversity. 

However, the BMS is but a starting point in identifying the biodiversity in a protected area. More often than not, the vastness of a protected area is a mismatch to the number of personnel on the field tasked to monitor and manage the area. With the limited resources, both in personnel and equipment, information gathered by the BMS activity is merely representative of the actual presence of flora and fauna.

At LDNP, the recent BMS projected an encouraging landscape in terms of its healthy biodiversity, especially, of its flora and fauna. This, after Super Typhoon Yolanda denuded the already secondary forests of LDNP, the destructive earthquake in 2017, and of late, the COVID-19 pandemic. “There has been a noticeable increase of documented flora and fauna in the area. Of bird species alone, there are already 30 species documented and we are confident that there are plenty more out there that remains unaccounted”, says Forester Jose Darwin D. Encarnacion, Assistant Protected Superintendent (APASu) of LDNP. 

Consistently monitored at the LDNP are the Brahminy kite, Philippine Serpent Eagle, Philippine Hawk Eagle as well as the colorful Oriol, Yellow-breasted fruit Dove, Philippine Hanging Parrot, and even the Philippine pygmy Woodpecker.

The recently documented presence of the Tarsier and Philippine pygmy Squirrel is a fascinating addition to a growing number of faunal species inhabiting the park.

Not to be outdone are floral species found in the protected area such as the tiger orchid and the endangered pitcher plant that will surely be an envy to plant and orchid enthusiasts – the plantitos and plantitas

These are all good indicators that even though what we have at the LDNP are already secondary forests, the biodiversity is thriving with life. The challenge now is how to maintain and even make LDNP a peaceful habitat of more flora and fauna where people can feast their eyes on,” shared Forester Merlyn Barte, Protected Area Superintendent (PASu) of LDNP. 

PASu Barte emphasized that the presence in the area of many species of birds and of mammals is proof that the environment is not disturbed by human activities. With their habitation, they provide balance and stability of nature’s process, that is, there is a healthy interaction of plants and animals and that of the whole environment.

MANAGING THE LDNP AS A PROTECTED AREA

While the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) is the highest policy-making body that provides the direction for protected area management, it is the DENR through its Protected Area Management Office (PAMO) that manages and implements the policies and resolutions of the PAMB.

The LDNP is fortunate to have active members of PAMB, including the local government of Ormoc City that has put a premium on developing the protected areas as a prime ecotourism destination. There is an active and healthy collaboration between the members of the PAMB and the PAMO. Even at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, they continue to have their focus fixed on reopening a better LDNP to receive nature lovers and visitors, albeit, with certain limitations and strict compliance of minimum health protocols.

Meantime, the PAMO with its limited manpower has a daunting task of managing and monitoring the 2,244.16 hectares that encompass the whole LDNP. On their own, this is simply impossible. It is good enough that the city government has agreed to shoulder the salary of additional employees that will augment PAMO staff. This limited manpower of LDNP is the same scenario that challenges other PAs in the region.

People’s organizations (POs) operating within LDNP serve as watchdog of the PAMO. They are active collaborators in ensuring that visitors coming into LDNP will enjoy their stay but attuned to their responsibility of maintaining a healthy surrounding and a healthy nature reserve.

With an involved community and a participative process, they become the force-multipliers of the limited staff of the protected area. “There were many instances that it is the people themselves who would provide information of any disturbance or the presence of suspicious people roving within the LDNP. The timely information has thwarted possible illegal activities within the PA,” says PASu Barte.

MOVING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

Visitors can now enjoy again the refreshing and cool atmosphere of LDNP with additional amenities to make their stay comfortable with a pavilion and an Eco lodge for overnight stay. They can even make their visit more memorable with indigenous photo booths scattered in different locations of the park. They can continue to enjoy the guitar-shaped lake through floating cottages operated by POs and even a leisurely walk through identified trekking areas. 

Also, listening to the chirping of the different species of birds will surely add to a relaxing mood. One may even be lucky enough to see these colorful birds and eagles perched on trees or in flight or of tarsiers and squirrels hugging the trees that are spread throughout the park will be an exciting sight.

At LDNP, it is the experience of being with nature that truly counts. Whenever one exits LDNP, he/she carries with him/her the realization that one should learn to live in harmony with nature for a blissful existence.

As one Forester who regularly monitors the biodiversity of LDNP would say, “conducting BMS is physically taxing and even hazardous, but not everyone has this chance of being in communion with nature. Knowing that any effort invested to the task is for the protection of the biodiversity so that others will have the opportunity to enjoy them too, that then is truly fulfilling.”