Concerted efforts to save our natural environment, no matter how full of challenges, will always pay off in the end.
After almost a decade of relentless studies, consultations, and collaboration between environmental advocates and stakeholders, Mangatarem, Pangasinan, which is home to numerous endemic, unique, and threatened species of plants and animals, is now finally a declared Critical Habitat by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
Spanning five barangays, the 4,422.8-hectare forest lies in the northeastern part of the Zambales Mountains, which is considered an Important Biodiversity Area (IBA). Among the threatened and endemic fauna that can be found at Mangatarem are the Philippine deer, Philippine warty pig, Philippine duck, flame-breasted fruit dove, Philippine eagle owl, Luzon scops owl, and Rufous hornbill, as well as endangered flora such as oi-ói, kalíngag, malabayábas.
The Zambales Mountains are among the few remaining tropical rainforests in the country. According to nature conservation group Haribon Foundation, which has been helping to push this conservation effort for about a decade, the mountains also protect the critical watersheds for neighboring Zambales, and Tarlac provinces.
By virtue of the DENR administrative order signed by Secretary Roy A. Cimatu, the “DENR can save habitats which are critical for the survival of threatened species or species at risk of extinction, including other associated wildlife, and at the same time provide this land area a legal framework to protect it from destructive uses.”
Under the same administrative order, the management of the Mangatarem Critical Habitat shall be under the DENR-Region I (Ilocos Region), together with the local government of Mangatarem and stakeholders. They will be responsible for the preparation of the Critical Habitat Management Plan to ensure that existing ecosystems in the critical habitat are preserved.
In accordance with Republic Act 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act of 2001, dumping of waste products detrimental to wildlife, squatting and/or occupying any portion of the critical habitat, mineral exploration and/or extraction, burning, logging, and quarrying, will also be strictly prohibited.
According to a material published by Haribon Foundation on their website in 2016, these were exactly the problems that threatened to damage the forests of Mangatarem. “Logging, land conversion, mining, kaingin, tree cutting for charcoal and fuel wood production, and gathering of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) for domestic consumption and trading were evident in the site. A number of wild animals and plant species are nearing their extinction due to the constriction in their habitat,” they noted.
Faced with this predicament, the municipal LGU of Mangatarem, the DENR, and Haribon Foundation, worked together in educating the Mangatarem community on forest protection, and conservation.
This paved the way for the creation of the Forest Land Use Plan (FLUP) and the creation of a Steering Committee composed of multi-sectoral stakeholders, that ensured the proper execution and implementation of the FLUP and development of plans for the conservation of the specified areas.
There were issues that had to be ironed out along the way, which delayed the declaration of the forest as a Critical Habitat (CH) for years. But now that the declaration is official, here’s hoping everyone does their part in protecting it. Or all the effort that led to this important achievement will be for naught.