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DENR mulls park closure to human activities for forest defense

By Danny O. Calleja

LEGAZPI CITY, June 28 (PNA) -– One way of preserving the remaining forest wealth of the Bicol National Park is closing the area to human activities, the regional office of the Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources here so believes.

This idea is contained in a comprehensive strategy that the DENR-Bicol wants enforced “to further strengthen the protection and conservation” of the park, a 5,201-hectare (about 57-square-kilometer) protected area established under Proclamation No. 655 way back in February 1934.

The park, popularly known as the Bitukang Manok (chicken gut) for the zigzag of the Maharlika Highway that coils through it, is located in the Camarines provinces — sprawling along the towns of Basud and San Lorenzo Ruiz within the Camarines Norte side and Lupi and Sipocot inside the borders of Camarines Sur.

Considered as a highly threatened protected forest, BNP has been deemed by environmental experts as a “vanishing treasure” amid unabated forest destruction.

A 2009 report by the Department for International Development of the United Kingdom and the European Forest Institute said only 7.6 square kilometers of “the original grandeur” of the BNP remains.

“The comprehensive strategy will provide solutions to various issues besetting the BNP and contributing to further degradation of the protected area,” DENR regional executive director Gilbert Gonzales said over the week.

Gonzales said the proposed closure is part of the management zoning that defines the park's strict protection zone or areas with high bio-diversity value which shall be closed to human activities, except for scientific studies and/or ceremonial or religious use by indigenous communities.

The zoning also includes the multi-use zone that pertains to areas where settlement, traditional or sustainable land use — including agriculture, agroforestry, extraction activities and other income-generating or livelihood activities — may be allowed to the extent prescribed by the Protected Area Management Board.

These strategies ensure that the BNP is well-protected from instances of encroaching by illegal settlers, Gonzales said, stressing on the need for the park’s occupants to clear out from the protected forest.

“We badly need the forest,” the DENR regional chief said, citing studies that trees inhale carbon dioxide – one of the major contributing elements to the greenhouse effect which causes climate change – and exhale oxygen that is needed by humans and other living organisms.

The decimation of rainforests and mass consumption of trees destroy what experts call the “carbon sinks,” he said

Besides, Gonzales said, protecting and preserving the BNP and all other forest resources of the region will complement the National Greening Program which, together with the Aquino administration’s total log ban policy and three other categories, received a perfect score of 100 percent in the 2012 Environmental Performance Index of the World.

These policies are contained in the issuance by Pres. Benigno Aquino III of Executive Order Nos. 23 and 26.

EO 23 imposes moratorium on the cutting of trees in natural and residual forests.

It also mandated the creation of an anti-illegal logging task force with the DENR secretary as head and the chiefs of the Dept. of Interior and Local Government, Dept. of National Defense and the Armed Forces as members.

EO 26 declared the NGP that so far is the largest reforestation program in history of Philippines.

The program aims to plant 1.5 billion trees from 2011 until 2016 covering 1.5 million hectares in public land domains.

Because of the perfect score garnered by the administration’s twin forest policies, the Philippine ranking has improved by eight notches to No. 42 in 2012 from No. 50 in 2010 among the countries evaluated by four respected international institutions.

Based on the study, the Philippines jumped eight places — up from its 50th rank in 2010, outranking the United States (49th) and Israel (61st) while retaining its ranking of eighth in the Asia-Pacific region.

This is higher than South Korea, Australia and Singapore which ranked ninth, 10th and 11th, respectively.

EPI is an evaluation of the sustainability of the environmental programs and policies of the countries concerned.

The evaluation was made by the Yale University, Columbia University, the World Economic Forum and the Joint Research Center of the European Commission.

The EPI, prepared in collaboration with the World Economic Forum in Geneva, Switzerland, and the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission in Italy, studies data to analyze how the global community is doing on particular policy issues against environmental pressures and is used to steer individual countries toward environmental sustainability.

For 2012, the EPI ranked 132 countries on 22 performance indicators across 10 policy categories under two policy objectives, environmental health and ecosystem vitality.

The Philippines gained perfect scores in the indicators for outdoor air pollution, change in forest cover and growing stocks in forests.

Strong regulatory efforts of the government to obtain cleaner air is evidenced by the 30 percent drop in the amount of total suspended particulates (TSP) from 166 µg/Ncm (micrograms per normal cubic meter) in June 2010 to 116 µg/Ncm towards the end of last year.

The normal standard set for TSP by the World Health Organization is 90 µg/Ncm.

Particulate matter or dust contributes to respiratory infections and other diseases.

It is pleasing to note that the international community has recognized our efforts on environmental protection and management and we want this sustained by instituting more measures in favor of the BNP as a showcase in Bicol,” Gonzales added. (PNA)

HBC/FGS/DOC/CBD

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