Mt. Apo boulder face challenge may be cancelled, mount closure eyed due to fire
DAVAO CITY – Tourism officials are considering postponing the scheduled Mt. Apo boulder face challenge in April this year if the raging forest fire eating up part of the forest of the country’s highest peak will pose danger to climbers’ lives.
Roberto Alabado III, regional director of the Department of Tourism (DOT), also said he was open to the prospect of closing down Mt. Apo to mountain climbers for years if only to rehabilitate it.
“If PAMB (Protected Area Management Board) propose it, why not?” Alabado replied to the suggestions from environment groups to close the mountain from climbers for three to four years to allow it to rejuvenate.
“Our focus is mainly for sustainable tourism,” he said, “We have to consider the carrying capacity and the health of the environment before we encourage tourism activity in the area.”
He stressed that a decision has not been made whether to continue the scheduled Mt. Apo boulder face challenge this year and it would depend on the damage that the fire has made on the mountain. “This (the forest fire) is too painful for us,” he said.
“Mt. Apo is sacred for our indigenous peoples, some mountaineers are crying, instead of the usual (boulder face challenge) competition, we may have to find some way for people to take action to rehabilitate the forest, to heal the wounds of the mountain,” he said.
“If the trails are deemed dangerous, we may either have to postpone or to cancel the challenge,” he said, referring to the Mt. Apo boulder face challenge scheduled on April 24 this year.
The Mt. Apo boulder face challenge is a 24-hour extreme adventure race that involves four tough activities — mountain climbing, trekking, water tubing and road running. Teams of competitors must endure and be fast. The winning team is the one that reaches Mt. Apo’s peak first.
Alabado also voiced concern over the spread of the fire toward the Davao del Sur and Davao City areas, because of the large track of forest lands involved in these areas. “We need all the help we can muster because the fire is now eating up part of our forests, and it’s very hard to control,” Alabado said. “Most of the North Cotabato area are grasslands and flatlands, but here, we have real forest lands.”
“If tourism is seen to bring about negative impact on the mountain, we are all for stopping the tourism activities for a while to allow the mountain to recover,” said Alabado, who also expressed support for the imposition of stricter rules to protect the trails.
The fire, which broke out during Black Saturday, March 26, at the Kapatagan Trail in Digos City, has already razed an estimated 300 hectares of forest land. Its cause has yet to be determined.
The environment group, Interface for Development Intervention (IDIS), urged the Davao City Watershed Management Council to draw up a quick reaction plan to prevent the fire from wiping out the remaining dipterocarp forests in the Davao City side.
“The WMC should monitor the situation very closely because of reports that the forest fire is threatening to spread to Tamayong area, which is located within the Mt. Talomo watershed,” said Ann Fuertes, IDIS executive director.
“As climate change occurs, the watersheds will be more vulnerable to forest fires,” Fuertes said. “This is the new normal,” she added.
“As climate patterns are disrupted, resulting in long periods where there is no rain, forest fires will most certainly happen. It’s tragic that this had to happen to Mt. Apo. Given the high elevation and harsh environmental conditions – too cold and too windy- it will not be easy to rehabilitate the local forest ecology, which has survived for hundreds of years.”
The raging fire has already wiped out the mini-forest in Lake Venado, a popular and ecologically important tourist attraction in the area. Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has deployed Davao City’s Emergency 911 to help contain the fire.
“Long-term watershed management planning should take into account the possibility of forest fire,” said Fuertes. “All land, natural resource and community planning should include the management and mitigation of wildfire at all appropriate scales.”
Fuertes called on stakeholders to proactively pitch in to protect the city’s watersheds. “While Central 911 and other disaster management units are at the frontline battling the forest fire, other local stakeholders who have the capacity, resources and expertise on forest management and conservation should take part in planning for preventive measures to protect our city’s remaining forests from being burnt,” she said. SFM
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