DENR rejects Mt. Data downgrade from protected park
BAGUIO CITY—The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has rejected a proposal to reclassify the Mount Data National Park, where forest lands have been displaced by vegetable gardens.
The downgrade of the park’s status was proposed by the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) to separate the inhabited portions of the park from the remaining woodland.
Vegetable gardens have taken over 70 percent of Mount Data, one of the first forest areas to be declared a national park by the American colonial government, according to officials.
Linda Claire Inso-Pawid, Cordillera ecosystems management specialist of the DENR Protected Areas, Wildlife and Coastal Zone Management Service, said Ralph Pablo, DENR Cordillera director, has decided to continue protecting what is left of the park’s 5,512-hectare woodland.
The national park is a watershed serving the Mountain Province towns of Sabangan, Tadian and Bauko; the Benguet towns of Mankayan, Buguias, Bakun, Kibungan, Atok, Tublay, and La Trinidad; and the Ifugao town of Hungduan.
“About 90 hectares of mossy forest at the plateau had been fenced to protect it from expanding gardens,” Pawid said.
She said 2,500 ha of pine and mossy forests along the Halsema Highway also needed protection.
The PAMB proposal was first discussed in the 2012 Asian Development Bank analysis of the country’s Integrated Natural Resources and Environmental Management Project, which noted that the park had become “so degraded because of land conversion to vegetable farms that [a government agency] is recommending for its disestablishment as a protected area.”
In a May 3 meeting, DENR officials in the Cordillera argued against the proposal, saying downgrading a protected area would trigger a snowball effect, with local governments hosting other national parks seeking reclassification.
Since 2001, the DENR has been working to declare Mount Data as part of the National Integrated Protected Areas System (Nipas), Pawid said.
Its status as a national park, made through Proclamation No. 634 issued on Oct. 8, 1941, was limited to a general prohibition against all extractive activities within the park. The proclamation also ordered the relocation of settlers.
Under the Nipas, all forms of activities inside the Mount Data National Park would be regulated to protect its ecosystem. A 2012 study said Mount Data hosts 108 plant species which required protection.
“We still have a long way to go to attain [Nipas status]. The last step would be a congressional resolution,” Pawid said.
She said placing Mount Data under Nipas does not require the eviction of forest settlers as feared by the area’s indigenous communities.
She said the presence of indigenous peoples inside protected areas is proof that indigenous forest management systems are effective. Kimberlie Quitasol, with a report from Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon
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