The Negros Occidental Environment Week kicks off with a thanksgiving mass and opening ceremony at the Social Hall of the Capitol in Bacolod City Monday morning, June 21.
It is expected that Governor Eugenio Jose “Bong” Lacson will open the weeklong celebration, which is already on its 29th year. The province has adopted the theme of the World Environment Day, “Ecosystem Restoration,” held on June 5, for this year’s commemoration.
The Provincial Environment Management Office spearheads the Environment Week, in partnership with various government and nongovernment institutions and organizations. Numerous activities have been lined up reflecting and demonstrating the restoration of various ecosystems, from uplands to marine environment.
The whole country is also observing the Environment Month this June. Aside from the province, the municipal and city governments in Negros Occidental have similarly declared localized Environment Week celebrations. The cities of Himamaylan and Sagay and municipalities of San Enrique, Cauayan, and Moises Padilla celebrated Environment Week on June 7 – 11. Kabankalan, La Carlota, and Talisay cities, as well as the municipalities of EB Magalona, Hinigran, Binalbagan, Manapla, and Isabela have their Environment Week celebrations on June 14 – 28.
Along with the province, the cities of San Carlos, Victorias, Escalante, Silay, Sipalay, and Bago and the municipalities of La Castellana, Hinobaan, Pulupandan, Toboso, Ilog, and Valladolid are similarly commemorating Environment Week June 21 – 25. Meanwhile, Cadiz City will have its environment celebration next week.
The theme of the Environment Week is important for Negros Occidental. While reforestation and tree planting activities have been initiated in the past years, we still have to see concrete outcome indicators of these efforts when it comes to forest rehabilitation and restoration. When I say forest restoration, it means establishing or creating somewhat a semblance of regenerating “natural” forest that will increase the forest cover. One of the effective restoration approaches is the protection of the secondary growth forest and those areas that once denuded but are now covered with some natural vegetation.
Negros Occidental is badly deforested and what remains of natural or old growth forest is barely four percent of its total land area. About 40 percent of the province’s land area is classified as forestland or timberland. Many of formerly forested areas are now heavily converted into agriculture, settlement, and commercial and industrial sites. Not even the two terrestrial protected areas in Negros Occidental, the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park and Northern Negros Natural Park, have been spared from destructive activities. More than half of the land area of these natural parks are now devoid of natural forest and devoted for other purposes.
Although there is a slight increase when it comes to the area covered by mangroves in recent years, estimated at more than 1,000 hectares, it is still a challenge on how to further increase the province’s mangrove forest cover, especially so that some of the former mangrove sites have long been converted into fishponds. The national figure of five percent excellent coral reefs in the country may also reflect the same with the province or even less. The good coral covers in Negros Occidental are isolated in the northern and southern parts, specifically in Cauayan, Sagay, and San Carlos.
Therefore, our coastal and marine ecosystems require, not only protection, but restoration, too.
Since a large part of the province’s land area is used for agriculture, especially sugarcane plantation, the fertility of our soil has been degraded because of the extensive use of inorganic and synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Organic and other environment friendly farming technologies has to be widely advocated and practiced to make our agricultural lands even more productive and beneficial, although there is now a growing movement for organic farming in the province.
There are still other ecosystems in the province that require protection and restoration, such as freshwaters and caves. A number of river systems in Negros Occidental are affected with pollution, aside from siltation and sedimentation due to soil wash outs and erosion from the uplands during rainy days.
Several local governments are initiating dredging since water usually overflows from the river channels when heavy rains occur. However, the long-term solutions for this concern are the rehabilitation of our denuded forestlands, stabilization of riverbanks, removal of obstructions in waterways, and proper solid waste management, which are basically in the form of ecosystem restoration. All these ecosystem restorations are vital if we want a much better environment, not only for us, but for next and future generations.*