The power of the local government units to establish and manage conservation sites has been clearly demonstrated in several cities and municipalities in Negros Occidental. While numerous concerns are still hanging when it comes to the environment and natural resources management in the province, somehow it is motivating to see local governments at the forefront of conservation efforts.
I am highly attributing these initiatives to the personnel of LGUs who, in spite of changes in the local political leaderships and landscapes, remain steadfast and committed to work for environmental protection and conservation of natural resources through the years. I’m particularly referring to personnel, especially those holding career positions, of planning and environment offices of some local governments here in Negros Occidental.
The province is also taking the lead in developing and implementing conservation programs and projects. It established its Provincial Environment Management Office immediately after the passage of the Local Government Code in 1992 with corresponding regular staff and annual appropriation. Negros Occidental is one of the earlier provinces in the country that had created a local environment office after the Department of Environment and Natural Resources devolved some of its functions and programs to the LGUs, as mandated by the LGC. It had declared the Provincial Environment Week every fourth week of June and Wildlife Month in November.
Negros Occidental immensely contributed to global conservation when it proclaimed the Negros Occidental Coastal Wetlands Conservation Area covering about 230,000 hectares. Along with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc., the province further worked and pushed for the eventual declaration of the NOCWCA in 2017, as the 7th Wetlands of International Importance in the Philippines under the Ramsar Convention of the United Nations.
The NOCWCA is located along the coastal wetlands from Bago City to the municipality of Ilog in southern Negros Occidental. It is so far the largest among the declared Ramsar Sites in the country. It includes numerous coastal and marine ecosystems that are crucial in the sustainability of fishery production in the province.
Similarly, the cities of Himamaylan and Kabankalan and the town of Ilog came out with a declaration proclaiming their respective Local Conservation Areas. Last week, I had a discussion with representatives of these three LGUs to review and improve their LCA ordinances. During our Focus Group Discussion, we found out that the existing boundaries of the declared LCAs should be expanded as their adjacent sites are still important for the fishery, coastal protection, and other ecosystems and benefits.
In Himamaylan, for instance, the declared conservation site covers only about 10 hectares, but the purpose of which is for the conservation of birds and mangroves and production of fish, oysters, and nylon shells. Based on initial assessment, it was found out that the conservation site of Himamaylan should be extended to over 10,000 hectares so as to include other areas that are crucial to achieve and sustain the objective by which the conservation site was established.
Similarly, the intention for the declaration of Ilog Coastal Wetlands Conservation Area, covering about 651 hectares, is for the protection of mangroves, the bird sanctuary of the municipality, and the site that would sustain the production of oysters, or talaba, which Ilog is popularly known for. However, in the declaration of this conservation site, some 3,279 hectares of coastal wetlands in the municipality were included, which, I think, is an important consideration, especially so that the coastal waters of Ilog are noted for the presence of numerous water birds, including migratory species.
The Kabankalan Coastal and Wetlands Conservation Area is also designed for the protection of mangroves and birds. It covers about 150 hectares and is one of the remaining areas in the city where mangroves exist. Additional wetlands are also being considered for inclusion.
The efforts of these three local governments in declaring conservation sites are, indeed, laudable. These declared areas consist of mangroves, seagrass beds, coral reefs, tidal flats, and gleaning areas, among others. The protection of these ecosystems is vital to ensure food security, income for coastal communities, and protection from natural hazards and risks. While the proposed expansion of the three sites is still subject to approval by local officials, I am just glad that persons who are in-charge of these conservation areas fully appreciate the significance of connecting the different ecosystems so as to maximize the direct and indirect services they provide to the people.
The three LGUs are also looking into the natural features of the conservation sites for the development and implementation of ecotourism. It is envisioned that ecotourism would provide additional income to communities and revenue for LGUs, and generation of funds to sustain the management of these sites.
The GIZ, through its Protected Area Enhancement Program, which was implemented by the PEMO, provided technical assistance and financial support for the development of these conservation areas a few years ago. To further improve the management of these sites, the GIZ, a Germany-based development and conservation institution, provided additional support to the Negros Economic Development Foundation in developing the implementing rules and regulations of the ordinance that declared these three conservation sites.*