Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Endangered Mossy Forests of Kabayan, Benguet

Through a message sent by a concerned reader, it came to my attention that the mayor of the nearby town of Kabayan in Benguet seems to be serious about the idea of cancelling out the declaration of Mount Pulag as a protected national park. The mountain and its surrounding forests were declared as a national park back in 1987. This declaration was instrumental in protecting the mountain and the surrounding forest reserves.

Now, Gideon Todiano, Mayor of Kabayan wants this declaration nullified. If he pursues this, it would be very bad for the park. In an article published by the Bombo Radyo Baguio website, Todiano cites problems with the management of the park as among the reasons why he’s adamant about the issue. He also cites the unclear role of the town in managing the park, unresolved land claims, and millions of pesos of unpaid taxes due to the unresolved land claims.

Todiano raises a lot of valid points here and these are really serious matters but I don’t think that removing Mt. Pulag’s tag as a national park will resolve the issues. In the short-run, maybe. But in the long-run, it will be disastrous not only to the mountain and the surrounding forest reserves but to the town of Kabayan as well. With that said, I hope that Todiano, the town, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources talk over things and resolve issues without resorting to this bizarre idea of undeclaring the place as a national park.

And let us not forget that the Mt. Pulag National Park covers not just Mt. Pulag itself but numerous mountains and forests within Benguet, Ifugao, and Nueva Vizcaya.

Early this year, we climbed Mt. Tabayoc and explored the nearby lakes and mossy forests in Ballay, Kabayan. These places are still parts of the Mt. Pulag National Park. Huge swaths of the mossy forests have already been converted into farm lands. The speed of how forests are turned into farm lands can double or even triple if the place is no longer a national park. It will be open season for everyone.

Of course, it’s understandable that the people in Kabayan need land to farm. But let’s not forget that Pulag, Tabayoc, the lakes, and the mossy forests are watersheds. If these forests are gone, there’d be no source of water to irrigate the farm lands. There should be balance in everything. These are the only remaining mossy forest covers in the province. Again, I’m hoping that Todiano, the town of Kabayan, and the DENR resolve issues surrounding the park without having to “undeclare” it as a national park. I'm confident that they can come up with solutions that will protect both the mountains, the mossy forests, and the interests of the town's citizens.

Here are some photos from the trip we made in Mt. Tabayoc in Ballay, Kabayan several months ago. The place is beautiful with its mossy forest covers and lakes. These places are worth saving and protecting.