By Danny O. Calleja
LEGAZPI CITY, May 24 (PNA) -– Unknown to many, Catanduanes, the smallest Bicol province sitting on a 182,300-hectare landmass measured as the 12th largest Philippine island, is host to the largest remaining forest block in the whole of the region.
It boasts of substantial dipterocarp-type woodland covering about 69,770 hectares but unfortunately, only 26,010 hectares of it is considered protected area being covered by the Catanduanes Watershed Forest Reserve (CWFR) established in 1987.
Outside this protected area, ugly stories of timber poaching, logging and other misuses repeatedly surface—prompting the regional office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) based here to seek an expansion of the CWFR to make it nearly 50,000 hectares under the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS).
The establishment of NIPAS is mandated under Republic Act No. 7586 or the NIPAS Act of 1992.
To qualify, a candidate should encompass outstanding remarkable areas and biologically important public lands that are habitats of rare and endangered species of plants and animals, biogeographic zones and related ecosystems that would be designated as “protected areas”.
As a requirement in the establishment of NIPAS areas as provided under DENR Administrative Order No. 92-25 issued on June 29, 1992, the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) along DENR’S Land Evaluation Unit recently conducted a field evaluation and results suggest that the proposed expanded CWFR area is qualified.
Besides being A source of water that supports domestic and agricultural uses of the 10 municipalities it covers, CWFR is host to important plant and animal species that form its rich flora and fauna.
Its extensive lowland forest supports the important populations of birds to make the province one of the few islands of the country where the Philippine Cockatoo and Cream-bellied Fruit-dove appear to be particularly numerous.
These birds as well as two of the restricted-range species — Luzon Bleeding-heart and Grey-backed Tailor bird — are substantially present in most parts of the CWFR and its adjoining forest, DENR Regional Director Gilbert Gonzales said, citing the evaluation report.
The Philippine Cockatoo is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as a “critically endangered” species.
Cream-bellied Fruit-dove, Luzon Bleeding-heart and Grey-backed Tailorbird are listed as “threatened”.
Philippine Dwarf-kingfisher, Philippine Eagle-Owl (Bubo Philippensis) and Duck (Anas luzonica) — all classified by the IUCN as “vulnerable” — are also present out in the wilds of CWFR, Gonzales said.
The presence of these species, he said, makes bird watching, which is another ecotourism wonder of the province, exciting.
Birdlife International also considers the Catanduanes forest as an important bird rrea (IBA) where endemic mammal species — such as Philippine Nectar Bat (Eonycteris robusta), Large Rufous Horsesheo Bat (Rhinolophus rufus), Mottle-winged Flying Fox (Pteropus leucopterus), Southern Luzon Giant Cloud Rat (Phloeomys cumingi), Philippine Warty Pig (Sus philippensis) and Philippine Brown Deer (Cervus mariannus) — also thrive.
The 0area also harbors a significant number of endemic amphibians and reptiles, among them the Truncate-toed Chorus Frog (Kaloula conjuncta), Rough-backed Forest Frog (Platymantis corrugates), Common Forest Frog (Platymantis dorsalis), Giant Philippine Frog (Rana magna), Woodworth’s Frog (R. woodworthi), Mindoro Narrow-disked Gecko (Gekko mindorensis).
Others are the Philippine Calotes (Calotes marmoratus), Common Flying Lizard (Draco spilopterus), Common Burrowing Skink (Brachymeles boulengeri), Two-digit Worm Skink (Brachymeles samarensis), Northern Keel-scaled Tree Skink (Dasia grisea) and Yellow-striped Slender Tree Skink (Lipinia pulchellum).
Jagor’s Sphenomorphus (Sphenomorphus jagori), Steere’s Sphenomorphus (S. steerei), Black-Sided Sphenomorphus (S. decipiens), Dog-faced Water Snake (Cerberus rynchops), Philippine Cylindrical Snake (Hologerrhum philippinum) and Smooth-scaled Mountain Rat Snake (Zaocys luzonensis) also live well in the island.
Birdlife International recorded as real finds these wildlife species under its Asian IBA Programme that seeks to provide a basis for the development of national conservation and protection strategies.
If the degradation and loss of natural ecosystems in Catanduanes are to be halted and the essential services and products they provide are to be maintained, it is vital that the negative impacts of economic development on biodiversity are mitigated, and that proactive measures are taken to conserve highest priority sites, Gonzales said.>p>But while the area offers opportunities for growth, it is also beset with challenges such as timber poaching, slash-and-burn farming, changing land use, siltation, and wildlife poaching, among others, he lamented.
Expanding the reservation area and declaring it under NIPAS would mean greater protection of the reserve as well as its existing flora and fauna, he explained.
It will also promote reproduction among endangered animal species since their range of reach become that provide habitats for reproduction, food hunting and improved natural ecosystems becomes larger.
“As bigger areas get government protection from illegal forest activities, bigger survival changes against natural calamities and human intrusion are also provided to these endangered forest species,” Gonzales added. (PNA)