July 31, 2021
A government project eyes to tap the ecotourism potential of Mt. Kitanglad– a favorite trekking site due to its magnificent scenery and terrific landscape– in an aim to generate sustainable livelihood for the watershed communities and help conserve its biodiversity.
In a long term aim to protect the Upper Bukidnon River Basin (UBRB), the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’s (DENR) Integrated Natural Resources and Environmental Management Project (INREMP) has been implementing forest protection over an area of 16,188 hectares around the UBRB.
The forest management has a significant impact in the lives of the (indigenous people) IPs in UBRB. There are nine groups of IPs.
By creating ecotourism activities in Mt. Kitanglad, the IPs will then be able to further contribute to sustainable development of the forests and of the river basin.
DENR Protected Area Superintendent Daniel F. Somera said DENR and the local government unit (LGU) in Bukidnon has poured huge funds for infrastructure to develop Mt. Kitanglad’s ecotourism potential.
Improvements made so far include a canopy walk, hanging bridge, improvement of biking/camping trails, and repair and renovation of existing buildings to cater to hikers’ and tourists’ needs.
Among the famous site-seeing opportunities hikers go for in Mt Kitanglad are the sight of its rich biodiversity.
“Within the reserve is a nesting site of the Philippine eagle which is probably the nearest eagle site in terms of proximity,” said Somera. “Within the park’s bufferzone is Cinchona Forest Reserve (CFR) located in Kaatuan, Lantapan, Bukidnon. It was once a trial planting site of Quinine (covering 1,900 hectares) which is a known plant to cure malaria.”
Somera said mountain climbers choose to reach the three highest peaks of the park– Mts. Kitanglad, Dulangdulang and Maagnao.
Mt. Dulangdulang, with an elevation of 2,938 meters, is the second highest mountain next to Mt. Apo.
To ensure their safety, hikers are oriented on basic park rules by DENR’s Protected Area Management Office (PAMO). They also go through a ritual performed by a tribal leader to ask spirits for a safe travel.
“These hikers are regularly being escorted by trained local guides serving as their tour guides and porters.”
Tourists also delight in visiting buildings occupied by Japanese garrison during the World War II. It was later recovered by Filipino and American soldiers.
“This area is being promoted as one ecotourism destination given its rich historical value, presence of century old natural forests, series of waterfalls, rafflesia flower and rare and endemic flora and fauna.”
Somera said another booming activity within the park is ethno and agro ecotourism. This ethno-tourism appreciates the rich culture of the indigenous peoples (Talaandig, Higaonon and Bukidnon tribes) who dwell within the park.
There is also a popular, national awardee demonstration farm covering 22 hectares run by a family that showcase diversified upland farming system.
“With their amenities established at site, the farm is also regularly visited by farmers who wish to emulate their success stories and nature lovers who wish to commune with nature,” he said.
Mt. Kitanglad has been recognized by DENR and international agencies as a Key Biodiversity Area, Conservation Priority Area, and Important Bird Area.
With the protection of the UBRB by indigenous people that benefit from the agri-tourism area, the important river systems in Mt. Kitanglad will also be protected.
The river systems that drain from Mt. Kitanglad include the rivers of Pulangi, Manupali, Cagayan and Tagoloan rivers in North and Central Mindanao.
The INREMP is funded by the Asian Development Bank, Climate Change Fund, and Global Environment Facility.
One of the objectives of INREMP is to partner with the forest communities who hold ancestral domain rights over the areas.
INREMPS’s sub-project called the Community-Based Protection and Monitoring (CBPM) is anchored on “community aspirations, customary law, ancestral domain sustainable development plan, and forest protection plan.”
Because of “positive reciprocity,” DENR”s forest management work with IPs has become successful.
“Incentives are provided to the indigenous people through alternative sources of income such as vegetable gardening, cut flower production, heritage site conservation, and eco-cultural tourism. In return, they help protect the natural forest that provides them vast amount of ecosystem goods and services,” said DENR.
DENR also has a program for capability building — training in project operations and financial management — under the Livelihood and Enterprise Development (LED) program.
This training is for forest guard volunteers who are responsible for monitoring and reporting any environmental threats to their area.
The forest guards use a technology called Landscape and Wildlife Indicator (LAWIN).
“LAWIN is a Forest and Biodiversity Protection System that eliminates the manual process of encoding of field data by usingART and CyberTracker applications installed in smartphones.” (Melody Mendoza Aguiba)