The Diminishing Natural Treasure
The Philippines is one of 17 megadiverse countries, with more than 52,117 described species. Over 57% of the major faunal and floral groups occur nowhere else in the world (Oliver & Heaney, 1996) and per hectare may harbor more biological diversity than any other country in the world. (Philippine Biodiversity Conservation Priorities, 2002). In the early 1500s, the Philippines had native forests covering 27 million hectares or 90% of the archipelago’s total area. At the beginning of 1900s the forest cover was reduced to 21 million hectares and decreased to 6.1 million hectares in 1999, representing a loss of 15 million hectares in less than one century (Lasco et al, 2001). Currently, there are approximately 10,773,000 hectares of forests in the Philippines but estimates suggest that 2,031,000 hectraes have been lost in the last 15 years (FAO, 2005). The average annual rate deforestation is 1.4% loss per year between 2000 and 2005.
Biological diversity of the different forest types in the Philippines is significantly high. However, deforestation rates in the Philippines are still one of the highest in the tropics considered as diversity hotspot (Myers et al, 2000). As such, the Philippine forest species and habitats are one of the most endangered in the world and face imminent threat of destruction. This biodiversity is continually under the threat through the habitat destruction, alteration and fragmentation.
The Island of Negros
Negros Island, in the Greater Negros-Panay bio-geographic region can be seen as microcosm of many environmental issues and changes occurring throughout the Philippines. The island supports a unique biodiversity and includes many endemic plants and animals. Despite Negros harboring some of the highest levels of endemism in the Philippines, the island has suffered from excessive deforestation. Recent estimates place forest cover on the island around 50,110 hectares. (Curio, 2002), or less than 4% of its original cover (Turner et al 2001). Today, remaining forest cover on the island of Negros exists mainly in the Northern Negros Natural Park (NNNP), Mt. Kanlaon Natural Park (MKNP) and Mt. Tainis – lake Balinsasayaw, while a few very limited forest fragments can be found in some other areas. These key forest fragments are threatened further by population pressures and demands for agricultural and other land uses.
To assist the government in conservation efforts, the Negros Forests & Ecological Foundation, Inc. (NFEFI) has set-up programs for biodiversity conservation and education, habitat restoration and watershed rehabilitation and organizing among community to be involved in these endeavors. NFEFI is now undertaking a project, Restoring Wildlife Habitat and Conservation of Biodiversity in Upper Caliban-Imbang Watershed, supported United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) – Global Environment Facility (GEF) – Small Grant Programme (SGP). This program is in close partnership with Bacolod City Water District (BACIWA), the Province of Negros Occidental, Local Government Units of Talisay City and Murcia, the Provincial Office of Department of Environment & Natural Resources (DENR). The project aims to restore ten (10) hectares of denuded area using the Assisted Natural Regeneration (ANR) and ten (10) hectares rainforestation, indigenous tree species nursery establishment and biodiversity conservation education to public schools and barangays adjacent to the watershed area.