Filipino Villagers transform once bare island into a natural park
By Mitchell P. Duran and Janette L. Garcia from UNDP Philippines
In the late ‘80s, the landscape of Samar Island, which holds one of the largest deposits of bauxite in Southeast Asia, was bleak and grim – treeless hilltops, swollen rivers that submerged homes, schools, churches and farmlands in low-lying communities. It was an island reeling from the effects of rapid and widespread deforestation.
Barely surviving the onslaught of heavy rains and other natural calamities, and their very lives threatened by rampant logging and exploratory mining activities, the villagers banded themselves together to campaign for an end to all operations that destroyed life on their island.
Responding to the Samareños’ pleas, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources imposed a logging moratorium in February 1989, which was indefinitely extended by then President Corazon Aquino. In 1996, the President declared Samar Island a forest reserve.
Thus began a partnership between the Samareño villagers and Government – to implement the Samar Island Biodiversity Project. Funded by the Global Environment Fund (GEF) and administered by UNDP, the project sought to conserve the island’s biological diversity through sustainable management of natural resources. At the same time, it targeted poverty reduction by providing alternative livelihood to community residents.
The project established the Samar Island Natural Park – a 453,000-hectare park, the largest terrestrial protected area in the Philippines. This park is home to 38 species of mammal, 215 species of birds, 51 species of reptile, 26 species of amphibians, and over 1,000 species of plants, of which more than 50 percent are unique to this particular location.
The new protected area was zoned for multiple uses centring on protection of species and providing for sustainable harvests of non-timber forest products. A wide range of interventions were adopted by this park management, including a decision to build new ranger stations for monitoring that no commercial logging, poaching and mining is undertaken on the island.
Representatives from the Samareño community were included in consultative meetings and planning sessions for resource protection and general administration of the park. Their participation was needed to address threats like illegal logging and exploratory mining and, in turn, it strengthened conservation values throughout the community.
The Samar Island Biodiversity Project is now analyzed so that it can be replicated elsewhere in Philippines and around the world.