Mountain fires jolt protected-area managers as DENR orders action

The Protected Area Management Boards (PAMBs) were told to update their firefighting plans alongside their regular functions of promoting tourism activities in nature preserves.

"Aside from tourism development, PAMBs should also come up with their respective forest protection plan and allocate funds for the establishment of fire lines and other forest fire prevention activities like training for technical staff and volunteers," Secretary Ramon J.P. Paje said in a statement.

Under the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992, PAMBs have a mandate to shield protected areas from various threats.

Fires have recently hit four protected areas: Mt. Apo in the Davao Region; Mt. Matutum in South Cotabato; Mt. Kitanglad in Bukidnon; and Mt. Kanlaon on Negros Island.

The Philippines has a total of 113 protected areas, of which 84 are on land, with an area of 2.20 million hectares.

The Mt. Apo fire is continuing, said Joselin Marcus E. Fragada, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) regional director and chairman of the PAMB covering the mountain, in a text message.

"We're in actual operations. I'm at the base camp with firefighters," he said.

Local communities within or near protected areas should be advised "to exercise extra vigilance against the risk of forest fires," Mr. Paje said.

In addition, the Secretary appealed to campers and trekkers in protected areas to exercise caution when building bonfires and to ensure these are completely extinguished before leaving camp.

Mr. Paje has also instructed regional directors to heighten their coordination with local governments and organizations to ensure the safety of people and forest vegetation, particularly in areas covered by the government's National Greening Program (NGP).

Since the start of the NGP in 2011, around 1.3 million hectares have been planted with various species of trees and agroforestry crops, with a target of reforesting 1.5 billion hectares of denuded land by 2016.

Mr. Paje also said he had coordinated with Director Renato Solidum of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology following a report from Mr. Fragada that sulfur deposits on Mt. Apo may be sustaining the fire.

In addition to the efforts to extinguish the fire in Mt. Apo, Mr. Fragada said the Philippine Air Force has flown missions with drops of crushed ice.

The fire on Mt. Apo, which started on March 27, has affected some 300 hectares on the upper reaches of the protected area, according to the latest update.

Source: Bworld Online

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