LA TRINIDAD, Benguet – Mt. Pulag National Park is off limits to campers and other visitors to prevent forest fires and allow burnt forest patches to heal, officials of Kabayan town have declared.
Mayor Faustino Aquisan said the town council approved a resolution closing the country’s second highest peak to hikers until further notice.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources lauded the move but said the decision to close Mt. Pulag (2,992 meters above sea level) must be coursed through the Protected Area Management Board which has jurisdiction on the issue.
Aquisan said fires have destroyed forests in six villages of the town – Batad, Anshokey, Kabayan Barrio, Pacso, Gusaran, and Eddet.
He said the fires have also not spared coffee plantations.
Aside from the dry spell, the forests fires were also man-made –school children playing “balay-balay” (playing house), kaingin (slash and burn farming) and farmers who cleared forests to make way for pasture lands, he said.
Reynaldo Yawan, chief of the DENR’s Protected Areas, Wildlife and Costal Zone Management Service (PAWCZMS) in the region, welcomed the move but it would be up to the PAMB to sustain the decision to close Mt. Pulag.
He admitted though that campers and hikers had been helpful in reporting forest fires within the park and preventing their entry could be a downside to the bid to protect the park.
Emerita Albas, Mt. Pulag park superintendent, said the move was difficult to enforce since there were at least seven trails to the national park’s peak that forest rangers, environment officials and even the police could not guard 24 hours a day.
Albas said banning campers from entering the park render protected areas vulnerable to tree felling, illegal hunting and kaingin activities, all of which could cause more forest fires.
She said recent forest fires that destroyed portions of the park have begun to force rarely seen animals to abandon their habitat, exposing them to hunters.
“Clearing the park [of trekking activities] could also mean loss of income for more than 200 community guides and porters,” she said.
Aquisan said the town was willing to forego its annual summer treks to restore the park.
He said the town council passed the resolution to also resolve issues involving transport groups plying the Mt. Pulag route and to retrain tourist guides.
He said residents in Tawangan, Lusod and Bashoy, the villages nearest the park, have been consulted and they approved the closure.
“This means that all organized treks by tourism groups and walk-in hikes are now prohibited until all measures have been set in place to protect the park, especially the prevention of forest fires,” Aquisan said.
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