Apo climbers told to respect biodiversity to avoid fire

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/09 May) – Climbers to Mt. Apo must “observe environmentalism and respect for the biodiversity” to avoid another massive fire that destroyed at least 100 hectares of grasslands and century-old trees on its peak last year, an official said.

Department of Tourism (DOT) 11 director Roberto Alabado III aired the appeal almost a month after the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) of Mt. Apo reopened the mountain to trekkers.

“When we say climbers, what we are looking for are people who are responsible climbers to Mt. Apo. If we have responsible miners, then the issue on the risks of fires is low if they are responsible climbers. We have to ensure that there is proper orientation and skills in going up,” Alabado said in an interview Monday.

Alabado disagreed at first with the PAMB’s decision to reopen Mt. Apo. But he later supported PAMB ecotourism chair Joey Recimilla’s view that ecotourism is a low-impact activity compared to agriculture.

“The more eyes we have inside the Mt. Apo, the more we can monitor illegal activities,” he said.

He added the concern is more on illegal cutting of trees, illegal hunting, and encroachment of illegal agricultural activities on protected areas.

He said some of the residents who benefited from ecotourism activities might have been forced to cut trees to turn them into charcoal for their livelihood.

“When DOT talks about ecotourism, it should emphasize on how people should be treating their environment when they go up to Mt. Apo. You are supposed to be a climber but at the same time, you are also an ecotourist. If you are an ecotourist, you must be environment-friendly. It is more on this education that DOT would like to instill in the people,” he said.

He said it would also be hard to monitor Mt. Apo for any illegal activity if it remains closed.

“If we say, let the government protect Mt. Apo, how many forest rangers do we have? We have very few. With the help of responsible mountain climbers going around, if there are illegal activities going on inside Mt. Apo, it can easily be monitored by our climbers,” he said.

To prevent forest fires, the PAMB has limited the number of trekkers to 50 a day, banned camping on the peak, and ordered all entry points closed at 9 a.m. even if the number of trekkers falls below the limit.

Under the unified trekking policy of 2015, trekkers will pay P2,000 (P1,500 trekking fee and P500 camp fee) during peak season and P1,500 (P1,000 trekking fee and P500 camp fee) during regular season when Mt. Apo reopened on April 12.

An additional fee of P1,000 a day will be paid to a guide for a group of five trekkers and a separate fee of P500 to a porter per 15-kg. baggage.

Only three of seven trails were reopened. These trails are in Kidapawan City and Magpet in North Cotabato, and Sta. Cruz in Davao del Sur, the only ones whose local government units were able to submit a comprehensive plan that includes a control mechanism.

The trails in Makilala and Digos City in Davao del Sur will not be reopened for failure to submit a plan while the Bansalan trail, also in Davao del Sur, is closed due to insurgency problem.

The trail in Barangay Tamayong, Calinan District, Davao City has been closed for quite a long time due to an executive order prohibiting trekking activities for its being a potential groundwater source for the city. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)