On the Value of Mt. Pulag
On the Value of Mt. Pulag
I have been holding back commenting about Mt. Pulag till I’ve gotten all the facts regarding the burning of the grassland. While this is a tragedy as well as an unfortunate accident, I think it is also a good opportunity to start the conversation about what exactly constitutes Mt. Pulag itself. While the grassland is by far the crowning glory of this beautiful mountain and it’s main tourist attraction it should not be forgotten that this is also the smallest part of the national park, the biodiversity and richness of Mt. Pulag are not to be found only above the clouds on the grassland but in the mossy and pine forests on it’s slopes that cover the rest of the 80% of the mountain. These areas because they are not popular to tourists or do not often feature in people’s Facebook and Instagram feeds are more often forgotten and undervalued despite the fact that there is more value to be found in the dense mossy and pine forests of Mt. Pulag than the grassland itself. Sadly, hundreds of hectares of the mossy forests disappear each year without as loud an outcry as has happened when the grassland was burned recently.
Yes it is easy to point fingers at the irresponsible tourists who have accidentally burned the grassland and rightly so they should be held accountable for this accident. But then the bigger fight to preserve Pulag is not simply preserving the grassland but preserving the entire National Park. Mt. Pulag was declared a protected area not merely for the grassland but for the biodiversity that is found across the entire 11,550 hectares, most of which are mossy forests. The 1.5 hectares burned last weekend does not even compare the hundreds of hectares cleared every year for commercial vegetable farms around the entire mountainside. You just have to go around to the dirt road that leads to the village of Balete or go around to the villages of Tawangan and Lusod to see that areas which were dense mossy forests only 5 years ago are now clear cut for potatoes, cabbages, and carrots. While we acknowledge that those potatoes, cabbages, and carrots provide a livelihood for many people, they are also destroying critical watershed for hundreds of downstream communities, including dams that provide power to millions, extremely important endemic biodiversity some of which once gone can never be replaced, who knows what cures or important discoveries are hiding in those forests which possibly hold a net worth higher than all the vegetables sold each year in the entire province, pretty soon if this keeps up you will be walking through farms to get to the grassland, not a tunnel of native oak trees in the dense mossy forests.
Managing this side of the park is often political suicide for many local politicians but consider the value that you are losing each year as each hectare of forest is replaced by cabbages and potatoes –these will feed and cloth one family but the value found in these forests can potentially feed whole communities, of course that value is somewhat more difficult to access then clearing the forest and planting carrots but think of it as “farming nature” waiting for the golden eggs to be hatched than simply gutting the goose. In these forests there are moss, lichen, flora, and fauna here that can hold cures worth billions. There is water that the entire national park produces and stores that can be paid for by the dams that produce our energy and the downstream water users that use the water from the Mt. Pulag water tower for irrigation (The trick here is of course to get that value into the households and not merely government coffers and there are ways to do this just look at Costa Rica and others who pay land owners to keep and maintain forests). And then of course the tourism; while yes it was tourists at fault for this fire, you have to acknowledge that hundreds of individuals and families around the mountain now make their living from these trekkers who troop to the mountain each weekend, and you know what –the generation whose parents are farmers and are now educated have fully embraced this economy lowering the impact of farm expansion around the mossy and pine forests. In a generation we will see these young educated professionals change the economy of the mountain region to something more sustainable; a mix of tourism, sustainable smaller organic farming, and “farming nature” for it’s intrinsic benefits for the soul and for man’s industry.
Already now we see this shift in the local economy and we should help it along by being good guests of the mountain. Rather than camp –lower your impact and stay in the homestays in Babadak –remember the summit is a mere 7.5kms away and an easy hike without a backpack. Order food cooked there from local ingredients, pay for porters and guides, there is a whole economic value chain around keeping these wild spaces of Mt. Pulag pristine if we invest in it properly. Each person you help economically lowers the potential for more farm expansion in these wild spaces. And by wild spaces I do not mean just the grasslands, that is very small percentage of what makes Mt. Pulag unique, I refer to the entire 11550 hectares mossy forests and pine as well as the various communities that live within it. I think it is time to acknowledge that our concept of wild spaces without mans presence is flawed, we have been so influenced by the Americans in that we always see the wild as a space apart from man but then in these mountains even before it was a national park, communities lived, worked, and thrived here. The wild is not a place we put in a museum, it is a constantly evolving environment and man and communities have been part of this for hundreds of years. Now the community extends not only to the villages that surround this mountain but to each individual that visits, we are all stakeholders in it’s beauty and all responsible for its conservation. Because even though we may not benefit from the water it produces, or the soil it allows plants to grow on, sometimes all that matters is that we benefit because it exists, it is there a wild space in which we can all take refuge.
Keep it Wild.