DIADI, Nueva Vizcaya: A former environment officer has expressed alarm over the growing number of illegal activities of squatters occupying vast areas within the major watershed areas of the Lower Magat Eco-Tourism Park (LMETP) here.
Forester Henry Patricio said there are now more than 300 families who have “illegally settled” and are considered as a “threat denuding at least 100 hectares” of the LMETP’s forest cover.
Patricio said the villages of Buaya, Bugnay and San Luis in Diadi town classified as “critically threatened” brought about by the slash and burn or kaingin system of farming among the illegal settlers.
“The provincial government must at the earliest possible time implement a long-term intervention program that is acceptable between the eco [tourism]park management and other stakeholders in the area,” he said.
Patricio said that without an urgent response to this problem, the eco-tourism park’s natural environment will suffer in the years to come while the damage expands to nearby villages.
Meanwhile, volunteer students from the Nueva Vizcaya State University (NVSU) in collaboration with both the public and private sectors have been conducting a biodiversity and socio-demographic survey to gather data on the number and kind of trees destroyed as well as profiling settlers.
Patricio said the data gathered will be used in formulating a comprehensive program to address the denudation state of the LMETP’s major and critical areas.
“[The survey] is like scanning the body of a person for acute diseases. If a cancer is detected, then we need to treat it first or take it out so that we can save a life,” he explained.
Patricio said a program that will promote and sustain the co-existence of human settlers in the area is needed “to avert the impact of forest denudation” at the LMETP and its surrounding watershed areas.
The LMETP, which has become the eco-tourism attraction in the province, sits on the 25,000-hectare forest reserve which was donated by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to the provincial government of Nueva Vizcaya.
Co-managed by the provincial government, the park is part of the 24,000-hectare Lower Magat Forest Reserve (LMFR) of the DENR located in the village of San Luis here.
The development of LMETP included native cottages and convenient rooms, halls, swimming pool, hiking trails, bird watching and mountain biking among others.