Forest protection can also mean employment opportunity, especially for direct forest-dependents like our indigenous peoples (IPs) who consider the forest their ancestral domain.
The Dumagat or Dumagat Agta are IPs who reside in the province of Nueva Ecija, where Mt. Mingan in Gabaldon hosts the country’s pride and national bird, the Haring Ibon since its rediscovery in 2014 by Haribon
Foundation’s research team (one named as Gab-e or Gabaldon Eagle).
Indeed, Mt. Mingan has flourishing biodiversity, which is the reason why a prime raptor like the Haring Ibon chooses this mountain as its home. Unfortunately it’s also a hotspot for illegal activities that threaten the security and survival of all lives dependent on it.
To provide alternative and sustainable livelihood, Haribon’s Philippine Eagle Project (PEP) trained ten Dumagat men to become bird guides of Mt. Mingan. The series of trainings taught the Dumagats the technicalities of being a bird guide: how to use and set-up binoculars and tripod, how to give formal orientation to tourists, how to properly guide a group to bird watch, how to properly describe the location of the birds, and other minutiae details.
Putting aside the requirements, the participants were naturally talented guides. They did not have a hard time because birds have been part of their indigenous knowledge–they use birds to tell time and they see birds as fellow farmers. They could identify and locate the birds by simply listening to their calls or songs, they had a lot of entertaining folklore as told by their forefathers about the origins of birds, they intuitively knew the perfect spot where one can find numerous birds, and they knew the best times for bird watching.
The Dumagats realized that bird guiding could become a tool to share not only their knowledge about birds but their knowledge about the forest and trails of Mt. Mingan. This included their first hand experiences and their culture that developed from living on the mountain. The training simply helped them learn how they could share their knowledge just like professional bird guides.
Through bird guiding, the Dumagats could promote and increase awareness of the importance of forest. After all, the forest is home to various animals, insects, plants, and many other creatures that are co-dependent to each other– it is integral to survival of biodiversity.
If the community protects and conserves the forest, this ensures that there would be enough trees for birds to nest. Birds would thrive and multiply which would mean more opportunities for curious bird watchers and continued livelihood for the bird guides.
And if our forests are protected, communities and wildlife will continue to benefit from its ecological services such as constant and free food, water, fresh, filtered air, habitat, medicine, prevention of soil erosion, landslide, flashfloods, and many others.
Aside from being an alternative source of livelihood for forest dependents like Dumagat, the said trainings are preparation for the proposed eco-tourism of Gabaldon.