Reforestation and Protected Areas with Ann Dumaliang
You’ve probably seen the giant metal spider web, called Sapot, making its rounds on Instagram. It’s the star of every visitor’s souvenir photo from Masungi Georeserve, a privately owned park in the heart of Baras, Rizal.
But Masungi is more than an adventure park with giant structures, Ann Dumaliang tells us. It is a conservation and geotourism project, one that has won an award from the United Nations Development Programme and International Union for Conservation of Nature and nominations from the World Travel & Tourism Council and the United Nations World Tourism Organization.
Despite the nods from the international community, there are still many hurdles for Masungi to overcome. Ann, the site’s Project Manager and a National Geographic Explorer, schools us about how Sapot is, surely, just the first step.
There’s more [to Masungi] than the giant spider web and the giant hammock. Visitors often misunderstand the adventure component. Sometimes, geotourism and adventure tourism can overlap. Those spots are not the highlights of the place...the highlights are actually the rock formations. The giant spider web and hammock are there for you to appreciate the rock formations. The landscape. The land forms. How the life inside interacts with it.
Whatever [artificial] structures we place inside are there to support the surroundings. It shouldn’t be the other way around. The whole idea is to remind visitors to respect the environment they’re in and the people working hard to maintain it. When you have that idea of being respectful in mind, it makes it easy to follow the rules.
Filipinos, or consumers in general, tend to feel that if you spend for something, you’re entitled to something in return. But when you’re talking about destinations, that’s not the case. When you come in, you’re supposed to respect the place. That’s why we call our fee a conservation fee, not an entrance fee. We’d like to think that by calling it that, we are telling our visitors to protect and conserve our place, and therefore, respect it and behave accordingly. You can’t just reserve a day and time to enter Masungi—you have to request for permission to visit.
Imagine having 100 visitors at one time: to an individual, a small piece of trash is nothing. If each of them throw one, it’s a different story. That can have a very big impact. Now that I think about it, it also hurts the stewards of the place. In throwing that one piece of trash, you’re also taking away the dignity of the people trying to conserve it.
A lot of tourist sites fail to implement carrying capacity. You can’t just randomly open a protected area, especially without having the right visitor management and infrastructure system in place. There’s an equation for computing carrying capacity. That’s the more scientific part of it. We call it the “environmental carrying capacity,” a number that can be modified by the kind of experience you want people to have.
It gets really complicated when there are specific people in a [protected] area making money. That’s why it’s best to put a system and structure in place before tourists start coming in. But some sites don’t get the chance to do that. Some sites just get instant notices, and tourists start flooding in. And the people from the local community suddenly bear the responsibility of managing the area (without a system in place!) because money has already gone in and all they can see is the money they might earn. There are consequences to that money flow.
Reforestation is not limited to planting trees. It’s also protecting and limiting the activities that hinder the forest from coming back. Developers are now required [by the National Greening Program] to plant trees, and I mean, everyone was cheering for this. But we’re not creating a bill that would solve the [bigger] problem. There are logger and land issues that need to be controlled. What’s the point of tree planting if you can’t enforce forest protection?
It takes 81 to 120 years to regenerate a forest. While a forest can regenerate on its own, human interferences, that are unregulated, can destroy it. So simple things like a cow grazing when you have seedlings growing would have a big impact in forest regeneration. After all, the cow can’t discriminate between what it can and cannot eat. The reforestation of Masungi took a big chunk of time, approximately 20 years.
We still have some hurdles to climb over. The protection component is so important. The education and the tourism components are actually the lightest parts of the work that we do. On the back end, we get confronted by people trying to stop us, legal cases brought against us, government officials with other priorities... it takes up a lot of time. It is hard. And it still hasn’t stopped. It's a process we go through everyday.
There are logger and land issues that need to be controlled.What’s the point of tree planting if you can’t enforce forest protection?
If an area is not [legally] protected to start with, no rehabilitation program will ever work. When you have protected areas, they have zones. There is value in opening some of those zones to the public so the general public understands why these areas need protecting...what is it in the area that is so valuable that it needs protecting. So when visitors come to Masungi, we’re very happy. It’s also where we get the funding to deal with our backend problems.
Laws have to work for the people, the land owners, because right now that’s where it’s failing. We always say that we have enough laws, or that we have a substantial amount of protected areas. But they don’t work on the ground. We need the laws, the guidelines, and the policies implemented right on the ground and not just on paper, not just on a management level. In Masungi, when we were heavily focused on reforestation, we would bring illegal loggers to the precinct and before they could even be transferred to a jail, they would be bailed out by someone already. So if we could just get the proper enforcement, so many things could change with how we’re managing our protected locations.
Photos Courtesy of Masungi Georeserve.
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