Mt. Kanl-aon is an active stratovolcano 2,465 m above sea level, making it the highest point not only in the island of Negros, but in the whole Visayas region. It is one of the 2 protected areas, the other one being the North Negros Natural Park (NNNP), that constitutes the largest portion of the remaining terrestrial forest ecosystems in the island. Additionally, it also serves as a home for a significant amount of fauna and flora, endemic to their area of interest. As a response to its apparent vitality, the Kanl-aon Natural Park (KLNP) was established as a protected area by the Philippine government, made official by the Republic Act no.
9154, Act of 2001. In addition to this, it is one of the 18 sites considered centers of plant biodiversity by the threatened plants unit of Kew, England.
As a protected area, it is illegal to utilize any of the resources within it for reasons other than biodiversity research and development. However, even though Mt.
Kanl-aon is an area barred, by law, from any and all types of invasive exploitations, some exemptions were made (Mt. Kanl-aon Natural Park Act of 2001). One particular exemption would be that of the North Negros Geothermal Project, spearheaded by the Energy Development Corporation (EDC), then owned by the Philippine government at the time of proposal.
The said project was proposed to address the intermittent power outage experienced in Negros Occidental since 2007, said to soon become a projected power crisis in the Negros Island by 2011 (de Jesus, 2010). Several alternatives were proposed, including solar, wind, hydro, and biomass, but out of all the options, only the coal and geothermal energy sources satisfied the criterion for timing, baseload requirement, and pricing demands by the public.
As stated by section 5 in RA no. 9154, any geothermal exploration within the MKNP is not allowed except by an Act of Congress. However, buffer zones were established specifically for the purpose of exploring the geothermal energy resources of the area. The problem lies first, with the fact that the contracted area for the project invades the MKNP boundaries near the 169 hectares of the buffer zone at Barangay Mailum, Bago City. Concerned sectors within and outside the community expressed their concerns for the proposed project; concerned sectors actively voiced their disagreement against the exploitation, as well, due to the number of resulting threats that the project will entail if it was to be pushed through.
The exploitation of geothermal energy itself poses a number of threats to the community. As a renewable resource, it’s a practical alternative with a massive energy potential to the widely used fossil fuel. However, there is a number of greenhouse gases trapped underground that is at risk of exposure if it were to be tapped into. Geothermal energy are affiliated with sulfur dioxide and silica emissions, and there are trace elements of toxic heavy metals like mercury, arsenic, and boron in the energy reservoirs itself. Air pollution rates are already high in the Philippine archipelago so the inevitable emissions as by-products from geothermal power plants won’t be of much help to the progressing problem. Additionally, despite it being a renewable resource, research shows that geothermal reservoirs can actually be depleted if managed poorly. Rainwater seeps through the soil into the reservoir over a thousand of years, therefore, it can be depleted if fluids were to be removed faster that it would be replaced.
The community would also be subjected to surface instability due to earthquakes, induced by the geothermal power plants. Hydraulic fracturing, informally known as “fracking”, is an intrinsic part of developing enhances geothermal system (EGS) power plants; it involves high-pressured injecting of water, sand, and chemicals into a bedrock formation to reach the energy source. Surface instability is achieved because of the disruption of the innate foundation deep underground. In connection to this, developing geothermal power plants are alarmingly expensive, in the long run and upfront. It is estimated that it takes up to $2 – $7 million to establish a powerplant with a 1 megawatt (MW) potential. According to the North Negros Geothermal Power Plant plan, the target energy potential was 49 MW, which would have resulted with a $98 – #343 million price range.
The project will trigger a chain reaction of environmental threats that will harm not only the lush forestry but the inhabiting fauna, as well. In order to establish a power plant for the circulation of the geothermal energy, it is inevitable to cut down a number of trees to make the necessary space. In addition to this, illegal logging is still prevalent within the area despite various counter-measurements done by the government units concerned. As a result, a loss of a significant number of plants will cause a series of problems for the surrounding community. In particular, according to the MKNP management plan, the logging and lumber industry poses a threat against the Bagtikan tree (Parashorea plicata) and Kalantas tree (Toona kalantas), are now considered endangered due to the continued efforts to convert said trees into lumber for utility posts and furniture, respectively.
Logging ban policies were issued by the government to answer the rising concern, but studies say that the issuance of logging bans were done more so as a reaction against typhoons, landslides, destruction and loss of lives and property, and unchecked deforestation, instead of it being issued due to genuine concern against the environment (Bugayong et al., 2013).
There is also the concern regarding the conversion of lands into agricultural commodities. Marginalized farmers and landless people poses as threats to the efforts for reforestation and habitat conservation by various environmental advocates. They make use lands, opened due to road work and logging operations, for example, to establish sites for agriculture. The practice of kaingin, still widely prevalent not only in this particular forest, but in other forest areas of the Philippines, as well, raises concerns for the imposing threat of forest fires. Two types of grass, endemic to Mt. Kanl-aon, namely the Isache vulcanica and the Miscanthus depauperatus, may be harmed by the agricultural conversion done by the community.
In addition to the concerns of deforestation, the animals living in Mt. Kanl-aon will also experience a loss of habitat due to the aforementioned, now more concerning due to the active presence of illegal poaching. The loss of important flora and the presence of unregulated hunting harmed two babbler species endemic to the area, now classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The said species are the Flame-templed Babbler (Dasycrotapha speciose) and the Negros Striped-babbler (Stachyris nigrorum), which resides in the lowland forests and montane forests, respectively, of Mt. Kanl-aon. The Negros Bleeding-heart Dove (Gallicolumba keayi), endemic to Mt. Kanl-aon is a victim, as well; now critically endangered, the species now comprises a small and fragmented population due to the continue loss of forest land.
Ecotourism also poses a threat against the protected area not only in Mt. Kanl-aon, but in other areas, as well. Although established to give the public a chance to admire wildlife from a respectable distance that won’t harm the natural landscape where the animals live in, a study conducted by Professor Daniel Blumstein of the University of California states that ecotourism can actually harm the wildlife in less conspicuous ways. The study states that the continuous generation of human visitors can modify wildlife behavior, increasing their vulnerability against predators and poachers. Selective habituation and invasive tourism practices give rise to traits or syndromes with unintended, and potentially harmful, consequences, for example, increased predation risk (Blumstein et al., 2015). It is harmful to both herbivore and carnivore. The former lowers their guard and become bolder against natural predators while the more elusive latter would be become more discouraged by the huge influx of visitors, which would prevent them from hunting at certain areas.
Lastly, the protected area is at risk of land deformation due to volcanic activity. As the most active volcano in central Philippines, Mt. Kanl-aon has erupted 30 times since 1819. Volcanic eruptions are extremely damaging not only to the community, but to the environment, as well. Firstly, there are copious amounts of toxic gasses that can be emitted due to pyroclastic material; not only does it contain water vapor, it also contains carbon dioxide, which contributes to greenhouse gases, and sulphur dioxide gases, which is converted into acid in the stratosphere, curating the formation acid rain. Volcanic ash is known to contain hydrogen sulphide, hydrogen chloride, hydrogen fluoride, carbon monoxide, and volatile metal chlorides; the protected watershed that begets Mt. kanl-aon will not be exempted from the adversity imposed by volcanic activity’ harming endangered wildlife and hastening the reduction of the dwindling numbers of endemic plant species.
As of now, continued efforts to protect Mt. Kanl-aon from government and non-government organizations remain prevalent.
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