How firebreaks, education can save Philippine mountains
Mt. Apo, the country’s highest, Mt. Kanlaon, tallest of all Visayan peaks, and Bud Bongao, the holy mountain of Tawi-Tawi – are in flames.
Mt. Apo and Bud Bongao are burning because of errant campfires while Mt. Kanlaon discharged superheated rocks to ignite vegetation baked dry by El Niño. In April 2015, Mt. Kanlaon also lost 29 hectares due to an errant campfire.
Dry weather and wind can quickly spread fire to adjacent areas. Mt. Apo already lost 300 hectares and the flames are still raging. The consequences are dire – in Indonesia, uncontrolled forest fires consumed millions of hectares of forest and have taken years to quell. So what can be done to save our summits?
The first solution is to quickly create firebreaks when a brushfire begins. Firebreaks are unbroken lanes from six to ten feet wide, cleared of all vegetation. Looking like dirt roads, firebreaks can greatly reduce fires from spreading further.
The next solution is to enforce the ban on kaingin – the controlled but illegal burning of land which during El Niño spells, usually prove very hard to control. Wind can pick up embers and cause fires far away from kaingin plots.
The third solution is for mountaineers and trekkers to police their camps. Campfires should be immediately banned and stoves used only in open ground, at least six feet from dry vegetation. Spilled fuel or a knocked-over stove is all it takes to ignite dry tinder and turn a mountain into a giant pyre.
Smoking must be banned on mountains as cigarette butts smolder long after being snubbed out. Leave No Trace principles must be the lifeblood of all mountaineers: take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time.
What must be done when a brushfire abates? Reforest the area right before the rains come in, usually in June. Plant only native Philippine trees – species already naturally found in the area. Don’t introduce foreign tree species or biodiversity will be affected.
The summer has just started and already, three of the most famous Philippine peaks are ablaze.
Local government units, management bodies and communities must immediately look into firebreaks and education before more peaks join the conflagration.
SOS: Save Our Summits!
Gregg Yan is an environmentalist who has climbed over a hundred mountains in the Philippines and Asia. He was recognized by Readers’ Digest as one of the most trusted Filipinos in 2013.
By GREGG YAN