UPLB-based center says wildlife protection initiative reduced biodiversity threats

A United States Agency for International Development (USAid)-funded wildlife conservation initiative called the Protect Wildlife Activity (PWA) was found to have contributed greatly to reduce the threats to wildlife and biodiversity, according to a University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB)-based center.

This was the observation of an evaluation team under the UPLB-based Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA)-led Final Performance Evaluation of PWA that was also commissioned by the USAid.

SEARCA director Dr. Glenn Gregorio said the PWA which covered several biodiversity hotspots in the Philippines said the results of the evaluation can help inform similar natural resource conservation activities at present or in the future

"[The] findings can also contribute to the growing body of evidence on good practices and a better understanding of the enabling and hindering factors in biodiversity conservation and anti-wildlife trafficking," Gregorio said.

The Emerging Innovation for Growth Department of SEARCA organized a virtual learning event to disseminate the key findings of the evaluation and highlight the lessons learned from the PWA. The event featured speakers who gave an overview of the PWA and discussed the overall results and synthesis of the evaluation.

In her presentation of PWA's brief background and accomplishments, Rebecca Paz, PWA Chief of Party, said there is a connection between biodiversity conservation the flow of ecosystems goods and services and the improvement of human well-being.

"The preservation of biodiversity in protected areas and coastal and marine areas supports livelihoods and the growth of the local economy, thus PWA is not about protecting nature from people but protecting nature for the people," Paz said.

Also presented were documentary videos showcasing the efforts and contributions of the PWA to the various stakeholders in the six sites covered by the evaluation. The sites include Pasonanca Natural Park, Mt. Mantalingahan Protected Landscape, Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, Cleopatra's Needle Critical Habitat, Mt. Matutum Protected Landscape and Sarangani Bay Protected Seascape.

During the open forum, the evaluation team and stakeholders discussed the PWA's best practices which contributed greatly to the increase in income of the beneficiaries and reduced the threats to wildlife and biodiversity.

The documentary videos were also complemented by key local implementing partners who shared their plans after the PWA.

Dr. Rey Navacilla, DAI Global Site Manager for Pasonanca Natural Park, said the formulation of the Ayala and Manicahan watershed management and development plan will be instrumental in looking at the potential of these dams as sources of water for Zamboanga City, which will help improve the natural park's water resource sustainability.

For Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, Elizabeth Maclang, Protected Area Supervisor (PASu), said the use of camera traps will help enforcers monitor the activities inside the protected area as well as the continuation of the payment for ecosystem services.

For Mt. Mantalingahan Protected Landscape, PASu Efren Hibaler said their focus is to come up with a Geographic Information System team for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to facilitate the zoning system in the protected area and utilize spatial planning and other technologies gained from the PWA.

For Sarangani Bay Protected Seascape, PASu Joy Ologuin emphasized that they are going to continue the efforts of the PWA, especially the strengthening of enforcers, with the enforcement protocol developed, and institutionalizing the payment for ecosystem services.

Dr. Albert Aquino, USAid Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist, noted at the close of the forum that protecting the wildlife doesn't end in their collective efforts as well as the stories that were told.

"After all, these collective efforts to protect wildlife is a continuing story and still is evolving so please let's do our share," Aquino said.

Meanwhile, Dr. John Edgar, USAid Environment Office chief, has affirmed that the findings and results as presented in the learning event will be helpful to the stakeholders and also expressed hope that there will be more opportunities for future collaborations.

"USAid is a strong partner of the Philippine government in conserving the countries' rich biodiversity resources and believes that conservation is an essential component to building prosperous stable and equitable societies," Edgar said.

The project evaluation is important to measure the project effectiveness, relevance, and efficiency and to enable those who design and implement projects to refine the designs and introduce improvements for future efforts, he added.

Gregorio expressed thanks to USAid for partnering with SEARCA and expressed hope for more opportunities to work together. "SEARCA strongly supports USAid not only to protect biodiversity in the Philippines but also the rest of Southeast Asia and beyond."