Now, thanks largely to the efforts of CI’s Philippines
team, Peñablanca is known for more than recreational opportunities: It is the site of one of the most signiﬁcant victories for Philippine biodiversity in recent times. In November, Philippine President Gloria Arroyo signed a proclamation expanding the protected area from 10,000 acres to 291,000 acres. Combined with the adjacent 809,000-acre Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park, the new protected area creates a seamless block of protected forest
larger than Switzerland. A marine component stretches 9.5 miles offshore, encompassing unique ecosystems rich in threatened species
such as the whale shark, giant clam and several sea turtles
“Peñablanca is an area that has been under pressure by illegal logging and wildlife hunting for years,” says CI-Philippines Director Romeo Trono. “Now we have the legal framework and landscape connectivity to more effectively protect it.”
The decision comes after four years of work by CI, as well as vital ﬁnancial support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the CI-admin-istered Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF). It safeguards one of the last tracts of old-growth forest in the Philippines hotspot
, critical habitat for the Philippine eagle—the national bird—Philippine crocodile and Northern Luzon shrew rat, all threatened species found nowhere else. Less than 7 percent of the Philippines’ original forest cover, and less than 3 percent of its old growth, remains intact.
“The Peñablanca expansion is a huge conservation achievement for this nation,” says Secretary Elisea Gozun of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. “But when one takes into account that this new area is in the heart of the Sierra Madre biodiversity corridor—one of the richest regions in the world—this expansion really has global repercussions."
Christopher Holtz, CI program director for the Philippines and Indonesia
, credits recent CEPF backing as key to moving the process forward and ensuring government and community
support. “CEPF helped communities jump through administrative hoops, which can be complicated and time consuming in the Philippines. It also helped ﬁnance several important biological studies.”
Researchers in one of these studies spotted a pair of Philippine eagles and documented what may be new species of frog and shrew rat. These ﬁndings provided important biological justiﬁcation for creation of the protected area.
Also working in favor of the expansion was CI’s emphasis on both conservation and economic development. The new protected area will be zoned using CI’s biodiversity conservation corridor approach, which allows varying degrees of conservation and economic activity, from strictly protected areas to sustainable farming and ecotourism
initiatives. In addition, the Peñablanca expansion helps safeguard a critical watershed that sustains the country’s most important rice-growing area. Holtz explains, “The valley west of the Sierra Madre Mountains is known as the rice bowl of the Philippines.”
Peñablanca is one piece of a broader conservation plan CI and its partners are implementing across the Sierra Madre Mountains
. In the Cagayan Valley region to the south, CEPF support has helped advance a CI-led project to establish a protected area similar to Peñablanca, possibly within one year. “Like Peñablanca, there will be a mix of zoning, with less strict protection in the valleys where people live,” says Holtz. “But that’s necessary. That’s how corridors work and it’s why the concept is attractive to governments.”