Mt. Apo fire threatens Philippines Eagle breeding, nesting site

The Philippine Star

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – The forest fire razing parts of the slope of Mt. Apo since Saturday is threatening the nearly extinct Philippine Eagle, the national bird. 

Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) chairman Carlos Dominguez expressed concern that if the ongoing forest fire continues to rage, the habitat of the Philippine Eagle would be affected.

The forest fire, which started in the Kidapawan City trail of Mt. Apo, has spread to other parts of the highest mountain in the country.

Mt. Apo is home to the Philippine Eagle. Nests of the giant raptor can be found in the remaining 7,000-hectare forest of the mountain.

“The population of the Philippine Eagle is already near-extinct and now we have this problem of the Mt. Apo fire. It is really threatening the survival of our national bird,” Dominguez said.

The population of the Philippine Eagle is less than 500 pairs, which were seen in the forests of Mt. Apo, Samar, Leyte and the Cordilleras. 

The non-profit PEF runs the Philippine Eagle Center in Barangay Malagos, Calinan District in this city, located at the foot of the Mt. Talomo range where at least 35 captive-bred eagles are kept. 

Malacañang assured the public yesterday the national government is addressing the fire breakout at Mt. Apo.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the Department of the Interior and Local Government, Bureau of Fire Protection and the Philippine Air Force have been working with the local governments of Davao del Sur and Davao City to prevent the fire from spreading.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has deployed at least 40 technical personnel to assist in containing the forest fire.

Environment Secretary Ramon Paje directed DENR Region 11 Director Joselin Marcus Fragada to discuss with concerned local executives the plan to temporarily close the country’s highest peak to campers to prevent a repeat of the fire incident.

“Upon hearing about the incident, we lost no time mobilizing our personnel from our provincial and community environment and natural offices in Digos City to help prevent the spread of forest fire in nearby areas,” Paje said.

The DENR regional office in Davao City has been providing equipment and technical support to composite teams of concerned local government units, the Bureau of Fire Protection, and the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (PDRRMC).

“Each of the seven composite teams now up in Mt. Apo has DENR personnel providing technical assistance, particularly in the use of geographical position system or GPS and control maps, including the establishment of fire lines to prevent the fire from further spreading,” Paje said.

A fire line is a gap in vegetation or other combustible materials that will act as barrier to slow down or stop the fire from spreading.

A Super Huey chopper from the Philippine Air Force was also deployed in the area on Tuesday to conduct water bucket operation. 

“Water dropping commenced at 9 a.m. on Tuesday but ended at 11:30 a.m. due to poor visibility. A total of 10 buckets equivalent to 30 drums have been dropped,” Paje said.

He also noted that the risk of fire had increased as the long dry spell and high temperatures left large amounts of flammable debris in forest areas.

The Palace also said the Department of Agriculture was ready to conduct cloud seeding over the Mt. Apo grassfire site if favorable cloud formation was present and if wind direction was conducive for such operation.

The Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) overseeing Mt. Apo yesterday passed resolutions to indefinitely close Mt.  Apo to trekkers and to use the Integrated Protected Area Fund (IPAF).

The grassfire was reportedly triggered by trekking malpractices but authorities brushed aside any speculation on the cause of the fire because the investigation is still ongoing.

Funds generated from trekking fees and other local government income raised through Mt. Apo tourism activities will be tapped for urgent operation use to douse the grassfire.

Authorities are appealing for more assistance, particularly water and food and more fire volunteers, as the grassfire is seen to last for about five to 10 days.  

Office of Civil Defense XI regional director Liza Mazo said the agency had requested for additional helicopter from the Armed Forces of the Philippines to beef up forces conducting the “heli-bucket” operation manned by the Eastern Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces.  – With Aurea Calica

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