Freeman Cebu Lifestyle

Wanted: Mountain Tourism Managers

Maria Eleanor E. Valeros - The Freeman

MANILA, Philippines - Campsite management, reduction of human impact to flora and fauna along trails, and minimizing of detrimental activities by campers are just a few of the backbreaking, knee-jerking, lung-busting real challenges hounding conservation efforts of most mountaineering clubs in the country.

I recently joined a high-impact climb to Mt. Talinis (5,905 feet above sea level) in Negros Oriental, with 23 other climbers. We went in two groups, following different routes. One group used the Apolong Trail with jump-off point near the approach to Casaroro Falls in the municipality of Valencia. The other group used the Bediao route with jump-off point in Dauin town.

With minimal stewardship from forest wardens, Mount Talinis is open to vandals, litterers and wildlife hunters. There is noticeable disruption in the regeneration of significant fauna, especially the Visayan spotted deer, warty pig, and civet cat. The same is true with flora like giant ferns and wild berries which come in lavender, red, pink and crimson hues.

Slash-and-burn farming and the illegal chopping down of trees for charcoal and firewood also contribute to the mountain's destruction. The local people use the "boils down to economics" excuse, as there is an apparent lack of alternative livelihood opportunities.

There is a need for trained mountain tourism managers to open the mountain to tourists wanting a climbing experience, while also taking proper care of the mountain itself. A mountain that teems with lush vegetation and wildlife is very attractive to people in search for adventure or wanting to get close to nature. When tourists come, livelihood opportunities are generated for the host communities.

Being a mountain tourism manager is a promising career for trekking enthusiasts themselves. With their love for the mountain and nature, mountaineers are in the best position to share knowledge on how all lives are intertwined. From their own experience they can educate new trekkers and the surrounding communities on the importance of sustaining the mountain and all lives found there.

It may be necessary to come up with guidelines on waste management. Some individuals take climbing as merely picnicking. These people either have no basic mountaineering orientation; they don't understand the impact their trash has on the mountain, most especially to water sources. Or, maybe, they just don't care.

Some of the trash we found on Mt. Talinis - cans, liquor bottles, plastic bottles of purified water, and packs of instant noodles, coffee, tea, junk foods - were even perched atop cogon grass near small patches of clearings.

Mountain tourism managers shall be environmentalists, as well.  Many untrained mountain climbers do improper activities in base camps, like loud playing of recorded music, noisy chitchats, drinking and smoking sessions. Perhaps certain standards in self-conduct while on the mountain should be developed. The impact of human noise on flora and fauna should be supported by sound science (pun intended!) and how it should guide group socials to establish camaraderie among climbers. There is probably no need to drink or smoke.

Another important thing to consider is the development of biodegradable poop bags - or like items for the purpose - that could be distributed to hikers, to have in place an effective latrine system.

Another important area for mountain tourism managers to be skillful in is crisis management. Since their task entails initiating dialogue with wildlife hunters, they shall be prepared for resistance. Some hunters could go aggressive once they feel that their livelihood sources are at risk. Mountain tourism managers shall be able to negotiate smoothly with everyone regarding rules and policies to promote the welfare of the mountain and its inhabitant wildlife.

Initiating conservation programs shall also be part of the job, encouraging the protection of the natural biodiversity of the mountain, while at the same time offering it as an ideal venue for learning about the natural environment and for people's enjoyment. This may require, however, limiting the number of visitors on the mountain at any given time, in order to both ensure visitors' safety and minimize the strain on the environment.

Being a mountain tourism manager can start as a passion. But the good effects of the function can actually spur a materially rewarding career. It's no secret how tourism can bring about income opportunities - not only for mountain tourism managers, but for the entire host communities as well.

If they can make it happen at Mt. Talinis, everybody benefits. And why not? There is just no reason why it can't be done. (FREEMAN)

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