Moving from Illegal Logging to Ecotourism

Ulot Watershed is centrally located in the hinterland of Samar and it’s more than a 100 km river basin. That’s why it is the third largest watershed on the Samar Island. It plays a critical role in the community, in the biodiversity, in the forest, and in the total landscape of the Samar Island. That watershed area has 35 communities and 11 municipalities covered by this particular watershed. That watershed, basically, is a web of life. The people, the biodiversity, the animals, the plants, and the political setup play major roles, and it is interconnected, so we cannot address one without addressing the other. All of watershed is one of the hotspots in terms of illegal logging and timber poaching. I think there are problems here in watershed before the model forest came in. For example, the wildlife hunting, the timber poaching, [inaudible] making, charcoal making and even dynamite fishing along this river. They’re were, based on our inventory, 40 boats along the river being used by illegal loggers, 20 wooden boats used to transport the illegal lumber items and we have developed the ecotourism, the Torpedo extreme ride instead of using these boats from the transport of illegal items. We encourage the community, we form the People’s Organization as part of the People’s Organization or Federation of Ulot to use these boats to transport visitors for ecotourism, so that’s very important conversion of their livelihood from the illegal activities to ecotourism. That river used to be the navigational route of our ancestors when they were no roads connecting the west side and the east side of Samar. Actually when we sell the tour package, we’re selling their culture, their way of life, their life before. Then now it’s contributing also to their way of life in a different manner. Now we call them champions of ecotourism, protectors of our environment. This Ulot Torpedo Boat Extreme Ride, the income of this doesn’t go to the local government in Paranas. Actually, the income of this goes directly to the community. Entrance fees and the development communities fees goes also to the community. It is a really huge impact that through something as simple as tourism, which is designed to keep these guys from cutting down trees and creating charcoal and what-not, they’re gaining other life skills that improve the community as a whole. The TORPEDO guides have all become first aid and water rescue-certified, which I think is a huge step and because they’re not only applying that knowledge and skill to their tourism, but basically they are also lifeguards for the community. Now we can see that the tourist statistics are increasing. Maybe in time, we could grow bigger like the other touristic spots in the country. And aside from that, we are also taking care of the richness of the biodiversity of the Ulot watershed. They are taking a longer term approach: working with the community, developing the community, running educational campaigns, getting the community to change attitude and change their behavior. Granted that takes a really long time, but once that attitude-change has been achieved, it’s going to be longer term and have bigger impact. I think that in itself is a really good approach that the Model Forest takes. And I think that you are really seeing the impact of that here.

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