Example As Tutor

by Juan L. Mercado

“Example is not the main thing in influencing others,” 1952 Nobel Laureate Albert Schwietzer cautioned after long service, as doctor and pastor, in French Equatorial  Africa.  “It is the only thing.”

This insight is refracted in an experimental Central Visayas project to tap high schools and church networks in conserving biodiversity as weather patterns radically shift.

“Biodiversity” is the new kid on the block. It means the teeming variety of life, from animals and plants down to their genes. They straddle  ecosystems.

In 1989,  “Biological Abstracts” did not include it as a key word. However, deforestation, soil erosion and over-fishing, plus population surges, led to loss of irreplaceable biodiversity.  It is now  every day jargon for scientist and  policy-maker.

Take birds. The Mindoro imperial pigeon, Mindanao parrot finch, and dicaeum quadricolor or flower pecker, unique to Cebu, have been wiped out. Of 200 native species, 89 are threatened.

Birds perform multiple tasks: from curbing insect infestations to scattering seeds. A quarter of trees in North Negros’ shrinking.  Forest Reserve won’t regenerate, if the present rate of bird  hunting continues, a University of British Columbia study notes.

No bird, herb or fish disappears alone, Oxford University’s Dr. Norman Meyer warns. When they go, so do their unique genes. These are life building blocks.  Genes are spliced into “miracle rice,” high-yielding corn, etc. Other go into drugs against cancer, AIDS, etc. No one knows which  may be needed the day after.

“This killing curve of species is genetic forfeiture. It seals off little-understood options for our grandchildren”, the late National Scientist Dioscoro Umali warned. ”Loss of species is irreversible obliteration of unique life forms. No one has yet invented recall from annihilation. Extinction is forever.”

“Global Biodiversity Outlook3 shows many nations,” including the Philippines “pay lip service to conservation of biodiversity”, marine scientist and Magsaysay Awardee Angel Alcala writes.  Thus, the target, set in 2002, to reduce biodiversity loss by 2010, hasn’t been met.

Education is a first step in reversing a slide into ecological collapse. Thus, Soil and Water Conservation Foundation, in collaboration with Education Department’s Central Visayas regional office launched an experimental project “High School   Biodiversity Reserve”.

Six sites in Cebu and Bohol were picked.  Negros and Siquijor will be included in the next phase.  “We were starting at  square one,” recalls  Bill Granert of SWCF.  “Most students had never seen a molave tree. Many had never seen a forest. Future leaders have little appreciation for the natural heritage of the country”.

In cooperation with local governments, students and teachers therefore created school forests, using native species.  Participating schools were in Gaas, Kal-nanan, Simeon Ayuda, San Pascual, Malingin, Calerohan and Don Sergio Osmena High. They tracked birds attracted by the trees.

Bohol and Cebu are severely deforested. Their choice hinged on DepEd Regional Office 7”s backstopping. Both also have key biodiversity institutions.

The Bohol Biodiversity Complex in Bilar is reinforced by “Simply Butterflies”, a conservation facility in nearby Rajah Sikatuna. In 2009, Bohol public high  school students started to visit the site. The facility averages about 2000 visitors a year for trainings and regular visits.

Cebu has the 71-hectare Ayala Heights Nature Park. Established two years ago, it has an educational program covering watershed management and wildlife conservation. Hiking and camping facilities are available to visitors by appointment or as walk ins.

The initial evaluation of  “High School Biodiversity Reserve” has documented modest achievements. These could pave the way for other schools elsewhere to emulate.

The original target, was to provide 100 seedlings of 50 different native species to each school or a total of  800. The  actual number planted was 1,800. More significant, follow up resulted in a survival rate is over 90%. Trail constructed was double the target.  Participation by Local governments and parent teacher associations jacked up a modest project fund of P652,031 to P3.2 million.

Monitoring has produced an initial list of birds attracted by  foliage at different schools. It will serve as baseline for future studies. “The present selection of schools is done to develop a ring around the island of Cebu , so the bird monitoring program will have data from the entire island”.

It is a start with those who matter: the young.  The example set by pioneer schools has began to influence elementary and high schools next door. Region 7 is considering pilot projects in provinces other than the original four.

President Aquino’s Proclamation No. 178 designates 2011 to 2020 as “National Decade of Biodiversity.” These may spur  other provinces to launch their own school forests.

“There could be a generation of young people who can say they observed native trees,”  SWCF’s Bill Granert says, knocking on wood. ”Today, many just look at pictures of once verdant forests in textbooks.”

“Example is the school of mankind,” the British parliamentarian Edmund Burke once said. “And they will learn from no other”. Has Supreme Court chief justice Renato Corona belatedly learned that from his smudged Statement of Assets and Liabilities?.

(Email: juan_mercado77@yahoo.com)

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