Towering 9,692 feet above sea level, Mount Apo is celebrated as the “Grandfather of Philippine Mountains.” It’s the country’s tallest mountain and volcano, and also a protected environmental area with rich forests and biodiversity. Mount Apo’s forests are safeguarded by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Philippine government agency tasked with protecting the country’s treasured environment.
But when a wildfire spread from the mountain’s peak in March 2016, the country’s conservation efforts were at the brink of destruction. Communities and government officials alike realized that environmental management requires more than conservation; it’s requires having the right tools to fight environmental threats. In partnership with the Biodiversity and Watersheds Improved for Stronger Economy and Ecosystem Resilience (B+WISER) program, the DENR is conserving the country’s vulnerable ecosystems while also preparing for a dangerous hazard — forest fires.
When the fires broke out last year in Mount Apo Natural Park, also setting ablaze the peaks of Mount Kanlaon and Mount Kitanglad, wildfire preparedness became a big priority. Hundreds of hectares of forest and grassland were destroyed. And the government was hard-pressed to find solutions. After 20 years without formal training on fire management, the DENR had limited capacity to respond quickly and effectively. B+WISER, funded by USAID and implemented by Chemonics, helped the DENR conduct a rapid fire assessment. Coordinated among various agencies, this assessment supported communities to act as first responders on the ground. The process shed light on two major needs: inter-agency collaboration between the DENR and the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), and overall capacity development for fire management.
As a result, B+WISER incorporated wildfire preparedness into its mission to improve natural resource management and reduce forest degradation. In the months following the major wildfires, B+WISER trained 50 officials from the DENR and the BFP in forest fire management.