Ilagan Watershed Conservation Project | WWF

Ilagan Watershed Conservation Project

Geographical location:

Asia/Pacific > Southeast Asia > Philippines

Abuan River
© Ed Tongson


The Ilagan watershed provides a wide range of watershed services that benefit upland and lowland farmers, residents, institutions, small businesses and industries in the Northern Philippines. The watershed also has the potential to benefit tourists and supply hydropower to power generation companies.

The Ilagan Watershed Conservation Project will build a platform to secure the watershed services provided by the Abuan watershed to benefit its water users including, but not limited to, industry, irrigation farmers, water districts, recreational users and ecotourists and future mini-hydro projects.


Despite its value to local businesses and communities, the Ilagan watershed is under threat. Illegal logging, swidden or slash and burn farming and forest clearings are all having severe detrimental effects. In deforested upland areas, the exposed soils erode during rainfall events resulting in water pollution and sedimentation of waterways, thereby reducing the volume of water conveyed to farms. In the Abuan river, for example, more than 100,000 board feet of illegal timber was found abandoned. Enforcement is weak due to lack of personnel and equipment, corruption, slow prosecution of cases and lack of political will. The underlying causes of this deforestation are upland poverty, high population growth, lack of property rights and poor governance.

Isabela Province is the primary rice and corn granary of the Northern Philippines. The province relies on ecological services provided by watersheds of the Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park whose forests are important for life-support functions, such as:
- Regulate the flow of both surface and groundwater, specifically slowing the rate of runoff in a watershed and determining the recharge of the water table.
- Protect the soil, reduce the incidence of soil erosion and landslides, and control the sedimentation of waterways.
- Filter contaminants, control nutrient and chemical load, and maintain water quality.
- Contribute to both farm and fishery production. It maintains aquatic habitats.
- Provide a habitat for endangered species. As a biodiversity-rich ecosystem, it provides resilience to the environment, livelihood to indigenous communities, and spiritual, cultural and health benefits.
- Contribute to carbon storage and sequestration.

Given the ecological importance of watersheds and the extent of human dependence on the services provided by them, watershed degradation has both environmental and socio-economic costs. These costs are in the form of lack of clean and adequate potable water, silted canals, diminished capacity for hydro-power, threat of landslides, increased flooding, and loss of biodiversity and forest-based livelihoods.


1. Identify and assess threats to the watershed and facilitate stakeholder planning for the conservation and sustainable use of the Ilagan watershed.
2. Develop plans to rehabilitate denuded areas in the Ilagan watershed of the Northern Sierra Madre through agro-forestry schemes and assisted natural regeneration.
3. Develop schemes for Payments for Watershed Services involving user/buyers to provide sustainable financing for watershed activities.
4. Increase awareness of local communities of the importance of protecting watersheds and conserving water resources.


Equitable payments for watershed services (PWS) has emerged as a market-based tool linking buyers and sellers of watershed services. Through incentives given by downstream water users to upland farmers, the latter refrain from destructive activities. The forests are maintained and the watershed functions are sustained. These payments are renewed and made contingent on satisfactory delivery of outputs, e.g. reforestation, agro-forestry practices – by upland beneficiaries.

Payments for watershed services, however, are not a panacea to forest problems. Combined with enforcement, awareness raising and education, tenurial security and capacity building, PWS can be effective mechanisms to produce conservation results in a sustained manner.

The proposal will complement the programmes of the Provincial Government of Isabela, Philippine Tropical Forest Conservation, Energy Development Co. and Tanggol Kalikasan, Foundation for Philippine Environment, to protect and conserve the forests in the Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park. The park covers the headwaters of the Ilagan watershed.

Other work continues to focus on enforcement such as forest patrols, surveillance, search and seizure of illegal logs, legal support and monitoring over the Abuan River. Around 300 “bogadors” or timber haulers have lost their livelihoods due to enforcement activities. They are expected to return to the forests and renew timber poaching if no alternative livelihoods are offered.


- For the 1st quarter of 2009, the project hired a project site manager, forged agreements with the Municipal government of Ilagan and the Energy Development Corporation.
- The project developed terms of reference, and hired consultants for agroforestry, hydrology, hydro-geology and ecotourism.
- The consultants performed a reconnaissance visit on March 29-April 2.

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