This study was conducted to evaluate the current management regime of burning vis a vis burning with carbon offsets for the Chocolate Hills Natural Monument (CHNM) in Bohol, Philippines. The current scheme of burning to maintain the grass-covered (tree-less) and brown hills and sustain tourist arrivals is seen as environmentally unsound and is inconsistent with existing environmental laws. The study estimated the carbon loss from burning and compared the carbon loss value with the tourism income of the chocolate hills under the status quo with the end in view of evaluating a carbon offset project as an alternative management scheme. A comparison of the benefits and costs of the status quo and the proposed management regime was conducted. On the basis of the results of these assessments, policy recommendations were drawn up for consideration of the CHNM management.
Historically, the hills of CHNM were burned for grazing of animals. This made the hill landscape visually appealing and consequently attracted tourists to the area. However, when it was declared as a protected area, burning of the hills was discouraged. This led to the growth of tree species (mostly indigenous) on the hills characteristic of natural regeneration. This resulted in the loss of the unique hill landscape preferred by the tourists. The tourism office, managed by the local government of Carmen, expectedly wanted to maintain the hills bare for tourism. On the other hand, the protected area management board (PAMB) of CHNM is mandated to ensure that environmental laws, one of which bans burning, are adhered to. Thus, the study sets out to evaluate the establishment of a carbon offset project to make up for the carbon loss if a certain number of hills are burned to maintain the tourism value.
The vegetation and biomass analysis and the carbon study reveal an estimated 153 ha of forest should be established to offset the carbon emission due to clearing of such hills. This means that the carbon offset project will require the establishment of one hectare of forest for every two hills cleared. The cost of forestation could be supported by income from tourism in a form and manner that directly involves the community.The study found that the present value of tourism income was very much higher than the cost of carbon emission due to burning.
The study recommends that the PAMB consider the establishment of a carbon offset project to make the current management practice carbon neutral.