On September 25, as Luzon braced for Super Typhoon Karding, “Sierra Madre” trended online as netizens hoped the mountain range would weaken the storm. And that, it did. Once the storm passed the Sierra Madre in Nueva Ecija, the typhoon weakened. And because Central Luzon is quite flat, the typhoon quickly left the Philippine Area of Responsibility.
Though it has been protecting much of Luzon from natural disasters, many Filipinos still don’t understand the value of the Sierra Madre. Here are eight things about the mountain range that we shouldn’t take for granted.
1. It’s called the “Backbone of Luzon” for a reason
Sierra Madre spans almost 700 kilometers in length, making it the longest mountain range in the Philippines. Its highest peak (Mount Bintuod in Nueva Vizcaya), stands 1,932 meters above sea level.
The range stretches from Cagayan in the north and ends down in the province of Quezon, traversing ten provinces in total. This is part of the reason why it’s fondly called the “Backbone of Luzon”, but it’s also because it plays a crucial part in the island’s ecology.
2. It’s a natural barrier against typhoons
The Sierra Madre mountain range doing her thing 💅
Keep safe everyone #KardingPH pic.twitter.com/z9Nu8YjNp7
— wegeners (@genurrrr) September 25, 2022
For as long as it has stood, Sierra Madre has been protecting Luzon from typhoons. According to Haribon, this is due to its large surface area “with many slopes and curves, [which] can help break the eye of the cyclone resulting in a slower wind speed.”
The Sierra Madre has a land area of approximately 1.4 million hectares. According to PAGASA, typhoons are strongest over water, but their strength diminishes when over land. And when it moves over mountains, the effect of the peaks and valleys weakens the typhoon even more.
3. Its protection has inspired myth
The story of Sierra Madre: The Great Protector pic.twitter.com/43uDiG1bPr
— Jᴇʟᴏᴏᴏᴏ 👾 (@Jelo_twt) September 25, 2022
The Sierra Madre has been protecting Luzon for so long that it has an ancient myth. The ancient story tells the story of Sierra, a woman who was in love with a young warrior named Lusong. The two had two children, Iloco and Tagalo, and they lived along the coastline of Luzon.
However, to be with Lusong, Sierra had spurned the romantic advances of Bugsong Hangin, the king of the mighty easterly winds. He was so jealous of Lusong that he would wreak havoc on their home, killing Lusong in the process. To put a stop to Bugsong Hangin’s wrath, Sierra sacrificed her life, lying down on the coastline and letting her sons take refuge in her arms.
4. It has the largest rainforests in the PH
Sierra Madre has the largest remaining tract of rainforest in the Philippines, representing 40% of the Philippine forest cover. It has three national parks: Aurora Memorial National Park, Biak-na-Bato National Park, and Fuyot Springs National Park. It also has 14 protected areas.
5. It’s one of the most biodiverse areas in the Philippines
Because of its large rainforests, it’s incredibly biodiverse. Studies have found that the range is home to at least 201 species of mammals, 556 species of birds, over 85 species of amphibians, and 252 species of reptiles. Half of these are endemic and many are threatened. Even the Philippine Eagle has been spotted in the Sierra Madre.
Endangered flora like the Rafflesia manillana corpse flower are also found in the Sierra Madre. In the southern end of the range, there are 237 tree species recorded. 67 of these are threatened, 58 are endemic, and 143 are indigenous to the country.
6. It’s a valuable source of water
Sierra Madre is also a valuable water source to the people who live in and around the mountain range, with watersheds that are crucial to agriculture in Central Luzon and Cagayan Valley. The northern part of the mountain range serves as a drain to 14 major river systems.
7. It’s the ancestral home of the Agta-Dumagat-Remontado indigenous group
Stop 2 Sierra Madre dam projects, Agta folk appeal http://t.co/8wui0ovLns | @SonnyMallari pic.twitter.com/BTMRD3ullw
— Inquirer Regions (@InqNational) October 12, 2014
The Agta-Dumagat-Remontado, or the Agta, are an indigenous group of hunter-gatherers who have lived in the Philippines for at least 35,000 years. About 9,000 Agta currently live along the coasts and in the rainforests of the Sierra Madre.
The Agtas’ way of life is threatened by change as they become more influenced by lowlanders. But deforestation also endangers the Agta way of life. Many of the Agta hunt and fish in the Sierra Madre to survive. The forests of the Sierra Madre are also a valuable source of rattan and nipa palm, which the Agta use to produce crafts for their livelihood.
8. It is under threat
After the typhoon, I hope that we make it as an activity to preserve Sierra Madre. It has served as a barrier for us here in Luzon during calamities. Now, its body will have to shield us again from the super typhoon.#KardingPH pic.twitter.com/2dLC6yevOK
— ✧arya⁶˚ · . (@luvarya96) September 25, 2022
Because the Sierra Madre mountain range has been protecting us for so long, we have taken it for granted. Human activities like mining, illegal logging, the conversion of forests for agriculture, road construction, and migration threaten the range.
“We’re having problems because people take it for granted that this will always be there and you don’t have to do anything,” environmental policy expert Tony La Viña tells Channel News Asia. “They don’t realize that when they deforest it, when the mountains are actually literally cut down to size for quarrying purposes, then the protection disappears.”
One controversial project that is said to threaten Sierra Madre is the Kaliwa Dam. The proposed mega-dam falls within an Environmentally Critical Area. If it is implemented, old-growth forest areas will be flooded and thousands of people will be displaced. Because of Super Typhoon Karding, interest in Sierra Madre — as well as the outrage against the controversial Kaliwa Dam project — has been renewed.
But we shouldn’t wait until the next calamity before we move to protect Sierra Madre. By then, it might be too late.
What are your thoughts on Sierra Madre?