The Green Revolution: What a real forest means

Published by rudy Date posted on March 22, 2009

Over the last century, the forest area in the Philippines has fallen from 21 million hectares in 1900 to just less than 6 million in 1996 (DENR 2002). As recorded, large area of forestlands were already converted to tree plantation, mining and marginal upland agriculture which gave a 200,000 hectares per year deforestation rate in 1995.

The Declining Forest

From a biodiversity-based perspective, forest is defined as a vast tract of land dominated by trees with diverse flaura and fauna which includes all life forms that lives in an ecosystem. The totality of the living and non-living organisms depicts the word “biodiversity.” According to Catigbog-Sinha and Heaney (2006), biodiversity in the Philippines is very high compared to other countries like USA and Europe in terms of endemic species present. This fact is attributed to the location and geography of a place. The Philippines is located near the equator that brings relatively fair temperature which many species can adapt namely from bryophytes to gymnosperms in plants and different fauna like reptiles, birds, and mammals. Another reason of the richness was the archipelagical setting of the country from which different fauna and fauna are uniquely developing in a specific area through time (Catigbog-Sinha and Heaney, 2006).

Through time, however, from mere turnaround of definitions and meanings, definition of forest has focused into more technical and extractive term, which is likely made to meet market standards for extraction timber resources. These changes affect the purpose of forest from just simply giving shelter and protection into an aspect of management of natural forest and plantations where money can be extracted from.

Tree tragedy

In parallel with the natural calamities brought about by forest loss, was a tragic decline of the unique species and biodiversity. This includes tree species like the dipterocarp species that is regarded as one of the most premium species of wood in the world, together with other native/indigenous species, which has timber values. These important species were targeted by large-scale logging and abused by mining operations.

Efforts to bring back the forest took place with the introduction of different programs to conserve and protect the remaining forest areas and the rehabilitation of degraded and denuded lands has been a focus of the government since past thirty years. One of many examples is the Contract Reforestation Program, which gave the opportunity to the community in the uplands to earn income while bringing back the forest. However, it is very sad to say that the programs objective was only for temporary restoration because it was mainly for harvesting or timber-extraction.

The impact of forest loss and degradation was seen during the early years when more calamities and disasters like flash floods and landslides was felt. Efforts to bring back the forest took place with the introduction of different programs to conserve and protect the remaining forest areas and the rehabilitation of degraded and denuded lands. One example is the Contract Reforestation Program, which gave the opportunity to the community in the uplands to earn money while bringing back the forest. However it is very unfortunate that some of the programs failed not only because the intention of the activities are for future harvesting but also it failed to give attention to biodiversity and ecosystem of the original forest.

It is regretful that the forest dominated by Dipterocarps like Aptiong, Bagtikan, Palosapis, and etc., are replaced by the exotic Swietenia sp. (Mahogany), Gmelina arborea (Yemane), Leucaena leucocephalla (Ipil-ipil), and Jatropha (Tuba-tuba) which are exotic species planted in a monoculture plantation scheme which may bring negative impacts to environment. According to Holl and Kappelle (1999), biodiversity loss has negative impacts on vital ecosystem functions such as water retention, erosion control, carbon storage and mineral recycling which is clearly evident in plantations since only one or two species are only planted. In addition, these exotic species also lack fruits and flowers that most wildlife needs since it is planted outside its native range. Also it inhibits the growth of native/endemic plants that most of our wildlife animals depend on and by this, wildlife in the local area may be displaced. It is said also that the wood quality of these species were not as good as our premium native timber species and therefore do not contribute to the lessen the pressure of extracting the remaining natural forest, hence, continuous extraction of our native timber is still ongoing.

Native trees: best option to climate-change reduction

Koerner (2008) in his article says, that according to United States Forest Service, the best trees for carbon sequestration are those with large trunk diameters and dense wood. These properties are exhibited by our native trees according to some studies. Dipterocarp species, for example, are large trees reaching a height of more than 60 meters with a diameter of more than 100 centimeters. Other trees such as Philippine chestnuts grows almost at the same height as the dipterocarps but with less diameter. Also, Philippines is situated in the in rainforests near the equator that is characterized by warm temperatures and heavy rainfalls that results to faster growth rate of trees compared to other countries. On the other hand, planting exotic species here in the country is intended for harvesting, and so, the carbon that it might stock will just fruit in just a couple of years.

Efforts to restoration

To address this, rainforestation technology was developed. It is a farming technology by former Leyte State University (now Visayas State University) through their Applied Tropical Ecology Program with a joint research with Philippine-German Applied Tropical Ecology Programme. Haribon Foundation started the introduction of rainforestation in 2001 after forging partnership between the LSU’s Institute of Tropical Ecology. Haribon is now implementing rainforestation in its GOLDEN Forests, Landscapes, and Seascapes projects in four Important Biodiversity Areas—Mountains Irid-Angelo, Zambales Mountains in Luzon and Mount Diwata and Mount Hilong-hilong in Surigao del Sur. These projects are funded by the European Union, Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional, and Cives Mundi.

Rainforestation attempts to restore deforested areas using indigenous tree species which are more consistent with biodiversity conservation strategies such as protected area and natural regeneration. In the end, this may allow enhanced forest ecological services and local biodiversity is protected and rehabilitated (Condeno, 2005). In LSU trial sites, local fauna ha been seen to quickly re-colonize the mixed plantations of rainforestation farmers. Initially, birds and fruitbats was observed like hornbills and parrot, and then larger mammals including Philippine Tarsier were seen in the sites after four years. –Ryan Gueverra, Haribon Foundation

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