Fires destroy much of Phl forests, UN-FAO records show

Published by rudy Date posted on April 17, 2011

NATIVIDAD, Pangasinan , Philippines  – It’s summer, and expect some parts of the country’s vanishing forests to go up in smoke because of fires.

Fires destroy much of the country’s forests, as shown by records, among them those of the United Nations-Food and Agriculture Organization (UN-FAO).

This is exemplified by the case of the Caraballo Mountain cast of this town situated in Pangasinan’s easternmost part.

Decades back, Caraballo was thickly mantled with trees. Today, much of the storied mountain has been scraped of trees – a result of “carabao logging” and forest fires.

A few weeks back, for instance, as summer began to set it, a big mountain fire greeted, among others, members of Class 1961 of the Natividad Oriental Academy (NOA) who held this year their “Golden Reunion.”

The NOA Batch ’61 members, some of whom flew in from abroad for the memorable occasion, were coming home after having a “look see” aboard two vehicles of this vast province from the western tip Bolinao town and Alaminos City (jumping board of the world-famous Hundred Islands) when they noticed the big fire lighting up the Caraballo Mountain’s nocturnal skies.

As teen-aged students when they were pursuing their secondary education at Natividad’s oldest high school, they had witnessed how Caraballo Mountain was decimated by summer fires and illegal logging.

The fires had been deliberately caused mostly by wildlife hunters and cogon grass gatherers.

The hunters from some eastern Pangasinan towns who went up to the mountain to poach wild boar, deer, and other fauna burned part of the forests so that the ensuing ashes could attract wild animals which they pounced on.

Also, the forest resource gatherers of old burned cogon areas after they had collected enough of the grass so that they could dominate its market.

The result: Caraballo Mountain in the eastern part of Pangasinan has been badly denuded, although, encouragingly, the past local government administration has achieved some kind of success in regreening the Natividad part of the mountain.

Forest fires have similarly created veritable dust bowls out of once verdant mountains in various parts of the country.

A UN-FAO reports, fort instance, noted that 937 forests fires affecting vast forests raged across the country during the 1998-2007 period, as cited by Dr. Edwino S. Fernando of the University of the Philippines Los Baños-College of Forestry and Natural Resources (UPLB-CFNR).

Dr. Fernando’s forum was a seminar billed “Overexploitation: The Way to Biodiversity Loss” held recently at the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) based in UPLB under the auspices of the Philippine Science Journalists Association, Inc. (PSciJourn) and SEARCA.

The science forum was supported by Los Baños-based Department of Science and Technology (DOST) agencies, ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), and International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

During the conference, SEARCA director Dr. Gil C. Saguiguit Jr., PSciJourn president Lyn B. Resurreccion of Business Mirror, and ISAAA global coordinator Dr. Randy Hautea signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) binding their entities collaborate in education, training, and research activities.

In his presentation, Dr. Fernando reported that the Cordillera, notably Benguet province, has been a frequent site of forest fires because of northern Luzon highland’s “flammable” species that is pine tree.

During the 2005-2010 period alone, 165 forest fires occurred in Benguet, destroying about 2.3 million pine trees in almost 8,000 hectares.

“Forest fires also often lead to population decline and high infant and juvenile mortality in many animals; reduced seedling and sapling population for many other tree species and forest plants,” Dr. Fernando said.

“Over the past 100 years, the entire forest landscape of the Philippine archipelago has been radically altered,” he added, rattling off the following:

• During the Spanish times, trees were felled for housing and ship-building purposes; lowland forests were cleared of sugar and coconut plantations.

• The American occupation (1898-1946) was characterized by the start of modern mechanized commercial logging (“accelerated deforestation”) in the country.

• In the 1950s, timber license agreements (TLAs) or concessions were forged, covering about 25 percent of forest areas. Timber exports were highest in the world in the 1960s on TLAs increased to cover 11.56 million ha out of the country’s total land area of 30 million ha.

• Deforestation rate was highest (at 304,800 ha per year) during 1976-80, subsequently going down to 157,400 ha during the 2000-2005 period.

• In 2010, at least more than 933,000 ha were under active commercial-scale mining and exploration by 410 companies. –Rudy A. Fernandez (The Philippine Star)

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