THE endearing and abundant pledge that “I will plant trees” is a prolific statement delivered during Earth Day and various other environmental awareness campaigns. However, the part where it gets translated in to action is severely lacking. This is the reality that Haribon Foundation members and partners fought against, while they literally got their hands dirty during a recent daytrip to the forests of Siniloan, Laguna right in Manila’s backyard.
Philippine rainforests make up a portion of the world’s ecosystem. A visit to one gives a glimpse of how the earth was before humanity’s taming.
Fruiting and flowering plants, ferns and orchids in different vibrant colors spread rampant in every corner while ancient, massive tower-like trees almost reach the sky, stretching more than a hundred feet up. This is the preferred habitat of majority of the world’s wildlife species, from birds, mammals, reptiles, to amphibians, and everything in between.
Sadly, nature’s beauty is being destroyed at an alarming rate.
In the Philippines, 70 percent of forest cover during the 20th century has dwindled to 24 percent today. This is a condition not suitable to support the food, clean water and disaster mitigation demands of the country that is visited by more than 20 typhoons every year.
In this context, the trek to the planting site seemed like an afternoon walk in the park. A wide range of terrain switched from concrete pavement to mud-caked roads signified the start of the trek to the rocky uphill trails.
Despite the distance of several kilometers, it was hard to complain as the air was cool and refreshing. The soft ground supported every step and the trek came with a view not seen in the city.
After an hour, it was time to get down and feel the earth, followed by the selection of a seedling and a plant. The seedlings were all native species carefully selected more suitable to restore natural processes and diversity of forests. This is the fundamental principle followed in Haribon’s entire tree-planting efforts, recognizing that a patch of trees doesn’t make a forest.
A common and disturbing trend today is the planting of exotic or alien trees in place of original forests. Popular trees such as Mahogany, Acacia mangium, and Gmelina are considered exotic and could detrimentally affect local ecosystems. As alien species, they tend to alter the soil around them by preventing other plants to thrive and hinder the return of wildlife. Animals including many endangered species prefer to nest and inhabit areas with native trees and avoid those they are not familiar with.
For Siniloan, some of the selected native trees were Tangisang Bayawak, Malaruhat and Lipote. On that morning, 1,500 trees were brought back to life. This is a small number compared to the millions more needed to raise our forests to a threshold of safety.
These 1,500 trees were planted by a handful of concerned individuals in only half a day. If more people can act on the advocacy of Haribon or other similar organizations, the pledge that “I planted a native tree” can be done.