Planting endemic tree species, key in stopping deforestration
In the 1900s, the Philippines has an estimated forest cover of about 21 million hectares or 70 percent of the total land area. This reduced to 60 percent in the 1920s because of the new approach to forest management-silviculture and high demand for tropical hardwood for export to US.
The numbers further reduced to 50 percent in 1950s, 40 percent in 1960s. Logging boomed in the late 1960s with area increased from 4.5 million hectares to 11.6 million hectares.
It is reported that since 1987, deforestation is estimated to have continued at a rate of 100,000 hectares a year. In 1999, the projected forest cover is18.3 percent of the total land area (Decline of Philippine Forest, ESSC, undated).
Commercial logging in the Philippines for export to other countries and local consumption, human encroachment, land conversion, slash and burn farming, mining, are some the reasons why we have deforestation.
Deforestation affects not only the watersheds, which is the source of water for human consumption, but also in biodiversity.
The challenge for the government and the Filipino people is how to restore the forests, and minimize the effects of climate change and global warming. A huge program is currently implemented aiming to restore the forest, the National Greening Program, commonly known in local communities as NGP.
The NGP is the instrument to consolidate and harmonize all greening efforts where almost all government agencies have a role to play. In general, the program is designed to combat poverty among upland poor, indigenous peoples, among others and aimed at sustainable management of natural resources. It may be an ambitious goal but it is timely enough to take steps to restore what we have destroyed.
In Mindoro Island, NGP was also implemented, particularly in areas within and adjacent to Mt. Siburan. Mt. Siburan Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) is the largest tract of lowland forest known in Mindoro. This area has been identified as among the 117 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in the Philippines and holds most of the threatened and restricted-range lowland forest birds such as the Mindoro Bleeding Heart, the Blackhooded Coucal and the Mindoro Hornbill.
Along with other adjacent forests, Mt. Siburan could be the last frontier for the elusive and endemic Tamaraw and many beautiful yet endangered birds. This could also be the last refuge for the highly marginalized Mangyans, the indigenous peoples of Mindoro (Sablayan Socio-Ecological profile, 2013). These people including the endemic fauna depends most of the forest resources, other than non-timber forest products, they need water, fruits, and many other resources to survive.
However, it was reported that NGP plants Mahogany and Gmelina in these areas together with native trees for forest restoration. In the report, Gmelina and Mahogay are invasive alien species with the potential to compete the indigenous dipterocarp and non-dipterocarp tree species (Country report on forest invasive species in the Philippines, NT Baguinon, et. al.).
Also, these invasive species cannot replace the natural forest in providing food for wildlife and most to indigenous people who are dependent to forest resources.
Yes, there is a need to plant trees. However, the question is, are we planting the right forest trees species? Are we restoring the forest as close to its original state if not the original one? Are we restoring the forest to conserve our biodiversity resources? Are we restoring the forest to benefit from the ecological services it can provide? Or are we planting trees so that we can cut it after years and “business as usual.”
Do we have a choice? Yes. We have the choice to reinvent the wheel to have a clear direction in forest restoration. It is our choice as communities and as primary stakeholders to think and re-think if programs are truly for the good of all or for the few. It is indeed our choice to make this nation a better place to live in.