The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has urged local government units to actively implement regulations for the protection of the country’s forests and the prevention of forest fires.
In a statement, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje stressed the importance of local government units (LGU) in disseminating information about forest fire prevention and adopting regulations to stop practices deemed to cause forest fires especially during summer when such incidents are rampant.
“Our forests are very prone to fire especially during summer when there is less rain and the dry vegetation could easily catch fire,” Paje said.
“More fuel for forest fires will become available as drier conditions will increase the probability of wildfires in the months ahead, and prevention is the best line of defense we can mount against them,” he added.
The DENR chief said that improving public awareness and involving them more in forest protection are crucial in preventing and fighting forest fires.
Cooperation between authorities, relevant agencies and the public is also important in forest fire prevention, he added.
At the same time, Paje called on local governments to improve the management of farming activities that involve open burning in forests and grasslands.
He said localities could enforce open air burning regulations covering areas where flammable materials, which could ignite and carry fire to forestland, are located.
Paje also appealed to the public to take precautions to prevent the occurrence of forest fires similar to the ones that raged in Mount Banahaw and Mount San Cristobal in Quezon province recently.
“Mt. Banahaw has already shown significant signs of improvement after a decade of being closed to the public, but we still need to give the mountain sufficient time to fully recover,” he added.
To recall, the DENR chief mulled for the permanent closure Mount Banahaw to the public following the massive fire that ravaged some 50 hectares of forest and grasslands around the mountain.
Paje said closing the natural park to public access for good is one of the solutions being contemplated to prevent its further degradation and ensure the recovery of areas affected by the blaze.
“The DENR is now studying the permanent closure of Mount Banahaw to the public, particularly mountaineers and pilgrims, to avoid future incidents of forest fires stemming from human activities,” Paje said.
He noted that the recent fire, which also razed some 92 hectares of plantation land within Mount San Cristobal, was the third reported to have hit the Mounts Banahaw-San Cristobal Protected Landscape (MBSCPL) since 2010.
In 2010, two fires damaged portions of the protected area in San Pablo City in Laguna and Dolores town in Quezon, covering a total of 80 hectares.
The Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) has declared certain portions of the protected area closed to the public until 2015 to allow the rehabilitation of its natural resources damaged by human activity. Unfortunately, people have been able to slip past the cordons into the prohibited area.
Thus, the MBSCPL-Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) led by Region 4A Executive Director Reynulfo Juan decided to expand restrictions to include areas within Mount San Cristobal in strict protection zones.
A study by the Swiss-based International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) showed that the spate of forest fires in the Cordillera Administrative Region and Central Luzon point to “large number of settlements and intense agricultural activity” as major reasons for the outbreak of forest fires.
The study noted that most of the fires “originated from the valleys where much of the grassland was regularly fired during the dry season for grazing.”