Published by World Environmental Journalists EGroup
FIRST, the bad news. Between 1990 and 2000, the Philippines lost more than800,000 hectares of forests to clearing for agriculture, forest fires, illegallogging, and other factors.
“More than 400 plant and animal species found in the Philippines arecurrently threatened with extinction, including the Philippine eagle andtamaraw,” notes Kathleen Mogelgaard, of the Washington-based PopulationReference Bureau.
Most provinces now have less than 50 percent forest cover left, according toRepresentative Edcel Lagman of Albay. Only 16 provinces have forest cover ofmore than 50 percent, he claims.
“We are now at the eleventh hour,” warns Dr. Ernesto Guiang of theDevelopment Alternatives, Inc. “We have to pay attention to the handwritingon the wall with respect to our forests.”
Now, the good news. Of the 28 cases featured in the recently-published”In Search of Excellence: Exemplary Forest Management in Asia and thePacific,” four were from the Philippines. In fact, the country has the morenumber of cases highlighted in the book.
Ikalahan Forest Reserve
Leading them is the Kalahan Forest Reserve, between Santa Fe, Nueva Vizcayaand San Nicolas, Pangasinan. Note FAO’s Chris Brown, Patrick Durst and ThomasEnters in the introductory part of the book: “The Kalahan Forest Reserveprovides a compelling example of an indigenous ethic group (the Ikalahan) usingforestry practice to help maintain cultural identity.”
In fact, it has emerged as a model for community-based forest management -now promoted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) – andfor reducing threats to ancestral lands. “But the Ikalahan have gone farbeyond this in developing a holistic system of forest management,” thethree FAO officials said. “The system incorporates crucial aspects ofIkalahan culture, coupled with entrepreneurship and forward-looking leadershipfocused on maintaining a viable ethnic culture in the modern world.”
In tandem with the Ikalahan Forest Reserve is the “muyong” of theBanaue Rice Terraces in Ifugao. The patches of forest, usually enclosing oradjacent to Ifugao settlements are known as “muyong.” Explains Dr.Rogelio Serrano, who has studied the Ifugao for a number of years, “A’muyong’ is an untilled slope covered mainly with timber, fruit trees, climbingrattan, bamboo, palms and other associated natural vegetation, which is oftenused as a source of fuelwood.”
Observed the three FAO officials: “Depending on the perspective taken,the time-tested ‘muyong’ system can be viewed as a forest conservation strategy,a watershed rehabilitation technique, a farming system or an assisted naturalregeneration strategy.”
The Banaue Rice Terraces is considered the “Eight’s World Wonder.”Equally known around the world is the legendary Mount Makiling in Los Baños,Laguna. The forest reserve is particularly important as an educational andresearch resource. It also has enormous biological diversity and geneticresources. “Botanical references to Mt. Makiling describe an exceptionaldiversity of woody plant species, totaling more than the entire number of woodyspecies found in the United States,” report Juan Pulhin and Maricel Tapia,authors the case.
“The reserve is the only intact forest within the vicinity of MetroManila and it attracts a growing number of ecotourists and recreationalvisitors,” the three FAO officials commented. “If that is not enough,the watershed protection services that the mountainous forest provides are alsoincreasingly value.”
Buswang Mangrove Plantations
If you think deforestation happens only in the uplands, you’re wrong. Even inthe lowlands. Approximately two-thirds of the country’s original mangroves havebeen lost, according to some reports.
In some areas, these mangrove areas have been rehabilitated. This isparticularly true in Kalibo, Aklan, home of the Buswang Mangrove Plantations.”The area is being promoted as an alternative tourism site alongsideBoracay Island and Kalibo’s Ati-Atihan Festival,” said Mayor ReymarRebaldo.
“When the project was first initiated,” the three FAO officialsnoted, “the forest existed only in people’s mind. The area to be plantedwas nothing more than a bare mudflat that left the nearby town exposed toflooding caused by high tides and typhoons.”
Then, came KASAMA (Kalibo Save the Mangroves Association), which executed thedream into a reality. “The unity demonstrated by KASAMA has been directlyresponsible for minimizing incidents of illegal cutting in the mangrovearea,” said officer Didi Quimpo. “KASAMA offers a far better means ofprotection than the local government could otherwise afford.”
Share of problems
The four exemplary forestry cases in the Philippines, however, have their ownshare of problems. Take the case of Mt. Makiling. “I’ve seen a lot ofactivities on the mountain that endanger its beauty and reduce its resourcevalue,” said Shirley Satioquia, a 43-year-old resident, who has lived nearthe forest reserve for the past 20 years. “These include illegal cutting oftrees, littering inside the forest, and dumping of garbage.”
“Some of the major problems encountered by KASAMA are the indifferenceof non-members, logistical difficulties, failed ventures, technical obstaclesand illegal encroachment,” said Erlinda Fernandez of the Buswang MangrovePlantations. “Some of these problems pose a threat to the long-termsustainability of the project.”
The thickly populated India has three cases featured in the book: SuliaParibesh Parishad, Periyar Tiger Reserve, and Dugli-Jawarra. China has only two:Houshan County and Lin’an County.
Indonesia, Nepal, and New Zealand have also two cases each while thefollowing have only case featured in the book: Cambodia, Fiji, Japan, Korea,Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Vanuatu, and Vietnam.
The 450-page book is published jointly by the regional office of the U.N.Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Regional Community ForestryTraining Center for Asia and the Pacific (RECOFTC), both based in Bangkok,Thailand.
Nothing sells like bad news. As such, reports of rampant forest destruction,floods, landslides, and droughts provide ample merchandise for”headline-hungry purveyors” and a receptive public. But is thesituation really as bad as portrayed?
In their foreword, FAO’s He Changchui and RECOFTC’s Yam Malla answered thequestion: “Instead of dwelling on the failures and the negative, itcelebrates the ‘good’ and the many positive management efforts in theAsia-Pacific region. It highlights people who are striving for excellence inforest management and seeks to encourage other to emulate these positiveefforts. Collectively, the story of forestry that emerges may be more aboutendeavor and ingenuity than greed, indifference, and incompetence.”
Hailed Dr. David Kaimowitz, director general of the Center for InternationalForestry Research: “Hope is on its way. We have enough of doom and gloom.These inspiring stories remind us there are good people out there doing goodthings in the forests.”
Neil Byron, of the Productivity Commission in Australia, echoes the sameaccolade: “Inspiring examples that show the way forward. Yes, excellentforest management is not only possible but already happening in places acrossAsia and the Pacific.” — ***