Forest fires destroy 6-ha of trees in reforestation project

Forest fires destroy 6-ha of trees in reforestation project

20 March 2010

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Philippines —  Cebu’s water supply is in “code red.”

This after a series of fires hit a reforestation project in the hinterland village of Toong, Cebu City and destroyed six hectares of indigenous trees worth P250,000.

The affected areas are part of the 21 hectares that are under the care of the Philippines Business for Social Progress (PBSP), a nongovernment organization that implements social projects of companies, in barangays Toong and Buhisan in Cebu City.

The forest fires have put the already critical water supply on “code red” especially that the long term goal of these reforestation programs in watersheds is to recharge the underground aquifer, Cebu’s main source of water supply.

The cause of the fire remained unknown but it was believed to have started in February at the onset of the dry spell.

But the lack of water in the area made it difficult for personnel from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to put out the fire on the trees and grass. The nearest water supply is about four kilometers away.

The DENR employees tried to disperse the embers on the leaves to prevent the fire from spreading. But so far, the efforts have been futile.

“I cannot say yet what is the cause of the forest fire whether this was intentionally lit or by accident wherein someone may have thrown away a lit cigarette butt in the area,” said Maria Luisa Largo, PBSP program officer for reforestation.

“But at the PBSP reforestation sites, we saw that dry leaves that have fallen from the teak trees are scattered under the woods. This made the sites prone to forest fire,” she added.

Publisher Eileen Mangubat, who is also PBSP’s Cebu Hillyland Development Committee chairperson, said the fire damage was a big loss.

“The trees have to be replaced as part of the ecosystem that ensures water supply. PBSP Visayas will redouble efforts to green not just Buhisan watershed but the Central Cebu Protected Landscape when the annual reforestation caravan resumes at the start of the rainy season in June or July,” she said.

“I’m sure member-companies and individual volunteers will join the effort with more energy because the need is great,” she added.

The Buhisan Watershed Forest Reserve is one of five protected areas included in the 29,000-hectare Central Cebu Protected Landscape (CCPL). The others are Mananga Watershed Forest Reserve, Sudlon National Park, Central Cebu National Park and Kotkot-Lusaran Watershed Forest Reserve.

Also located within the area is the Buhisan Dam, the lone surface water source of the Metro Cebu Water District, which contributes four percent of MCWD’s average total water production of 165,000 cubic meters per day.

The PBSP is a private and non-profit organization that promotes corporate social responsibility by allotting a portion of the income of member-companies for social development.

Ariel Rica, CCPL’s Protected Area Superintendent, told CEBU DAILY NEWS that the forest fires might have been started by someone who threw a lighted cigarette butt in the area and aggravated by the hot weather.

“The fires may have been started by people involved in charcoal making or those involved with kaingin (slash and burn) farming,” he said.

“If we say natural causes, then these fires could have been triggered by lightning hitting the area,” he added.

In order to stop the spread of forest fires, Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer Richard Abella said that more personnel are needed to man the 600-hectare Buhisan Watershed.

“We have only six contractual workers who report for work for 10 to 15 days in a month, because that is the only amount we can afford to give them,” he said.

Abella said that he sent a letter-request to MCWD, asking for funding of at least P800,000 to augment the salary of the DENR employees. The letter was sent to the water utilities company on March 18.

MCWD information officer Edna Inocando said the letter was received but was not sure if it was included in the discussion in yesterday’s board meeting.

She said they had not received reports of forest fires in the Buhisan Dam area.

Largo said the PBSP has been planting indigenous trees in Buhisan and Toong after they noticed that most trees planted there were exotic trees or trees that were imported from other areas.

Since the aim is biodiversity, she added the PBSP efforts focused on the planting of indigenous trees.

The Buhisan Watershed has 50 hectares planted to teak, 450 hectares with mahogany, Gmelina for 110 hectares. There are also some Narra Rattan trees, as well as fruit trees and bamboo along the creeks.

The group is promoting biodiversity by planting indigenous trees, that include kaningag or Cebu cinnamon tree, lawaan, almaciga, narra and toog or Philippine rosewood, which the Spaniards used during the Galleon Trade.

Each member-company of PBSP donates P40,000 per hectare for the “Save the Buhisan Watershed and Forest Reserve Project,” which is the Visayas MDG (Millennium Development Goal) Business and Environment cluster project, headed by Lexmark International Philippines Inc. and Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corporation-Cebu Regional Office.

The grant includes the purchase of seedlings; labor fee for hauling, hole digging and staking. The amount also covers the two-year maintenance by members of the local community as well as monitoring, purchase of billboard and other supplies needed.

Largo said that based on the contract agreement with the companies, the aim of the reforestation project is to have a survival rate of at least 85 percent.

She said that based on the assessment she made yesterday morning, all the 15,000 seedlings planted on six hectares of hillyland had been destroyed by the fire.

The damage was pegged at P225,000 on seedlings alone. Each seedling cost at least P15. At least P150 is also allotted per seedling for the community assigned to take care of the reforested area.

Of the total “PBSP area” of 21 hectares, six hectares belong to separate agreements with one member-company and two Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) partners.

The CSR partners are non-member companies but have have chosen PBSP to implement their CSR projects or activities.

Largo declined to disclose the names of the companies.

“We are aiming to have 100 percent re-planting during the rainy season,” said Largo. “We’re still exploring if mabalhin ang plantation sa sulod gyud sa barangay Toong,” she added.

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