Our Forests

An essay snippet from Not A Radical contributor, Haniely Pableo.

According to the World Bank (2004), 90% of the world’s 1.2 billion people who live in extreme poverty depend on forests. A huge number of people also depend on converting forests to other land uses. What happens when most of the world’s forests are denuded?

Deforestation is defined as the “process of felling trees, which results in the reduction of forest areas”. It can be considered an inherent part of the economic process if done minimally but can be destructive if done without restraints. Multiple complex factors cause deforestation. Tropical deforestation, specifically, has three proximate causes: agricultural expansion, wood extraction and expansion of infrastructure. Other predisposing environmental factors such as land characteristics and social trigger events are also considered causes of tropical deforestation. Human activity is the main denominator in these causes.

Wood extraction, or harvesting of the forest, which is the primary cause of deforestation in Asia, includes activities such as state-run logging, private company logging, “growth coalition”- led logging, illegal logging and other unspecified logging. According to Myers (1994), over-logging results in severely depleted forest biomass which can be blamed in large part to wide and negligent logging. Fuelwood extraction, charcoal production and polewood extraction which are conducted for domestic and industrial uses are other minor causes of deforestation.

Most of the Asian cases of deforestation are significantly caused by commercial wood extraction mainly for export to foreign markets. These cases are occurring in nine countries, namely in the Samoan Islands, Laos, India, Philippines, Vietnam, China, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. It is interesting that state-run activities are more predominant than private company activities. It is also alarming that illegal logging plays a vital role in most cases.

Illegal logging has been blamed as the primary cause of landslides and flash floods in Asian countries. It is considered the main culprit for loss of lives, property and infrastructure. But this is not the case. The consequences of general logging per se to the denudation of the forests directly causes flooding and other disasters. Deforestation can result in soil erosion, sedimentation and debris which, during storm events or heavy rainfall, result in flooding. It also causes loss of biodiversity, contributes to atmospheric carbon emissions and increases in soil temperature.

The sequestering of carbon through reforestation and plantation is the primary response to deforestation. Although these methods rehabilitate the forests, they are not enough to solve tropical deforestation. Since logging in general is the main cause of forest degradation in Asia, much effort should be implemented to counteract problems as significant as illegal logging.

Case study: Deforestation in the Philippines

According to United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Philippines previously had a total of 15.8 million hectares of forestlands or 53% of the total land area, but as of 2003, the total forest cover of the country has declined to 7.2 million hectares, or 24 % of the total land area (USAID, 2011). The Philippines ranked fourth among the world’s top ten most threatened forest hotspots (Conservation International, 2011).

Deforestation in the Philippines started in 16th century during the Spanish colonization. An annual estimation range of deforestation increased from 4,444 hectares to 501, 000 hectares during the Spanish colonization (1575–1898). It further increased to 1, 401, 600 hectares during the American occupation. Most of the produce of Philippine forests deforestation between 1920 and 1934 were exported to the United States. During the post-colonial period after the Philippines allegedly gained independence from the Americans, the government continued to capitalize on forests resources to promote economic development. The timber industry boom in the 1960s and 1970s stimulated the massive denudation of the Philippine forests. Between 1575 to 1998, forest cover in the Philippines declined severely.

One of the main causes of deforestation in the Philippines is indiscriminate logging. From 1996 to 2010, the DENR has filed multiple cases of anti-illegal logging-related cases all over the nation. It was reported that cutting without permit and transport without permit are two of the main cases of illegal logging in the Philippines.

Environmental effects of continuous deforestation have been felt by the Filipino people since the 1990s, as evidenced by soil erosion, water siltation, extreme flooding, extended dry seasons and loss of groundwater. A very good example of these environmental effects is the flooding in the island of Leyte in November of 1991. Logging activities were blamed for the terrible tragedy in the island where 120,000 people lost their homes and 8,000 people died due to sudden massive floods caused by heavy rainfall. Multiple floods and mudslides which followed the Leyte case have been primarily blamed on deforestation caused by illegal logging.

Majority of the forest lands in the Philippines are owned by the government, which has the power to give property rights to individuals, firms, or directly assume ownership of the resources. Historically, it is the local community who managed the forest, but the conversion of ownership puts forest management under government jurisdiction. It created a system of open-accessibility of the forests resources. Siriwardana (2002) noted that the conversion of forest ownership in the Philippines is inefficient since the government has no capacity to monitor forestry activities. Moreover, the conversion of property rights disregarded local community involvement and thus weakened local cooperation.

In addition to logging, shifting cultivation, specifically the kaingin, orslash-and-burn technology, as well as swiddening are seen as destructive forms of farming in the Philippines. In comparison, logging is seen as more destructive because it involves a larger portion of the forests. Access to the forests of the shifting cultivators is only possible when logging companies leave the land without any reforestation programs, which leaves the land completely denuded. It can be concluded that unscrupulous logging, both legal and illegal, is the primary cause of forest degradation in the Philippines while complete disregard for forest conservation, worsened the problem.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is the primary government agency responsible for the protection and regulation of Philippine forests. The DENR grants licenses to commercial loggers on the basis of the Timber License Agreements (TLAs). As reported by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (1991), these licenses are very prone to abuse as “logging companies underreport their cut, expand outside their concessions, subcontract their TLAs to other loggers, use destructive equipment and smuggle logs”.

In the 1960s to 1970s, during the corrupt Marcos regime, 25-year TLAs were distributed to his cronies and close associates. Logging companies have ties to government officials, politicians, and the military, who have hidden agendas vesting self-interest on the profits gained through logging. In simplest terms, political corruption contributes to the continuous exploitation of the Philippine forests, mostly through illegal logging.

The DENR stopped issuing licenses in 1987 and has since reduced the number of TLA holders. Log ban policies were initiated in the 1990s. Currently, the Aquino administration filed Executive Order no. 23, which declares a moratorium on cutting and harvesting of timber on natural and residual forests and creation of an anti-illegal logging task force. The DENR is prohibited from issuing logging contracts or agreements in all natural and residual forests. The anti-logging task force will enforce and the lead the campaign against illegal logging. However, despite established policies and legislation, the primary obstacle in fighting illegal logging in the Philippines is in its implementation, because the government is itself clouded in corruption.

Although reforestation is necessary to ensure the supply of timber in the future, efforts in the Philippines have been poorly initiated. The American colonial government introduced reforestation in the Philippines in 1916. Several tree planting programs were initiated by the Philippine government but were found unsuccessful. In recent years, community-based approaches have been conducted to encourage local participation. However, unless the issue of property rights provides incentives to individuals who will benefit from their resources economically, solving the deforestation problem in the Philippines will remain a challenge. Ultimately, it is the Philippine government who plays a vital role in forest conservation by effective regulation and total commitment towards reforestation goals, since they own most of the Philippine forest lands. Reducing the deforestation for ecological preservation, “meeting present and future demands of forest products and reducing carbon dioxide emission” is a challenging and continuous endeavour, especially in a country where abuse of power is predominant.

With a photo of kaingin, or clear-cutting, from agapbulusan.

References

Conservation International. (2011). The world’s 10 most threatened forest hotspots. Retrieved from http://www.conservation.org/newsroom/pressreleases/Pages/The-Worlds-10-Most- Threatened-Forest-Hotspots.aspx

Dar, L. (2011). DENR reports 211 illegal logging cases filed. Philippine Information Agency. Retrieved from http://www.pia.gov.ph/?m=1&t=1&id=17796

Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). (1998).CBFMA: People First and Sustainable Forestry Will Follow. Quezon City.

Duenas, M. (1991). Tragedy in Ormoc: killer flood. Philippine Free Press, 133(47) 

Geist, H. J., & Lambin, E. F. (2002). Proximate Causes and Underlying Driving Forces of Tropical Deforestation. BioScience, 52(2), 143. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Inoguchi, A., Soriaga, R. & Walpole, P. (2005). Approaches to controlling illegal forest activities: Consideration from Southeast Asia (1st ed.). Retrieved from http:// www.illegal-logging.info/uploads/Asia_Forest_Network_-_Approaches.pdf

Myers, N. (1994) ‘Tropical deforestation: rates and patterns’. In K. Brown & D.W. Pearce, (Eds.), The Causes of Tropical Deforestation (pp. 27–40). London: UCL Press Limited.

Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. (1991). The rape of the forests: An ecological crisis. Saving the Earth: The Philippine Experience, pp. 1-7. Manila.

Soreide, T. (2007). Forest concessions and corruption. Bergen, Norway: CMI. Retrieved from www.cmi.no/publications/publication/?2818=forest-concessions-and-corruption

 

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