CARING AND PROTECTING OUR TREES

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In its early years, Baguio City was a pastureland with as much grass as can be, and we can surmise that at summertime, some areas were burned for grass regeneration. Even pictures of early Baguio will show these wide swathes of grassland. This is contrary to the thinking of some of the residents that it was a forested area and that we should bring back the city to the olden years.

For the past several decades, the government issued stringent regulations on the preservation and protection of the environment, particularly Presidential Decree (PD) No 705 or the Forestry Reform Code of the Philippines, and other related rules and regulations that exhorts people to uphold programs, projects and activities geared towards the preservation of the environment and penalizes people who cause destruction to it.

The trees that contribute in sustaining the city’s good state of its environment which the environmentalists are now clamouring to be protected have been planted and nurtured by ancestors and early settlers who want their successors to enjoy a good state of the city’s environment. The campaign to preserve and protect the trees should not be taken literally and the Gospel truth for one to be considered a protector of the environment while those who cut trees are projected to be ruining the state of the environment.

Trees also grow old and succumb to pests, specifically bark betel for pine trees, that often result to the infestation of trees within their vicinity that could even lead to their eventual death. Experts claim that the process to rid the infected trees of infestation is tedious and expensive but one of the best ways to do this is simply to cut down the infected trees and replace them with young ones for efficient and better carbon sequestration.

Under existing laws, rules and regulations, local chief executives are empowered to issue tree-cutting permits for the cutting of dead trees and those that pose a serious threat to life and limb, as well infected trees that pose threat to healthy trees nearby. Processes are provided for the issuance of tree cutting permits not only for local executives but also officials of the environment department to ensure that the permitee do not indiscriminately cut trees but those approved by relevant experts.

Individuals and groups applying for tree cutting permits are required to plant a certain number of trees in identified areas in the city as compensatory requirement for the cut trees. What needs to be monitored is if these permitees are doing so and if these compensatory trees are being nurtured to maturity. There is an issue on the power of property owners to do what they want with trees in their private property. Many corporate and wealthy and powerful property owners, are able to do what they want with trees inside their properties provided they comply with permits and other requirements of law. However, indigenous peoples are asking why are they criminalised when they cut trees within their own woodlots (which their ancestors developed) within their ancestral domains, when in fact that is considered a private property under customary law? We have the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act that recognizes the applicability of customary law governing property rights in determining the ownership and extend of the ancestral domain.

With climate change a reality, carbon sequestration is necessary to arrest the rapid warming of the planet. We support the repeated explanations done by foresters that similar to young babies who long for milk, young tree seedlings have better and more efficient carbon sequestration compared to the dead and infected ones, thus, it is best for people to value the importance of caring and nurturing the growth of young tree seedlings.

Let us not be hypocrites in this issue. Some of the critics may have nice houses and furnitures made from trees.    It bodes well for all concerned to be more introspective in how we look at trees and not to romanticize them when they pose threat to lives and to the health of other trees. Let us start by planting trees in whatever space we have.

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