“WHAT? That’s a crazy idea”, is the most common reaction to this idea. The common thinking being that, in fact, logging and mining have contributed much to the problems of climate change, environmental degradation, frequent floods and such in the country. So how can they be the solution?
These major problems have been with us for many decades now. So many different solutions have been thought of and implemented by governments past and present but the problems not only remain, they even got worse. And, at the moment, there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel.
Big problems that have defied solutions for a long time need fresh out-of-the-box ideas. There must be a willingness to try out something new, something creative, something that has not been done previously. And the political will to implement what is initially unpopular to the general public.
Significance of trees, forests in water supply, environmental health
Among all factors contributing to water supply usable to man, trees are arguably one of the most important. Trees extract water from the soil (groundwater), store it in their barks, branches and leaves and then gradually release them back into the atmosphere in a process called Transpiration. These contribute to the formation of clouds that later fall as rain.
When large areas of forests are cut down, it reduces the water supply to the atmosphere brought about by Transpiration. Consequently, it reduces cloud formation and thus reduces rainfall.
Trees improve water quality by slowing rain as it falls to the Earth, and giving more time for the water to seep in the soil on the way to the underground reservoir.
The roots of trees help break up compacted soil and open up space so that more rainwater can be absorbed even deeper into the soil and into the underground reservoir.
The groundwater becomes available for pumping to the surface when needed and/or it slowly flows to the rivers via sub-surface flow; thus, maintaining higher levels of dependable surface water supply year-round in rivers and lakes for potable water supply, crop production and industrial-commercial use.
With fewer trees, whatever reduced rain that falls is largely wasted because of faster surface runoff. Such surface runoff goes fast to the rivers and then off to the sea—wasted freshwater that could have been used by man.
State of the country’s forests
In 1900, the country’s forests cover about 21 million hectares or 70% of the total land area of 30 million hectares. By 2003, it was down to 7.2 million hectares. By 2010, it was further down to 6.8 million hectares
Currently, the Philippines is losing its forest cover at a rate of around 50,000 hectares per year. On the other hand, the rapidly and consistently increasing population will continually require bigger supplies of water.
Unless the government acts decisively, at the rate we are losing our forests, we will almost wipe out our remaining forests in a few decades. And with it goes our dependable water supply source. Are we ready to hand over such a bleak future to future generations?
Proposed solution No. 1: Revive and step-up logging operations
Yes, you read it right. But the recommendation is to implement it very different compared to how things were done in the past. In a nutshell, this was how it was done before:
1. After a logging concession was issued to a logging company, it got the permit to cut the trees for the whole concession area. They could then cut trees wantonly and continuously throughout their concession area anytime it pleased them until the whole concession area was logged over.
2. The company was supposed to be required to reforest all the areas they logged over but the proof that they have not done so is there for all to see up to today– bald mountains nationwide. Obviously done with the connivance of corrupt government people.
3. If only the loggers and the government took their responsibility to reforest religiously and seriously, we would still have huge tracts of forest lands with second-growth forest. And the loggers would still be in big business.
Here’s how I propose the logging operations revival be done which will arrest the further denudation of our forest and, even better, exponentially doubling the forest cover every 25 years while at the same time contributing significantly to the economic wealth of the country and the people.
Let me present it via an illustration. Let’s assume that forest still having trees has an area of 100,000 hectares and will be awarded as a logging concession to a responsible logging company. In the beginning, the DENR will not issue a cutting permit for the whole concession area. The issuance of such will be progressive, on a year-to-year basis.
We divide the total forest concession area into 25 parcels of equal areas, more or less. Let’s call them Parcels A to Y with areas of around 4,000 hectares each.
In the first year, the DENR will issue a cutting permit only for Parcel A, good for one year operation. As a pre-condition for the issuance of a cutting permit for Parcel B in the following year, there should be complete reforestation of Parcel A, inspected and certified to as properly maintained, by a multi-sectoral body — government, NGOs, church groups, etc.
In the event that the reforestation of a parcel under review is unsatisfactory, the issuance of the permit to cut for the succeeding parcel is withheld until the remedial measures are implemented by the logging company.
The same requirement and process will be followed for Parcels B to Y in succeeding years. All previously-reforested parcels shall likewise undergo annual review and assessment.
It may be asked why there are 25 parcels recommended. It takes about 25 years for forest trees like lawaan, narra, mahogany, etc. to mature into ready-to-harvest trees. So if you program the harvesting to be one year per parcel, by the time you are done harvesting in Parcel Y, your Parcel A should by then be ready for the second-growth harvesting. And the harvesting-replanting cycle in Parcels A to Y start all over again, ad infinitum.
Now here’s the part that will double the existing forest cover. The logging company should be further required to “adopt” an equivalent area of denuded forest nearby. In our example, it is 100,000 hectares. As the company replants Parcel A in its original concession, it shall, at the same time, be required to reforest Parcel A in its “adopted” area. As it does the same in Parcel B of its concession, it shall likewise do the same in Parcel B of its “adopted” forest land. And so on and so forth, up to Parcel Y.
The “adopted” area shall, likewise, be awarded as an additional concession area of the logging company, and the planting-harvesting procedure followed in the original concession is likewise implemented there.
With this strategy, a logging area that starts with just 100,000 hectares of trees will slowly grow to 200,000 hectares in a period of 25 years; to 400,000 years in 50 years; to 800,000 hectares in 100 years, and so forth.
Currently, it is estimated that the country has about 7 million hectares of forest cover. Even if you start with this proposed strategy on only 20% of that area, your starting number is 700,000 hectares which will exponentially double every 25 years.
Proposed solution No. 2: Revive and step-up mining operations
Our country is one of the few countries in the world that have been blessed with minerals that are potentially rich sources of revenues for the government and the economic development of the places where those minerals are located in. It’s such a waste and a pity if we can’t benefit from such God-given natural bounty. But it is of paramount importance that the environment has to be protected against degradation in the process of mining those.
Here’s how I propose it could be achieved:
1. As a pre-condition to the award of a mining claim and the authorization to operate such, the mining company shall be required to “adopt” a nearby forest and be required to reforest it similar to the logging strategy described above. It shall be issued the forest concession for such and be allowed to operate it as a regular logging business.
2. Before the mining company is given the go-signal to start mining operations, it shall have satisfactorily reforested Parcel A in its “adopted” forest concession.
3. In a similar manner to the logging strategy, the whole mining area is likewise, divided into parcels. If feasible and practical, it shall also be 25 parcels (Parcels 1 to 25) so that it is consistent with the planting-harvesting operation of its logging concession.
4. In the first year of the mining operation, only Parcel 1 will be issued an authority to mine.
5. The issuance of an authority to mine Parcel 2 will be pre-conditioned on the satisfactory rehabilitation and reforestation of Parcel 1 and the reforestation of Parcel A of its logging concession. This is for open-pit mining. Another scheme may be needed for underground mining.
6. The same process will then be followed for the succeeding parcel 3-25.
8. After the whole mining area is mined out and only the logging concession remains, on the second cycle after 25 years, the surviving logging company shall be required to adopt another nearby denuded forest with the equivalent area to its original concession. Then both concessions areas shall be required to do the replanting-harvesting process similar to proposal no. 1 above. This then results in the doubling of its forest area every 25 years.
9. Further studies will need to be done to determine the appropriate size of the forest area to be reforested by each mining company in relation to the size of its mining operation.
Final recommendation: If these ideas merit the agreement and support of the government, the author believes that there is a need to come up with appropriate legislation so that succeeding administrations cannot whimsically change the rules which will be unfair to the investing logging and mining companies. For sure, no respectable logging or mining company will be willing to put up huge investments in this regard unless they are assured of long-term consistent policy.
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