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International Year of Forests

Last Saturday, March 21, another global conservation event was commemorated, and that was the International Year of Forests.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations spearheaded the occasion, and just like other environment-related celebrations, the Philippines observed the event by holding several activities that highlighted the importance and threats of our forest ecosystem.

The statement from the UN about the International Year of Forests states that “the sustainable management and conservation of forests must be considered in the design and implementation of the new sustainable development goals and the new climate change agreement to be adopted this December in Paris.”

This year’s commemoration came with the recent report that the natural forests of the world keep on declining through the years. It seems the efforts to reverse the trend of deforestation are far from over, because global priorities still focus on economic development that tends to ignore the socio-cultural, economic, and ecological benefits we are deriving from various forest types. The global deforestation has been identified as one of the major causes of the dramatic changes in the world’s climatic pattern that has wrought havoc to lives, properties and environment in the Philippines, and several other nations.

It is a fact that the country has already lost much of its forests, including other natural resources emanating from them. It is important to note that forests are not only trees, but they also contain a lot more of both living and non-living things that are considered as our life support systems. With the dwindling forests of the Philippines, I am wondering how many of our younger generations have the opportunity and time to explore the beauty and wonders of our natural forests.

In 2011, the Conservation International (CI) has pointed out that the forest of the Philippines was the world’s 4th most threatened forest, since almost 93 percent of its natural forest is gone. The extensive deforestation has similarly threatened the existence of numerous forest dependent species, particularly endemic species of flora and fauna, many of which are in the verge of extinction in the wild.

The Forest Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has released the 2010 satellite imageries of the Philippines’ forest cover, and it claimed that about 6.8 million hectares of our land is forested. The total land area primarily devoted for forest purposes, including protected areas, is estimated at about 15 million hectares.  However, the closed forest, which is likely composed of natural forest, is only about 1.9 million hectares, representing roughly six percent of our 30 million hectares total land area. This figure validates the CI’s finding on the state of the forest in the country, because it basically refers to forest that is still purely in natural condition.

Our mangrove forest is also in bad state, with only about 300,000 hectares left all throughout the Philippines. Majority of our forests are known as open forests, estimated at 4.6 million hectares, and probably include plantation forests intended for commercial utilization. Much of the remaining forests are also confined in higher elevations, since most of our lowland forests have been subjected to commercial logging. Lowland forests, found below 1,000 meters below sea level, contain commercially viable tree species, but they are also considered as one of the most biologically important habitats.*

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