OF TREES AND FORESTS

“Human beings could not exist without the abundance and diversity of nature; all our food, and many of our industrial materials and medicines are provided by plants, animals, and microorganisms.” – World Wildlife Fund


If Joyce Kilmer were still alive today, he would be aghast to see the vanishing forests all over the world. I am sure if he will rewrite his famous poem today, the first line would be: “I think that I shall never see… a tree.”
Why so much ado about a tree? According to Indian Professor T.M. Das of the University of Calcutta, a tree is worth $193,250. Yes, you read it right – that’s how much is the value of a single tree.

Let’s see how the huge amount is being summed up: “A tree living for 50 years will generate $31,250 worth of oxygen, provide $62,000 worth of air pollution control, control soil erosion and increase soil fertility to the tune of $31,250, recycle $37,500 worth of water and provide a home for animals worth $21,250.”

The above figure, however, “does not include the value of fruits, lumber or beauty derived from trees,” the Michigan State University pointed out. “Just another sensible reason to take care of our forests.”
But most Filipinos don’t know the value of a tree. In fact, they have been denuding its forests at a fast rate and the country is on the verge of no forests to speak of in the near future.

“In 1900, the Philippines had 21 million hectares of lush old-growth forests, covering more than two-thirds of the country’s total land area,” wrote Cielito F. Habito in his Philippine Daily Inquirer column. “By the 1960s, they covered only about half.”

Whatever happened? “Deforestation rates reached up to 300,000 hectares a year in the Marcos era, and we lost 7 million hectares of forest in the period 1965-1986, leaving less than a quarter (23 percent) of our total land area covered with forests,” Habito wrote.

It’s no wonder why the country now suffers from various environmental problems: soil erosion, water crisis, loss of biodiversity, and drought.

“Now, forest cover stands at about 7 million hectares, after vast areas had been logged over by large concessionaires, or cleared and tilled by farmers pushed to seek their fortunes in the uplands,” Habito wrote. “At one point, we denuded forests five times faster than we regenerated them.”

“We are fast losing our forests,” laments Jethro Adang, the new director of the Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center (MBRLC), a non-government organization based in barangay Kinuskusan in Bansalan, Davao del Sur. “This is one of the reasons why it is very hot wherever you go these days. There are no trees that can help neutralize the warm weather.”

Aside from logging (whether legal or illegal) and kaingin farming, other causes of deforestation mining operations, volcanic eruptions, and typhoons.

Spreading cities have also contributed to decimation of forests. “Asphalt is often the last harvest for many forests,” the late National Scientist Dioscoro Umali, a Ramon Magsaysay Award recipient, once said.

If there’s one solution to the problem of climate change, which is brought about by the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, particularly carbon dioxide, it’s the planting of trees.

You may not know it but one tree, according to Dr. Han de Groot in an article which was published in Scientific American, can store an average of about 48 pounds of carbon dioxide in one year.

“At that rate, the trees release enough oxygen back into the atmosphere to support two human beings,” Dr. de Groot claims.

In its website, the Union of Concerned Scientists of the United States of America (UCSUSA), explained the role of tropical forests in mitigating global warming. “Tropical forest trees, like all green plants, take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen during photosynthesis. Plants also carry out the opposite process, known as respiration, in which they emit carbon dioxide, generally in smaller amounts than taken in during photosynthesis.

“The remaining carbon is stored in the plant, allowing it to grow bigger. That stored carbon would be released into the air as carbon dioxide if deforestation or forest degradation occurs and trees are cut down and allowed to rot or are burned.”

If you think forests are fast disappearing only in the uplands, you’re wrong. Even those trees growing near the coastal areas are not spared from denudation. Mangrove forests cover just 0.5% of the world coasts, according to Jacob Hochard and colleagues who use global data covering nearly 2,000 coastal communities in 23 countries and 195 mangrove areas in their study.

They found out that most mangroves are being cut to pave way to aquaculture or the raising of fish and other marine species. Mangroves are also harvested for wood and for tourism purposes.

“The illness of our forest is complicated – and cannot be cured – with one-stop prescription of a single medicine,” reminds ex-senator Heherson Alvarez.

Filipinos are therefore urged to stop cutting trees now and preserve the remaining forests the country has.

“We have laid to waste millions of hectares of forest land, as though heedless of the tragic examples of the countries of Africa, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean, where large areas have become barren, if not desertified,” Alvarez said. “If we have not, in fact, reached this state, we are almost at the point of irreversibility.”