Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Forever forest

“Forever forest” is possible in both protection and production forest. Protection forest is mainly for watershed protection and biodiversity conservation, while production forest is mainly for lumber and wood production and other forest products extraction.

In production forest, there are two major approaches to achieve a “forever forest”. First is in the case of mono-crop culture (single-tree specie only) or few-crops which have same maturity period. You plant and harvest the trees in rotation, so that every year there is tree harvest and tree planting on the same block or area. This is done by sub-dividing the forest plantation area into blocks.

For instance, the chosen specie is eucalyptus; or if using two-crops culture, eucalyptus and gmelina. With good forestry and silvicultural practices (from seed selection to good seedling production to pruning and thinning), the trees are to be harvested after 12 years. So the whole area is to be subdivided into 12 blocks. On the first year of operation, only block 1 will be planted with eucalyptus (at the start of regular rainy season, June) while the other 11 blocks can be planted with vegetables, corn, bananas, or other short-duration crops; or grazing land for goats, cows, other farm animals. This is to make the land productive and earning. On the second year, block 2 will be planted with either eucalyptus or gmelina, leaving only 10 blocks for agricultural and animal husbandry activities, and so on.

On the 12th year, the whole area will be planted with eucalyptus (and gmelina if deciding on two-crops culture). On the 13th year, say January, block 1 will be harvested -- all trees, clear-cutting method. Just like one harvests all rice or all corn plantation. Fallow period (do nothing, just clear the area) for a few months. By June of same year, start planting again in the whole block. And the cycle is repeated forever.

One can decide to shift to other species, say longer-duration but better-price species like mahogany and narra. Just re-block the whole area piecemeal, or buy or lease the adjoining lands and expand the number of blocks from 12 to 25 or 30.

The second approach is selective cutting when having many species of varying maturities, various heights, on the same production forest area. For instance, you introduce a few short-duration trees like gmelina and eucalyptus in an area where the predominant forest vegetation are dipterocarp species like lauan, tanguile, yakal, narra, teak, kamagong, molave, and so on. Selective cutting or logging can result in “forever forest” since only mature, over-mature, and sick or defective trees will be removed, leaving the other trees nearby to grow taller and bigger.

In a multi-species, multi-layer forest, smaller and younger trees hardly have access to full sunlight, as well as have low access to minerals and nutrients in the soil, as the bigger and older trees tend to get all the space for sunlight and root extraction of soil nutrients. Once these mature and over-mature trees are removed, spaces for sunlight and soil nutrients extraction are freed for the shorter and younger trees to enjoy and expand. Sick and defective trees, even if they are not yet matured, have to be removed too, to prevent them from harboring the pests or diseases that affected them, from multiplying and expanding to other trees.

In this kind of forest ecosystem, vines and shrubs, especially thorny ones, abound. Unless they are known to have any medicinal or industrial uses, they should be removed from the trees as they tend to choke the trunks and climb up to the top, competing with the trees’ leaves for sunlight. The stronger and longer vines also cling from one tree to another, pulling the weaker and thinner trees towards bigger ones, depriving the former the opportunity to grow straight.

When a portion or the whole of the plantation area is properly terraced with rocks and big stones, dried leaves and branches, as well as fallen and dead smaller trees will decay and become rich topsoil someday, and average elevation of the land should be increasing by several centimeters every year. Such regular and cumulative increases in topsoil should make the entire plantation even more productive.

Agro-forestry in a multi-species, multi-layered forest environment can be practiced in a very limited way. For sure, only those plants and crops that thrive on poor and limited sunlight will flourish. Among such plants are orchids, wild mushrooms, ginger, and rattan. These plants can be cultured for commercial production, or at least for household consumption.

A production forest can also be used for forest park and eco-tourism resort. People, especially urbanites, love watching big trees. Instead of cutting those mature and over-mature trees for wood and lumber, they can be retained to grow older, and the forest developer can make money from the resort (entrance fee, rental of cottages, souvenir shops and restaurants, etc.). Of course some trees far from the main park can be cut for the wood and lumber needs of the resort’s cottages and furnitures.

“Forever forest” are better attained under private ownership of forest land. Competition among forest and mountain resort developers and owners will drive them to keep bigger and healthier trees, to introduce innovations like canopy walks (a walk atop of one tree to another via hanging and rope bridges), well-maintained creeks and waterfalls.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Underground water and cemented lands

Underground, fresh water, is one of nature's best gifts to humanity.
All that man has to do is find a place where this water comes out naturally -- through a spring, or dig a hole undergound, put steel tubes into it, and pump the water up, manually or mechanically.

As human population expands in all countries and continents of the world, more water pumps are constructed as water from rivers and lakes via water utilities become less sufficient for the expanding population especially in urban areas. This continued extraction of underground water decreases the water table below. This process can be mitigated or controlled if rain waters are not hindered to penetrate the soil and rocks below, later on reaching the water table underground.

As civilizations improve and economic activities expand, more and more lands are being cemented or covered by bricks and cobblestones. Examples are roads and highways, parking lots, sidewalks, wide and sprawling malls. Here, rain waters fall on cement and hard surfaces, heading towards the drainage, into creeks and rivers, and ultimately into the seas and oceans. Hence, a big portion of rainfalls do not penetrate the soil and rocks anymore, and underground water that experience heavy withrawal through strong water pumps, are not replenished.

Among the long-term negative impact of this situation are as follows. One is salt water intrusion of water tables in areas near seas and oceans. As more undergound water is pumped out, bigger vacuum is created, which allows salt water to flow in trickles. Salted water is now experienced in a number of cities and communities that rely on underground water for their household needs.

Two, the geological foundation of a city or community becomes less stable. As more vacuum is created underground due to decreasing water table, moderate to strong earthquakes can shake the soil and rock foundation of structures built above them. Not that buildings will collapse -- unless there is intensity 7 or stronger earthquakes, but buildings and other structures will experience mild cracks in its floors and walls even in mild earthquakes. Sometimes, "sinking" structures have been observed.

One solution to these problems is to have more open spaces and non-cemented land in cities and communities where large underground water pumping is practiced. Many people, especially environmentalists will not like this, but more golf courses and their grass-and-trees surfaces are actually helping the underground water replenish the sinking water table. Also, old and cemented but dilapidated parking lots should not be cemented again. Better use crushed stones to prevent the surface from getting muddy during the rainy season, as crushed stones allow spaces for rainwater to seep in below the ground.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Free market and the environment

Some proposed answers I gave to a friend a year ago in her school assignment...

(1) On requiring polluters to install the latest technologies:

"Requiring polluters to install latest technologies" is not exactly along free-market philosophy. The state can just institute "polluter pays" law and implement it. So, adoption of modern technologies will become "a natural thing to do" for firms, especially the heavy polluters. The state is not exactly telling them what technologies to use, but telling them "these are the penalties if you exceed this particular pollution level".

Of course, consumers should be ready to pay higher price for the products and services of environment-friendly firms. They reap the benefits in terms of cleaner air, grounds and waters.

Mandating that companies "install the latest technology" is too dictatorial. The fact is, what constitutes "the latest technology" is often in dispute. We should not let the politicians and government bureaucrats make that decisions for us. Themore government mandates, the more inflexible and rigid the economy becomes. A far better approach (though not necessarily the very best among market alternatives) is to simply define the required, reasonable,science-based outcome and within those constraints, let private entities figure out how each can do their part in their own way. That's the origin of the "tradeable permits" concept that many market proponents have advocated for dealing with environmental problems that often have their root in pollution of commonly-held or already-socialized resources like the air or a large body of water.

(2) Are the goals of economic efficiency and distributional equity, at odds with one another?

Over the short- and medium-term, Yes, equity and efficiency are at odds with one another. Take coastal resource environment preservation. Under a "public ownership of the coastlines", huge fisherfolk communities flock on it and since "the ocean belongs to everybody", anybody can harvest from its resources, and anyone can use it as wide garbage dumping ground. Since anyone can come in anytime to harvest the fish, some guys would beat their neighbors and get the fish whilethey're not mature yet since their neighbors might beat them in catching the fish later on if they postpone harvesting the fish now. There's equity here, but no efficiency.

The coastlines under "private ownership and stewardship", like the thousands of resort owners fronting white sand beaches of Boracay, Puerto Galera, Pagudpud, Panglao Island (Bohol), etc. Not everyone can come in anytime, anywhere, and harvest the fish or throw their garbage on the coastlines. Result is a cleaner ocean, rehabilitating corals, expanding the stock of colorful and diverse marine life, attractingtourists, creating jobs (resort/hotel cooks, waiters, sweepers), boatmen, etc. Here, equity is sacrificed in exchange for efficiency in preserving coastal resources.

(3) On imposing emission standards on greenhouse gases from new automobiles sold in the state.

That ruling is too limiting, and too statist.Although it will help attain the stated goal -- to minimize greenhouse gases and pollution from vehicles, both old and new -- there are other options that can help attain the same objective. Among them:
(1) high petroleum tax -- the more gas-guzzler a vehicle, the more taxes the owner of that vehicle will pay. Compare a compact car that runs on 15 kms/liter vs. an SUV that runs on 5 kms/liter. Here, the latter will pay 3x petrol tax than the former.
(2) civil society or citizen action -- private/residential villages, private schools and campuses, country clubs and recreational places, can ban smoke-belchers from entering their vicinity. This is currently being done by some villages and schools here in Manila.