Monday, June 18, 2007

Little Greenland

Over the weekend, I visited our farm in Bugallon, Pangasinan. This is about 200 kilometers north of Manila. On my way, I noticed that a big portion of the mountains in Mangatarem-Aguilar towns, also of Pangasinan (about km posts 170-180), have become “little Greenland”. That is, instead of dark green view (meaning thick forest), they’re now light green, indicating the mountains are now almost 100% grassland, with cogon as the dominant vegetation. This is one very clear example of deforestation – conversion or transformation of forest land into non-forest use, usually for agriculture or plainly abused and neglected.

This “little Greenland”, occupying probably several hundred hectares, actually change its color through months. At this time, June to October or November, they’re green in color – meaning these are newly sprouting cogons and grasses. By December to February or March, they become brown – meaning the grasses are now old and mature. You may call this scene as “little brownland”. Some people harvest the old grasses mainly for roofing. The cows don’t like to eat old grass anymore, so people who pasture their animals deliberately burn these grasses so that new grasses will grow. And so the grasses become black – meaning they got burned, either accidentally or deliberately. And so you may call this view “little blackland”.

The cycle of green-brown-black-green… can continue for many years. The large-scale cutting and clearing of forest trees, then burning them to give way for agriculture and/or pasture land for cattle, brought this cycle. Endemic forest species usually regenerate by themselves, without people planting them. Seeds blown by the wind or scattered by birds help these endemic forest species to grow by themselves. Problem comes when people would cut whatever new growth of trees, mainly for firewood or charcoal or for some household wood needs.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the government’s main bureaucracy to “manage and protect” forest land, is either undermanned and lazy, or corrupt and lazy. DENR people can always claim that with more than 15 million hectares of “public forest land” to manage, they do not have enough manpower to guard and protect said area. Well if they do not have enough manpower (especially dedicated manpower) to do its mandate, then the safe way to unburden itself is to accept that they can’t do it, better lease or privatize ownership of many of those “public forest land”. The point is to have someone accountable to make sure that each hectare of land is managed for forest or agricultural or commercial use, and not relegated to a severely degraded land producing neither forest or agricultural products and services.

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