Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Mountain resorts and soil erosion control

Mountain resorts are among the best places to introduce or highlight the importance and fragility of the forest ecosystem and freshwater springs to ordinary people, especially those living in big cities. These resorts are generally developed, and there are clear delineation between play/recreation/cottages areas and forest protection or agro-forest production areas. People enjoy the ‘communion with nature’ while taking pleasure with the comfort and amenities of modern hotels.

I have visited a number of mountain resorts in my country. Many of them are either at the foot of tall mountains (say at 2,000+ feet of those mountains that are more than 9,000 feet above the sea level) or at the top of medium-height mountain ranges (between 3,000 to 6,000 feet).

Having well-protected forest and fruit trees, new soil creation through natural decomposition of agri- and forest wastes is much quicker and highly observable if one will look closely. The cool wind and occasional rain showers help the fast multiplication of earthworms and soil microorganisms that quicken this natural decomposition. However, being hilly or mountainous, plus clearing of some trees for areas to be used for play and recreation, the newly-created soil is also prone to rapid erosion especially during the rainy season. Clearly, a big challenge for those mountain resorts is how to preserve the rich new soil that is created annually, or at least minimize their erosion downhill and downstream.

For most if not all of the mountain resorts that I have seen and visited, they have succeeded in controlling the erosion or collapse of steep and hilly areas that were terraced or protected since several years ago, but they have not instituted an evolving and continuously rising terraces and embankments that will catch and retain the new rich soil being created annually. I say this because the height and elevation of contours and terraces that I had seen from 4 to 6 years ago have remained the same today.

To illustrate: a terraced hill or embankment was 5 feet high about 5 years ago. If the trees are big and tall, or they may be young but densely planted, new soil creation from litter fall should be at least 2 inches a year if there is no soil erosion. This is my estimate from observing in our agro-forest farm. Then, after 5 or more years, the level of that terraced hill should have been much higher, if soil erosion is controlled and additional soil from litter fall etc. is retained. But, as I said before, the level of most terraces remains practically the same.

Most if not all mountain resorts are designed to attract visitors and tourists who want to experience cool air in high elevation area, see big trees that are densely planted or grown, see some animals or experience upland fishing or swimming and hiking. Somehow the resort developers have helped the environment and raised the ecological consciousness of their visitors to certain extent, but they rarely prioritize the control of erosion of newly created soil.

Nonetheless, those mountain resorts are better compared to average upland agricultural plantations that have been cleared of forest trees. The preservation of biodiversity of trees (forest and fruit species), endemic and introduced flowers and edible crops, help those parts of the mountains approximate a state where human intrusion was absent. As well, in the process those mountain resorts help improve the rainwater retention capacity of the soil, although a bit lower than its potential if new soil created annually has been retained and preserved.

Note: This article was inspired by the author’s past and recent visits to various mountain resorts in Baguio, Banawe, Sagada, Tagaytay, Laguna, Bukidnon and Davao.