Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Denuded mountains

Degraded, if not denuded, mountains are a reality in many provinces in the Philippines. The traditional "culprit" and whipping boy -- the commercial loggers -- is exagerrated, if not absent. The main culprit are the people themselves, rich and poor, who invade the forest like fishermen invade the seas, to harvest whatever standing tree, big or small, catches their attention. Although in most rural and midland to upland areas, it's the poor that really abuse the forest, especially the public forest land. The usual "tragedy of the commons" where a resource is owned by everyone and no one in particular (through the government).

These degraded and partly denuded mountains are those of Bugallon and Labrador, Pangasinan province. When illegal loggers attack, they do it in droves and huge number, and they do it 7 days a week, cutting trees for firewood, charcoal, wood and lumber, for household posts, etc.

The government as "administrator" of the public forest land is very inefficient and lazy in preserving and conserving the public forest. When there are high profile calamities like several dozens people killed by landslides and flashfloods, there is strict "enforcement" of anti-logging, anti-transport of forest products. When there is no high profile calamity, the guards are out.

But more than guarding the highways and municipal roads, the real work is up in the mountains -- how to control the hundreds, if not thousands, of illegal poachers and loggers. The government environment offices, whether national or local government, are hardly visible.

Organic piggery

We (I and our 2 farm caretakers) resumed our backyard organic piggery project in the farm. The first time we did it was about 4 years ago. We used landrace pig variety, those white and long pigs. We fed them "kangkong" or water spinach ("lpomea aquatica"), rice bran, ipil-ipil ("leucaena glauca"), sweet potato leaves and stems, etc.

It looked fine at the initial stage as the piglets were growidng ok. But after sometime, we had difficulty looking for kangkong, and the price of rice bran rose, and it was difficult for buyers to come to our farm during the rainy season as the roads can get muddy and very slippgery.

In short, the project did not prosper. I lost some money there.

Last year, I decided to resume the project. This time, using the native pigs variety (black and hairy, short and smaller than the landrace variety). In addition, we planted bananas as additional feeds for the pigs. And more importantly, we put the pig cage in an open area, so they get lots of sunlight. Our earlier cage was in a place with plenty of tall trees, so sunlight could hardly penetrate. The animals did not have enough energy from the sun to grow stronger and taller.

This year, one female gave birth to 5 piglets. They are a healthy bunch of small little pigs! One died though, not due to sickness, but he was the biggest of the 5, the most animated, he dug the soil under the cage to get out. He managed to get out, but one of our dogs (we have 6 there) who has a "cannibalistic" instinct found him and killed him.

The 4 remaining piglets are growing healthy. If things would turn out fine, we hope to be able to expand our organic piggery in the coming years.

New stone terraces

The May 2008 super-typhoon caused landslides in many hilly areas. Among those damaged was the stone terraces in front of my treehouse. Hence, the need to remove the eroded soil and transfer it to other areas, then reconstruct the terraces.

The main advantage of using stone terraces is that it is easy to construct and re-construct them should the need arises. What is important is the supply of plentiful stones where the terraces will be constructed. In our case, the main source of the stones is the creek about 30 to 40 meters away.

The eroded soil also produce brown stones, small and big alike, that have been buried under the soil for many years.

Stone terraces serve 2 main purposes. (1) to minimize or control soil erosion, and (2) for beautification of the place. It may not be as neat as cemented structures as there are lots of rock protrusions, but overall, well-arranged stone terraces are neat and cool.

My treehouse, March 2009

We built my treehouse in early 2004. So it's now 5 years old. It had withstood several super-strong typhoons, the most recent was the typhoon last May 2008 where about one-fourth of our mango trees were felled and/or killed. And these are 40+, 60+ years old mango trees!

A portion of the cogon roof has been destroyed by termites and rainwater. This is the area under the canopy of the live mahogany tree where the house is anchored. The falling leaves, absence of enough sunlight to dry rain-soked cogon roof, made the roof decay much faster. Since the above condition will not change as the tree will continue growing thicker leaves, we will change the roof under the thick leaves with galvanized iron. The side of the roof that is not covered by the thick leaves will keep its cogon roof.

The absence of walls allow the wind to pass through my treehouse, making it more flexible and withstand strong winds.

The toilet, previously it has slatted bamboo wall. We replaced it with slabs of fallen trees. The above-mentioned typhoon last year felled not only mango trees, it also felled plenty of forest tree species. Some of which have been buried by thick level of soil and sand brought down by the cascading flash flood.

Our farm caretaker's rice paddy beside the treehouse is growing well. So one picture here -- ricefield, a treehouse, and the surrounding trees.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Provincial environment office allowing mining

My understanding of Philippine environmental laws is that for mining and quarrying, the company, big or small, must first get a barangay permit (issued by the village or barangay captain) after conducting public consultation, then get a municipal or city clearance (issued by the Mayor), then up to the provincial permit (issued by the Provincial environment officer).

But there was a mining company in western Pangasinan, Northwest Mining, who did not secure a barangay or municipal permits, but was nonetheless granted a "small-scale mining permit" to quarry by the Provincial environment and natural resources office.

The site of their quarrying was in Barangay Laguit Padilla, Bugallon, Pangasinan. I do not know how "small scale mining" is defined, but the company has 2 heavy equipment -- a bulldozer and a back hoe -- plus several 10-wheeler trucks carrying soil with silica deposits.

There were ecological damage in the quarry area, of course. Like loosening the soil, making flat area become depressed area with the huge volume of soil and earth materials that have been removed.

After a few months of operation, until about January or early February this year, the company has stopped mining.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Climate change for a colder climate?

It’s now 1st week of March, it’s hot on most days in Metro Manila and nearby provinces but on some days, like yesterday and today, cloudy skies and cool wind prevail, with some drizzle. Summer has officially arrived last week, as announced by the Philippines’ weather bureau, PAG-ASA.

I read in the news today that the south and north-east of the US is slam-dunked by a snow storm. I’m flying to New York this Friday, I checked yahoo weather, the minimum today is -14 celsius! Hope it won’t be as bad when I arrive there in 5 days.

Incidentally, the event I am attending there is the International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC), March 8-10, sponsored by the Heartland Institute.

Aside from the very bad forest fire in southern Australia last month due to very hot climate there (but there was heavy rains and flooding in northern Australia at the same time), many parts of Planet Earth has been experiencing a generally cold weather, with notoriously bad winter in many parts of Europe and north America. The repeated occurrence of a “cold front” in the Philippines and other tropical countries is also notable.

Are we entering a climate change for a global cooling, not global warming? I remember it was really hot in 2007, and it was during those period where the IPCC report came out, there were plenty of global meetings initiated by the UN. The meeting in Bali where around 15,000 politicians, showbiz celebrities, environmental NGOs, media, and many other people swooped down on Bali, Indonesia, created huge carbon footprints as most participants came from thousands of miles away on the other side of the planet.