National Greening Program won’t address climate change – former DENR exec

CEBU CITY (MindaNews/09 June) – The government’s National Greening Program or NGP won’t address the threats posed by climate change, a former environment official said Tuesday.

Raoul Geollegue, former regional executive director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Region 10 said the NGP’s practice of planting 500 trees per hectare using just 1-4 species is not resilient enough and adaptive to climate extremes.

Geollegue, a forester, said a density of 500 trees per hectare could neither withstand winds caused by strong typhoons nor hold much amount of water from rainfall.

He said old growth rainforests hold 3000 trees per ha with over 200 species.

Geollegue, speaking in a workshop here with members of the Philippine Ecosystem Alliance, described as “Mission Impossible” the DENR’s target of planting 1.5 billion trees in 1.5 million hectares by 2016 with a budget of only P13,500 per hectare.

With this budget DENR field personnel will be forced to resort to “tricks and magic” to satisfy the NGP targets set by their officials, he said, adding the ideal budget is P70,000 per hectare.

“Is the target of 1.5 million hectares based on actual needs, for example, of industry? If not, then it’s not sustainable,” he said.

Geollegue also said he sees some problems DENR’s definition of closed canopy and open canopy forests. He said the agency defines closed canopy forests as those with a tree crown cover of at least 40 percent, and open canopy forests as those with a cover of 10 percent to below 40 percent of the forest floor.

He said that in a report in 2012 the DENR claimed that the country has 1.9 million ha of closed canopy forests, 4.6 million ha of open canopy forests and .3 million ha of mangrove forests.

But Geollegue said that computing these figures with percentage median to get the actual forest cover will result in 1.33 million ha for closed canopy forests and 1.15 million ha for open canopy forests.

He added the figures likely include not just natural forests but also tree plantations that were planted to exotic, fast-growing species.

In 2005, then DENR secretary Michael Defensor issued a memorandum circular adopting the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change definition of forests as areas harbouring both natural stands and plantations.

To emphasize the importance of dense tropical rainforests, Geollegue cited that typhoon Pablo (Bopha), which struck in December 2012, “easily obliterated the sparsely populated forests in Compostela Valley”.

He further noted that the absence of intact tropical forests in Compostela Valley caused the massive destruction of the province’s banana plantations.

He said that in Bukidnon, which was also hit by Pablo, the typhoon damaged less than100 banana plants in Lantapan town due to the protection offered by trees in and around the 900-hectare plantation of a fruit company.

“The barren headwaters and extensive conventional agriculture in the midslopes of the Cagayan de Oro River Basin were widely blamed for the devastating floods which killed over people last Dec 17, 2011,” he recalled.

The floods, which hit Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities, were caused by heavy rains spawned by typhoon Sendong (Washi).

Citing a 2012 study by the University of Cambridge that showed that mangroves can slow down storm surges, Geollegue said it was mangrove forests that shielded the coastal towns of McArthur in Samar and Palompon in Leyte from the storm surge brought by Yolanda on Nov. 8, 2013. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)