DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 28 November) — Environmental groups are opposing the plan of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH)-Davao to cut down eight 70-year old heritage trees, mostly Narra (Pterocarpus indicus or Red Sandalwood), outside the Ateneo de Davao University’s Grade School and Junior High School campus along McArthur Highway to give way to a lay-by and road widening project to address traffic congestion.
Aside from their “ecological and historical value,” the heritage trees also offer social benefits to students, parents, and commuters, said Chinkie Golle, Executive Director of the Interface Development Interventions for Sustainability (IDIS).
“With the current situation of our city where our Urban Heat Index is increasing, it is of utmost importance to have trees along the roads and in parks to allow walkability, and decrease heat and pollution in the city,” she said.
Golle hopes stakeholders and government agencies will also look at the importance of having fully-grown trees in urban spaces, to keep the city “greener and more livable.”
She acknowledged the need to address the worsening traffic congestion in the area, but maintained that there are other strategies that the government can resort to without cutting the trees.
“The current technological and engineering approaches can really integrate these trees in their development design,” she said.
On November 26, Ecoteneo director Carmela Marie Santos and Golle, in a joint letter addressed to Richard Ragasa, OIC of the DPWH-Davao City District Engineering Office, expressed strong opposition to the plan, explaining the need to preserve the trees, particularly Narra.
The groups said Narra trees, the country’s national tree, are going extinct and are declared “endangered” in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Species as of 2018.
“Incidentally, Narra is the symbol of Singapore’s gardens and greening program,” the letter read.
The letter added that the shade provided by this row of trees is useful for pedestrians and commuters, including cyclists, and protect the students from the urban heat and the air pollution from the road traffic.
“The greenery inside the campus is where our children have their lunch picnics and play, as well as the area for evacuation drills and disaster readiness. They are all eager to return to campus and they often mention to us in our online interactions with them, how much they miss the Ateneo grounds and space,” the groups said.
The Narra trees are part of the Heritage Trees project initiated by IDIS, which aims to generate maps of heritage trees in the urban areas, document issues and concerns on existing heritage trees and submit a policy recommendation in order to protect and preserve the existing heritage trees in the urban areas, the groups said.
“Heritage trees are recognized for their ecological, cultural and historical value. Preserving heritage and all other trees in the urban areas will help us make sustainable living in Davao City a reality,” the letter added.
The environmental advocates underscored the need for more trees under a “better normal.”
“As we cooperate with the City in promoting cycling as sustainable transport (next to walking) in these pandemic times and the better normal, we need more trees not just cement roads. We need the trees for shade, air pollution-and-urban heat/climate change mitigation to protect our bikers and the health and safety of our Davao’s citizens in general,” the letter said. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)