BONTOC, Mountain Province – Recovering ground for the previous years, Mountain Province registered an improvement in its forest protection from the claws of degradation and deforestation but experienced a little slide in its effort during the latter part of the years.
In 2003, it had 75,529 hectares of forest cover, increased it to 87,266 hectares in 2010 and further padded 94,008 hectares in 2015 or a forest cover increase by 18,479 hectares, according to the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA), utilizing Landsat imaging.
However, Global Forest Watch revealed that from 2002 to 2022, after NAMRIA’s survey in 2015, forest protection endeavors of the province dipped a bit when it lost 305 hectares of humid primary forest.
Such loss translates to 5.2 per cent of its total tree cover loss in the same time period. Total area of humid primary forest in the province slipped by 0.50 per cent in this time period, Global Forest Watch says, using spatial data.
By definition humid primary forest is explained by forest experts as places that have not been completely cleared or regrown or old growth forest that has attained great age while forest cover is the amount of forest that covers a particular area of land.
Global Forest Watch explains tree cover loss data relates to “loss of trees in natural forests as well as in plantations and tree crops. Tree cover loss can be human-induced or resulting in natural causes that bring about permanent or temporary diminution.
Tree cover loss has a pressing impact on biodiversity and carbon storage. Even if eventually reversed, it will take years for these habitats and carbon stocks to recover and permanent biodiversity loss may occur.
On the other hand, deforestation is different as it is primarily caused by human intervention, an example which is more grave is permanent change of a status of a forest to another land use, like conversion to agricultural land or used by people to construct permanent structures like houses or urbanization.
Mountain province possesses 154 thousand hectares of natural forest, extending over 73 per cent of its land area. In 2022, it lost 175 hectares of natural forest, which translates to 99.8 kilotons of carbon dioxide emission released on air and not captured because of the lost forest.
From 2001 to 2022, Mountain Province lost 5.92 thousand of tree cover, equivalent to 3.7 per cent decrease in tree cover since 2000 and 3.15 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
Locations of tree cover loss in the province are: Paracelis, 3.61 hectares; Natonin, 1.40 hectares; Bontoc, 267 hectares; Barlig, 180 hectares and Sadanga, 150 hectares. Hence, from 2000 to 2020, Mountain Province experienced a minus 2.18 kilo hectares in tree cover.
But in 2000 to 2020, Mountain Province gained 332 hectares of tree cover region wide, equal to 0.19 per cent of all tree cover gain in the Philippines. As of 2000, 74 per cent of Mountain Province land cover was greater than 30 percent tree cover.
Natonin municipality, in 2010, led by having the most tree cover at 35.6 hectares, followed by Bontoc at 25.9 hectares, Barlig, 19.1 hectares, Paracelis, 18.2 hectares and Sadanga, 17.2 hectares. The average tree cover stood at 15.5 hectares.
Peak fire season in Mountain Province typically begins in mid-April and lasts around twelve weeks. There were 18 fire alerts reported between 2nd of January 2023 and 30th of October 2023, considering high confidence fire alerts. This is normal compared to previous years going back to 2012.
The most fires recorded in a year in the province was in 2019 with 29 fire alerts.
From 2001 to 2022, the province lost 40 hectares of tree cover from fire and 5.88 hectares from all other drivers of loss. The year with the most tree cover loss due to fires occurred in 2010, with 7 hectares lost to fires, or 0.67 percent of all tree cover loss for that year.
There was zero deforestation alert in the province between 23rd of October 2023 and 30th of October 2023, Global Forest Watch notes.
Between the 2nd of November 2020, and 30th of October 2023, the whole province experienced a total of 248 Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) fire alerts.
However, as compared to all regions in the Philippines, Cordillera Administrative Region and CARAGA are in fact the only two regions that offer a glimmer of hope in trying to halt loss of forest cover, Global Forest Watch emphasizes.
For instance, Abra, in 2003, registered 100,966 hectares of tree cover, increased it to 146,700 in 2010 and upped it to 162,931 hectares in 2015 for a total gain of 61,965 hectares.
Apayao, in 2003, had 228,452 hectares of tree cover, slipped a little bit by 223, 121 hectares in 2010, but recovered in 2015 with 236, 354 hectares for a gain of 7,902 hectares.
Benguet, in 2003 possessed 116,039 hectares of tree cover, increased to 119, 626 in 2010, sagged at 109,470 in 2015, recording a loss of 6,569 hectares.
Ifugao, in 2003, had 73,057 hectares of tree cover, increased to 102,397 hectares in 2010, sagged at 90,578 hectares in 2015 but still retained 17,521 tree cover hectares.
Kalinga, in 2003, had 78,277 hectares of tree cover, upturned it to 98,862 hectares in 2010 and surged it further to 113, 880 hectares, gaining in 2015 a total 35,603 of tree cover hectares.
Mountain Province in 2003 had 75,529 hectares of tree cover, increased it to 87,266 hectares in 2010 and expanded it further to 94,008 hectares in 2015, accomplishing 18,479 hectares of tree cover protection.
Hence, in total CAR was able to gain or protect 141,470 hectares of remaining forest tree cover spanning twelve years.
Compared with other provinces in the Philippines, the provinces in CAR still registered better forestry protection measures, Global Forest Watch states. Forest management strategies in Mountain Province and the rest of CAR recognize cultural attributes of forests and customary practices accorded to them.
The principle of “collective ownership of forests” and the customary “tenurial security” are important principles in sustainable forest management in Cordillera, the experts note.
Customary principles, when used within existing platforms, prepare Cordillera communities to face issues that affect customary forests. The customary regime needs to be given equal attention in official processes to strengthen and effectively enforce local forest governance.
In relation to forestry protection measures and conservation efforts, Mountain Province, along with Benguet and Ifugao have been identified as in possession of similar 32 morpho-species of floral diversity with carbon stock capabilities.
Tri-boundaries of Mountain Province, Ifugao and Benguet remain the montane forest capable of storing huge amounts of carbon dioxide being released into the air. One of the strategies, therefore, to harness the potential of the remaining forest is to wean people away from destroying it, according to the experts.
The tri-boundaries are capable of storing 300,973.7 tons of carbon, equivalent to 1,103,570.7 tons of C02 contained in 247, 636.46 Mg of forest biomass.
Lately, experts of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR-CAR), together with the University of the Philippines (UP- Los Banos and Baguio) conducted a research on carbon stock baseline within the 78-hectare forested tri-boundaries.
They determined the level of floral diversity and measured the potential amounts of various carbon pools including aboveground, ground and belowground biomass, including soil organic carbon.
Funded by Global Environment Facility (GEF) as a partner of Asian Development Bank (ADB), the study was in collaboration for implementation of the Integrated Natural Resources Management Project for the Upper Chico River Basin.
CAR still remains the most forested region in the Philippines with more than 81 per cent of its total land area still covered with verdant forests, or equivalent to almost 10 percent of remaining forest cover in the Philippines.
With its high elevation forests, these provide a conducive environment for a wide array of endemic species to survive. Out of the 101 Key Biodiversity Areas in the Philippines, only 27 are protected.
Three of these are located in CAR: The Banao Protected Landscape in Kalinga; Mount Pulag in Benguet, Ifugao and Nueva Vizcaya, and; the Apayao Lowland Forest bordered by Apayao and Cagayan.
Aside from the exceptionally rich biodiversity, CAR is home to indigenous people who play an important role in biodiversity conservation and management linked to their indigenous knowledge particularly in agroecosystem.
Their value of conservation is rooted in their strong appreciation of the premise that biodiversity is a precious asset to present to the future generation in line with the preservation of their culture and tradition.
Close link between the indigenous people of CAR and the ecosystem has resulted in reduced impairment of Cordillera forests, Global Forest Watch observes.