In a bid to reverse the long-term decline of Palawan’s forest, a proposal on introducing a six-year forest regeneration project has been conceived recently by the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Staff (PCSDS).
A total of 189,504 hectares has been proposed by the PCSDS for reforestation.
The PCSDS is the technical implementing arm of the multi-sectoral and intergovernmental executive body, PCSD, which was created in 1992 by virtue of a landmark environmental legislation, the Republic Act 7611 or the Strategic Environmental Plan for Palawan Act.
The P7.4 -billion program which awaits approval of the PCSD, has 13 components that need to be considered to ensure its success, namely:
- forest ecosystem benchmarking
- forest enrichment
- boundary demarcation (road project)
- livelihood generation
- recruitment of forest guards/stewards
- wildlife management
- policy and law enforcement
- establish local quick response system (QRS) teams
- climate change adaptation and disaster risk management
- pursue integrated watershed management actions
- forest conservation financing
- project monitoring and evaluation
PCSD Executive Director Nelson Devanadera, who conceptualized the proposal, says the success of the program depends on the concerted efforts among Palaweños and also the government agencies, particularly the 24 LGUs across the province, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) which has the mandate over Palawan’s forest.
“It requires dedication and commitment from both the government officials and the common people, most especially when it comes to observing laws and policies on forest land use,” says Devanadera.
Planning Officer-designate Ryan Fuentes, who developed the proposal, admits it is quite ambitious given the extent of the target reforestation area, and the financing requirement which may come through counterparting by the local government units (LGUs) and concerned government agencies.
“The challenge lies in the program’s magnitude, its ambitiousness,” Fuentes points out.
“But as we’ve said if we are going to dream for Palawan in the context of sustainable development, we don’t want it to be small but rather big,” says the Planning Division chief, adding that the proposal is commensurate to the status of the province, having been declared as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1990.
Meanwhile, this proposal forms part of the “Palawan Natural Capital Management for Integrative Development,” a comprehensive project which aims to “sustain Palawan ecosystems of high conservation value and natural resource stocks of high economic value.”
Once pushed through and successfully implemented, the forest cover of Palawan – constituting 10% of the country’s forest cover – is projected to increase from 46% (692,000 ha.) to 59% (881,000 ha.) in six years, according to the estimation of the PCSDS.
“This would be equivalent to P47.3 billion gain of forest value,” says Fuentes, adding that the estimation is based on various scientific studies consolidated by the PCSDS Planning Division.
Conversely, Fuentes warns, without any conservation effort exerted, the province would stand to lose 128,000 ha. in 40 years.
“From the 46% remaining forest cover it would diminish to 38% — this is tantamount to P32 billion decrease of forest value from its present P173 billion economic value,” he explains.
Several studies have established the alarming trend in deforestation rate in Palawan from 1983 to 2010 – a whopping 3,200 ha. per year or 8.8 ha. per day, Fuentes says.
He notes the province had substantial forest cover way back in 1946 with 91% or 1.3 million ha., which went downhill in the following years and dropped by half at 46% in 2010.
“While our forest suffers a dramatic drop in the past decades it still offers a big contribution in climate change mitigation as it stores carbon dioxide which is responsible for global warming,” he says.
According to the PCSDS, a conservative estimate of the carbon stock stored within the forests of Palawan is calculated at 206.6 million metric tons of carbon.
Meanwhile, forest products extraction, agricultural expansion, infrastructure development and biophysical factors, such as typhoons, landslides, floods, drought, forest fires and climate change are said to contribute to the decline of forest cover in Palawan.
Forest degradation could not just be translated as loss of ecosystem goods and services, notably water, for the people directly and indirectly depend on the forest for a living – it also spells habitat loss for the terrestrial wildlife species.
In fact, Palawan harbors unique terrestrial flora and fauna, some of which are found nowhere else in the world.
Unless the province bank on in this “legit investment that really pays off in the long run,” Fuertes believes the next generation stand a good chance of enjoying the ecological benefits that Palawan’s forest offers.
“For now, some may fail to visualize its return of investment,” he says, “because, in the first place this ecological insurance is meant primarily for the future generations.”
“And because we want a big ‘payout,’ logic dictates we should also invest big.”
In the short run, this program is expected to contribute to climate change resiliency of Palawan.