Saving PHL native tree species

With the shrinking forest cover and years of planting fast-growing trees, some of the country’s native trees were seriously threatened, if not having gone extinct.

Indeed, the country’s forests have been devastated by decades of destructive development projects—from commercial logging to mining and quarrying, unsustainable agricultural practices like slash-and-burn, and the massive land-use conversion and human encroachment of forested areas, plus other factors like the proliferation of invasive alien tree species.

Reforestation program

To address the massive deforestation and as a mitigation and adaptation measure from 2011 to 2016, the government, through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), implemented an ambitious reforestation program called the National Greening Program (NGP).

But in the early years of implementation of NGP, fast-growing trees were planted instead of native trees, thereby, failing to address the serious environmental problems the Philippines was confronting.

This was eventually corrected, through the planting of native trees, underscoring the importance of conserving the country’s native tree species, particularly the dipterocarp, or tall hardwood tropical trees with two-winged fruit that are the source of valuable timber, aromatic oils and resins.

The NGP is now being sustained through the Expanded National Greening Program (E-NGP). The program is banking on partnerships with the private sector, which has various environmental protection programs—such as to help restore the country’s open, degraded and denuded forests, and help save the country’s native trees from extinction.

Private-sector initiative

Ongoing initiatives may help save some of the country’s threatened tree species, most of which are endemic to the Philippines, and eventually help establish a reliable database of its native trees.

One such initiative is the Binhi Program—a species conservation program that focuses on native tree species—of the Lopez-led Energy Development Corp. (EDC), a leading renewable energy company.

EDC is a pioneer in geothermal energy in the Philippines. Its 1,475 MW total installed capacity generates 37 percent of the country’s total renewable energy.

Its 1,181 MW geothermal portfolio, accounting for 61 percent of the country’s total installed geothermal capacity, is putting the Philippines on the map as the world’s third largest geothermal producer.

EDC has recently completed its population survey of 35 threatened native tree species under Binhi, a news release of the company said last week.

Saving native trees

DENR Assistant Secretary Ricardo Calderon, concurrently its Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) director, lauded EDC for its initiative in helping save the country’s native tree species.

“The DENR has a good number of partnerships with the private sector,” he said in a telephone interview on May 19.

With the EDC, the partnership includes the planting of native trees in some areas like in Northern Samar, near Mount Apo, Pantabangan in NuevaEcija and in Cotabato, he said.

These areas, according to Calderon, contain the country’s natural gene pool. He emphasized that protecting and conserving native trees is also boosting wildlife conservation efforts.

The DENR provides capacity building training to the EDC work force on forest protection and conservation.

The company’s advantage, he said, is having officials who have the passion for the environment, citing Atty. Allan Barcena, a former DENR official.

Native tree database

The Philippines, Calderon said, has established a native tree database, as a result of a long-standing partnership of the DENR’s Forest Management Bureau and DENR-BMB with the University of the Philippines-College of Forestry and Natural Resources.

He acknowledged that EDC’s survey is a big boost in updating the country’s database, saying that some of the trees the company recorded were believed to have been extinct.

“It is a big help for us because in the DENR’s listing, some of the trees they have surveyed were already extinct but were found to be still thriving,” Calderon said.

He acknowledged that EDC’s project sites are reservation areas that include vast environment protected areas.

Forest restoration

EDC has been pushing for the restoration of forests within its area of operation and other parts of the country for more than a decade now, according to company officials.

Through its Binhi Program, which is part of the company’s flagship forest restoration program, EDC aims to bring back the abundant number of native trees, 96 of which are now threatened.

This is being implemented with the help of 177 project partners for over 11 years now.

The population survey of native tree species is in partnership with the DENR-BMB Adopt-a-Wildlife Species Program.

EDC has already reforested 9,372 hectares and has planted 6 million native tree seed seedlings since 2009.

Company’s commitment

EDC President and Chief Operating Officer Richard B. Tantoco said in the news release that the completion of the target 35 tree species for the population survey, from 2016 to 2019, was consistent with the company’s commitment to protect the environment, along with its effort to provide uninterrupted clean, renewable power.

EDC completed the population survey and data gathering of 10 of the priority native tree species in its pilot year in 2016, followed by 10 more in 2018, and eventually completing the list in end-2019.

Some of the tree species surveyed were already on the critically endangered list, if not already thought to be extinct, and have not been seen or recorded in other areas.

The 15 trees on the list were: kaladis narig, thick-leaf narig, pinulog, Mindanao narek, gisok-gisok, supa, kamatog, itom-itom, malinoag, tangile, yakal, narek, malayakal, piling-liitan and kamagong ponce.

After the population survey, the company recommended the updating of the species’s conservation status through the DENR, the Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) and the secretariat of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List for Tree Species.

Barcena, head of EDC’s Corporate Social Responsibility and Public Relations, underscored the importance of conducting the survey of native trees species, saying it will help the company identify priority species for conservation.

“This population survey of native tree species enables us to improve the prioritization of [tree species] for biodiversity enhancement and conservation program in our areas of operation. This is crucial since the geothermal reservations that we manage is close to 1 percent of the country’s total land area,” he told the BusinessMirror in a text message on May 19, when asked how the company will help boost efforts to protect and conserve biodiversity.

In situ conservation

The EDC is now in the process of implementing an in situ conservation project, or natural habitat for selected threatened tree species—such as critically endangered or endangered—to continue their propagation, and the establishment of ex situ, or outside conservation with an arboretum or tree park for all priority species across the country.

In May 2019 last year, under Binhi, EDC was tapped as the first and sole partner of BGCI, a Europe-based plant conservation charity, to be its partner for Global Tree Assessment program for conservation status assessments of 800 Philippine endemic tree species for two years.

BGCI is part of the IUCN, an organization that formulates measures for the protection of the environment through data gathering, research, field projects, advocacy, and education.

Under the partnership, EDC received a grant of £16,160 or more than P1 million for the two-year period.

BGCI also trained the Binhi team and the DENR on the IUCN Red List methodology, a vigorous and internationally respected procedure following strict guidelines and data requirements on extinction risk assessments.

According to BGCI, only 25,000 of the world’s 80,000 tree species have been assessed globally and nationally for their risk of extinction.

Updating IUCN’s Red List

The EDC has already submitted its list of 200 species for updating on the Red List web site of IUCN.

“Our mandate is clear—to keep providing clean, reliable energy without causing damage to the environment, and to further protect and sustain those that remain for us to protect for the current and future generations,” Tantoco said.

For 2020, EDC said it will continue to pursue strategic partnerships to establish additional arboretum across its project sites, and continue to develop propagation protocols for its 96 priority threatened species, in partnership with academic institutions and the government.

Image Credits: EDC

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