An innovative forest restoration initiative that aims to help save the critically endangered Philippine eagle and their habitats was launched recently.
Named Forest Restoration and Regenerative Agroforestry for Indigenous Well-being and Nature (Forest-RegAIN) Project, the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) led the launching on October 27.
PEF is collaborating with various institutional partners, including government and nongovernment organizations, such as the Davao City Agriculture Office, Alcon Farm, Canada-based Mennonite Economic Development Association, Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority and the international NGO Reduce, Reuse, Grow (RRG).
Massive habitat loss
Much of the country’s tropical forest has been lost over the last century. Of its estimated 90 percent forest cover, only around 20 percent of its ancient forest remains.
The continued degradation of the environment and destruction of its forest and coastal habitats is pushing the country’s unique flora and fauna to the brink of extinction.
One such unique species is the forest-dependent Philippine eagle, a pre-historic animal that is revered for its sheer size—the largest bird of prey in the world—and its ability to fly high up in the sky, earning for it the tag “the noble flyer.”
Besides causing massive species extinction, thereby weakening the community’s defense against natural calamities and the depletion of the primary source of food and water communities, deforestation contributed to the erosion of Indigenous culture as the physical foundation of their identity, and knowledge systems and practices were also lost, the PEF said.
ForestRegAIN is hoping to address some of these challenges and be able to contribute to achieving the United Nations sustainable development goals, combatting biodiversity extinction, and mitigating and adapting climate change impacts.
“Apart from the ecological and climate regulation benefits of forest restoration as a nature-based solution, it can also solve issues of poverty and cultural erosions in the uplands,” the UN says.
The project aims to initially plant 3-million native and fruit-bearing trees in 1,200 hectares of degraded forest, including grassland and brushland—all in Indigenous people’s (IP) territories that are near nine Philippine Eagle nesting sites.
Specifically, the project will focus on Mount Apo, Mount Sinaka and Mount Pantaron Key Biodiversity Areas in Mindanao.
These are within the ancestral domains of six IP groups, namely the Bagobo Tagabawa, Bagobo Klata, Obu Manuvu, Manobo Tinonanon, Higaonon and Manobo Tigwahanon.
“We believe that the only way to save the eagles is to restore new forest habitats. Project RegAIN is not your usual ‘propaganda reforestation,’ where seedlings are left to die out because no investment is made in maintenance and care—such as weeding, brushing, staking, mulching—and post-planting,” Jayson Ibanez, director for Research and Conservation at PEF, explained to the BusinessMirror via Messenger.
“The project will do the right thing and care for each seedling, especially during the first year of life when it is most vulnerable,” Ibanez added.
The project was launched in Barangay Malagos, Davao City, the home of the Philippine Eagle Center (PEC), which is also facing deforestation problems.
Part of PEC has already been converted into a tree nursery, where some 1-million tree seedlings will be nurtured until they are ready for replanting in project sites.
The nursery contains a clonal propagation and vegetative material reproduction greenhouse, a seed propagation area and a seedling (wildlings, and sexual and asexually produced seedlings) hardening area.
One-third of the trees will be raised at the new Monkayo Pag-asa Carbon Forest in Monkayo, Davao de Oro.
The rest of the seedlings will be raised in nine smaller, satellite nurseries hosted by communities living close to the eagle nest site and forest-restoration sites.
A social entrepreneur based in California, USA, RRG has been brokering corporate funding for forest restoration in selected sites in the US, Africa, South America and Asia.
For its part, the PEF will invite local partners and corporations to the project in order to match RRG’s support with an equal number of fruit trees and agroforestry crops that will be planted between trees at the restoration site. This was confirmed by RRG.
The initiative covers the agroforestry component of Project RegAIN.
In ForestRegAIN, Cory Jones, the restoration manager of RRG, said financing the project is made possible by Canva, a graphic design company, through its One Print, One Tree program, or for every print order, it promises to plant one tree.
“We plant native trees around the world on behalf of Canva. And it is growing,” RRG said.
ForestRegAIN, also called Project ReGAIN, he said, is a far larger initiative in the Philippines.
According to Jones, RRG will only provide funds for native trees for Project ReGAIN, while PEF will match it with fruit-bearing and other agroforestry crops.
He added that through Project ReGAIN, clear and transparent data keeping will be in order as each seedlings will be tagged for record-keeping.
“At this point, in a technology-driven era, we can take images of trees and we can utilize them for monitoring the progress of the trees,” Jones said, adding that transparency is very important to help the communities, particularly the IPs, through the project’s many benefits, including cultural restoration.
Engaging local communities
According to the PEF, the project is designed to engage with local communities, specifically with 180 Indigenous families who would soon be participating in environmental conservation activities.
The forest restoration project is eyeing the vast forest of Mindanao, where more than half of close to 400 pairs of monkey-eating eagles can be found.
Rosarito Anog of Bagobo Klata, the “pongguo” or leader of the tribe, told the BusinessMirror via Zoom on November 7 that reforestation should be sustained to ensure that the planted seedlings will be nurtured until they grow into fully grown trees.
He said forest restoration will help conserve and protect the Philippine eagle and other animals, and the richness of the biodiversity of their ancestral lands.
Speaking in Filipino, he expressed his gratitude to PEF for its efforts to conserve and protect the forest, and for listening to what IP communities had to say in their every endeavor.
He aired his grievances against the government for failing to act on the issues and concerns the IPs have raised about the destruction of the forest.
“They [government leaders] don’t listen…and do not doing anything to help [us],” said Anog, referring to government agencies like the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.
ForestRegAIN is banking on four schemes to ensure the protection of the forest restoration sites.
These include the integration of commercial fruit trees between native trees via interval planting. It said this will ensure both sustainable farming and conservation, because it will encourage upland dwellers, who are also farmers, to protect the trees and the fruit trees that will be planted.
Another mechanism is to have the site declared by IPs or site owners as “Sacred Food, Herbal and Ecological Spaces” in order to ensure its protection by IPs, who will defend it from outsiders.
One more scheme is to come up with a “Conservation Agreement” with each landowner’s family or clan. It will stipulate that the restoration sites shall not be converted to any land use for at least the next 50 years.
Another measure is to declare any of the restoration sites as Protected Area by way of national or local legislation.
With any of these protection mechanisms, the PEF is confident that the tree mortalities will be no more than 20 percent per year, and that for every tree that died, prompt replacement will follow.
“Part of this project is a database, where each tree will be electronically tagged, measured and monitored so donors can track the growth and progress of each tree,” Ibanez said.
He said that once this component of ForestRegAIN works, there will be no more alibi not to invest in monitoring and maintenance of their reforestation project.
“If we are successful, this will be a game changer in reforestation methods,” he said.
Image credits: Jayson Ibanez, PEF