Govt reforestation program to focus on rehab of 143 critical watersheds

In Photo: Boy scouts from Moonwalk National High School in Parañaque City look after recently planted mangrove saplings at the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area on March 3.

The Duterte administration’s reforestation program will focus on the rehabilitation of the country’s 143 critical watersheds, an official of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said.

Director Nonito M. Tamayo of the DENR’s Forest Management Bureau (FMB) told the BusinessMirror that DENR regional offices have been directed to start conducting sites assessment in critical watersheds within their respective jurisdictions in preparation for next year’s tree-planting activities under Executive Order (EO) 193, or the Expanded National Greening Program (ENGP).

The decision, he said, is in light of the reduced budget allocation for the ENGP that started this year.

“This year, it’s business as usual.   But next year, our focus will be on our critical watersheds.  We have a total of 143 critical watersheds in the Philippines,” said Tamayo, also the national coordinator of the ENGP.

Tree-planting activities this year targets to cover only 125,000 hectares.  The original target was to cover 229,000 hectares, but because of the P2-billion budget cut in the 2018 budget of the DENR, the ENGP target was readjusted.

The official said the decision also came after consultation with the National Irrigation Administration, which underscored the need to prioritize the rehabilitation of surrounding forests to protect and conserve the country’s freshwater supply. Aside from water for domestic consumption, these critical watersheds supply irrigation facilities all over the country, boosting agricultural production, particularly in rice-producing provinces.

He said the DENR will designate ENGP project managers per site to ensure proper implementation of the program.

Ideally, there will be 143 project managers per critical watershed, he said.

“We will designate project managers. And they will be stationed on-site,” he added.

According to Tamayo, the DENR regional offices will also determine priority areas per site, what species will be planted and which area will be reforested.

He also said that Ecosystems Research Development Bureau (ERDB) will be conducting soil analysis, to ensure science-based intervention in the greening program.

“We will issue communication letters asking the regions to get soil samples for analysis.  It will be ERDB that will conduct the soil analysis,” he said.

Depending on the budget, Tamayo added that the target areas and number and species to be planted will be adjusted.

“Depending on our available budget, we may have to shortlist and identify priority areas,” he said.

Outside critical watersheds, tree-planting activities will continue but the DENR may have to rely on DENR partners’ help, particularly agricultural companies, he said.

Tamayo added the DENR will continue to encourage private-sector investment for the establishment of industrial or agroforestry plantations in various parts of the country to expand the country’s forest cover.

“That is precisely the reason we are now conducting a comprehensive review of our Integrated Forest Management Agreements [Ifma]. To enhance the program and tap the private sector,” he said, referring to the ongoing nationwide audit of 89 Ifmas.

Initial reports reaching the DENR-FMB revealed that DENR contractors have developed more than 50 percent of Ifmas.These Ifma holders that failed to establish tree plantations may eventually lose their concession areas as the DENR is planning to enroll idle Ifma areas under the Community-Based Forest Management program or transfer right to develop the Ifma areas to other agricultural companies that are willing and able to invest in tree-plantation endeavors.

Image Credits: Photo courtesy of DENR Facebook page.

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