A Time for Action
More than 100 volunteers braved an hour long trek to restore 1,500 native trees. Photo by Luke Imbong.
by Luke Imbong.
Membership, Haribon Foundation.
November 20, 2013
As a pledge, “I will plant trees”, a prolific statement during Earth Day and various other environmental awareness campaigns all over, is as endearing as it is abundant. The part where it gets translated in to action, though, is severely lacking. This is the reality that a couple dozen Haribon Members and Partners fought against and quite literally got their hands dirty with during a recent daytrip to the forests of Siniloan, Laguna right in Manila's backyard.
Philippine rainforests make up a portion of the ancient lungs of the world. A visit to one gives a glimpse of how the earth was prior to humanity's taming. At ground level, fruiting and flowering plants, ferns, and orchids in as many colors imaginable spread rampant in every corner while ancient trees with massive tower-like trunks reach for the sky stretching more than a hundred feet up. Not to mention being the preferred habitat of majority of the world's wildlife species, from birds to mammals and reptiles to amphibians and everything in between. They are matched in amazingness only by the alarming rate that they are being destroyed.
Native trees encourage the return of biodiversity such as other plants, mammals, butterflies, and birds such as this Pacific Swallow. Photo by Luke Imbong.
In the Philippines alone, forest cover has dwindled from 70% at the start of the 20th century to a miserable 24% today, a condition not suitable to support the food, clean water, and disaster mitigation demands of a country visited by more than 20 typhoons every year.
Put in this context, the necessary trek to the planting site seemed like an afternoon walk in the park. Covering a wide range of terrain from the concrete pavement alternating with footprint-marked and mud-caked roads signifying the start of the trek to the rocky uphill trails. Despite the distance of several kilometers, it was hard to complain as the air was cool and refreshing, the ground was soft supporting every step and it came with a view not seen in the city.
After an hour, it was time to take a knee, feel the earth, select a seedling, and plant. These seedlings weren't just any trees as well. They were all native species carefully selected for being more suitable to restore the natural processes and diversity of forests. This is the fundamental principle followed in Haribon’s entire tree planting efforts since a patch of trees doesn't automatically make a forest.
The Siniloan restoration site features its own nursery where new seedlings like these are germinated. Photo by Luke Imbong.
A common and disturbing trend until today is the planting of exotic or alien trees in place of original forests. Popular trees such as Mahogany, Acacia mangium, and Gmelina are considered exotic and could have detrimental effects to the local ecosystem. As alien species, they tend to alter the soil around them preventing other plants to thrive and do not promote the return of wildlife. Animals including many endangered species prefer to nest and inhabit areas with native trees and avoid those they are not familiar with.
For Siniloan, some of the selected native trees were Tangisang Bayawak, Malaruhat, and Lipote. On that morning alone, 1,500 trees were brought back to life. A small number compared to the millions more needed to raise our forests on to a threshold of safety, it nonetheless shows that it can be done.
1,500 trees were planted by only a handful of concerned individuals in only half a day. If more people can get behind the advocacy of Haribon or other similar organizations, and make “I planted a native tree” the next most common phrase heard, it can be done.