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Thoughts on forest conservation

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Protection of forest habitats and the wildlife found in them, especially the endangered species, is fraught with danger to those responsible for their protection.

This is true everywhere on the planet. We often read reports on battles between guards of wildlife sanctuaries and forest poachers resulting in loss of human lives. The Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec. 27, 2010) headlined the hazards faced by forest guards and officials of the Department of Environment & Natural Resources while performing their duties to protect the rapidly- diminishing original forests of the country.

In general, the public is not aware of the hazards to which foresters and forest guards are exposed while performing their field duties. The report should evoke not only sympathy for the families of victims, but also better understanding of the conditions under which DENR forest law enforcers work, and willingness to extend various forms of assistance to them.

According to DENR Secretary Ramon Paje, forest protection workers are often threatened, harassed, and killed while performing their duties.

The newspaper account mentioned that more than 50 forest workers have lost their lives, and another 50 have been injured in line of duty since 1990.

Some of these deaths occurred when I was at the DENR in 1992-1995 during our campaign against large-scale, illegal cutting of forest trees in two regions of the country, Region 2 and Region 10 (which included the CARAGA region at that time).

Apparently, illegal logging continues to this day in the two regions based on several reports.

These killings, which amount to murder, should not be taken lightly. Government must be ready to respond to the evil deeds of greedy people who are out to profit from our common natural resources without thinking of the dire consequences of their acts. They have to be brought to justice. Government must exercise this responsibility.

In addition, ways to protect and preserve our remaining tropical rainforests must be found. One key to the search for lasting solutions could be the forest communities themselves, which are the immediate beneficiaries of forest resources.

Community-based management is well known, and has worked well in coastal communities. But the potentials of this approach have not been fully utilized by governments, local and national, for some unknown reasons.

There must be some ways to make community-based forest management work successfully, provided government is willing to make initial investments in providing forest communities with non-forest livelihood opportunities. These communities can work with local government units in the enforcement of forest laws and regulations.

The other key to the solution of forest conservation problems is the use of available communication technology that would facilitate communication and reporting of forest law violations and quick identification of the violators.

Still another key would be the quick administration of justice. This would involve prosecutors and judges. We had good cooperation from prosecutors in the adjudication of illegal logging cases during our stint at the DENR in 1992-1995.

The use of armed forces and the police is often recommended, but we know this can work if sparingly used, and only in exceptional cases requiring the interventions with firearms.

We must use persuasive means through effective information, education and communication (IEC) programs in winning people to our way of thinking, in this case, forest conservation.

In such programs, People’s Organizations and NGOs have been used in the past, and maybe more can be persuaded to engage in forest conservation programs together with local government units under the overall responsibility of the national government.

Political influence can be a plus, or a minus as our experience in marine conservation tells us, and care must be exercised in using it for purposes of forest conservation.

Skilled community organizers would be in better positions to make wise decisions whether to use political influence or not.

The fact remains that our tropical rainforests and the biodiversity resources in them are under high pressure from people who want to make money from our forests.

As already known, the small remaining original forests of the country are only a small fraction (ca seven percent) of what they were at the beginning of the 20th century in terms of area occupied.

There is no need here to further justify the view that the forest remnants must be preserved at all costs if we want to see this country progress over the years ahead.

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