With the City of Pines stripped of much of its pine trees to make way for property development, neighboring areas in Benguet province are also losing their trees.
This month, a fire that raged for nine days destroyed an estimated 150 hectares of forested areas in Kabayan, Benguet. Last Thursday afternoon, another fire broke out in Sitio Nalseb in Tublay, Benguet, destroying at least 20 hectares of pines in just a few hours.
While lightning can spark forest fires, a more common cause in this country is kaingin or slash-and-burn farming. Another common cause is the indiscriminate use and disposal of lighted items such as cigarettes.
Apart from the threat to life posed by fires, environmental groups have pointed out the difficulty of reviving vegetation in an area that has been destroyed in a conflagration. The country has already lost too much of its forest cover due to illegal logging and indiscriminate development. The government must do more, in coordination with local communities, to protect the remaining forests.
There has been growing awareness at the grassroots of the advantages of sustainable agro-forestry. This awareness has reduced cases of slash-and-burn farming and has encouraged community vigilance in protecting fragile forest ecosystems. Ecotourism has also enhanced the appeal of protecting the environment particularly forests.
Still, the country needs to ramp up efforts to protect forests – not only in terms of monitoring, but also in putting out forest fires. In the raging fire in Tublay, Benguet, residents trekked to the slopes, lugging with them containers of water to augment the water from fire trucks.
Even advanced economies find it difficult to put out forest fires, especially when strong winds blow across tinder-dry vegetation. Forests in the tropical Philippines rarely become that dry, making it a bit easier to douse flames. Still, better equipment is needed to battle forest fires. Upgrading firefighting capability must be matched by increased care when visiting forests. One lit cigarette carelessly flicked away can destroy 150 hectares of precious forest and animal habitat and endanger lives.