Wednesday, February 21Food Security Matters

What is “Tree Earth-Balling”?

The term “earth-balling” has gained popularity in discussions about various projects involving trees, such as the construction of the Cebu Coastal Road tunnel and road improvement along S. Osmeña Boulevard. But what exactly does earth-balling entail? Earth-balling is a crucial process for relocating mature trees or vegetation that have grown past their seedling stage. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has provided comprehensive guidelines for transplanting mature trees, ensuring their survival, and protecting the environment. In this article, we will delve into the concept of earth-balling, its procedures, and the significance of preserving trees in urban areas and those affected by government infrastructure projects.

earth-balling
An earth-balled tree

The DENR’s guidelines for earth-balling are outlined in a memorandum issued by then Environment Secretary Jose Atienza Jr. on November 27, 2009, titled “Guidelines and Procedures on the Planting, Maintenance, and Removal of Trees in Urban Areas and in Areas Affected by Government Infrastructure Projects.” These guidelines serve as the foundation for responsible tree transplantation.

According to the memorandum, mature trees or vegetation with a diameter of 15 centimeters or less can be earth-balled if they meet specific criteria:

  1. The tree is healthy.
  2. The immediate environment or surrounding area is free from any structures or impediments to support digging and moving operations.
  3. A suitable and available site for transplanting is properly identified by the DENR, ensuring continuous growth and survival.

In addition, those responsible for earth-balling trees must commit to maintaining and protecting each transplanted tree for at least one year. They are required to provide periodic status reports to the DENR to monitor the growth and survival of the transplanted trees. If a transplanted tree does not survive, replacement trees in the form of indigenous tree saplings, at least one meter tall, must be planted. The number of replacement trees is determined by the diameter of the transplanted tree that did not survive.

It’s important to note that earth-balling cannot be carried out without obtaining a permit from the DENR. To apply for a permit, interested parties must submit an application letter, photographs of the trees to be removed, a sketch map indicating their locations, an endorsement from the local government unit, and an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) if required. Additionally, minutes of public consultations related to tree removal should be provided. An ECC can be obtained from the Environmental Management Bureau of the DENR.

Before initiating the earth-balling process, an Environmental Impact Assessment must be conducted to evaluate potential environmental effects. The issuance of earth-balling permits, regardless of the number of trees involved, is approved at different levels: Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO), Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO), regional executive director of the DENR, or the DENR Secretary, depending on the number of trees affected.

Two Methods for Earth-Balling: Bare-Root and Balled-and-Burlapped

The DENR has identified two methods for earth-balling trees and vegetation: the bare-root method and the balled-and-burlapped method. The choice of method depends on the size and condition of the tree to be transplanted.

  1. Bare-Root Method: This method is typically employed when transplanting shrubs or small trees with a diameter of up to two inches or five centimeters. It involves carefully exposing and removing the roots from the soil to minimize root damage.
  2. Balled-and-Burlapped Method: This method is used for trees with diameters exceeding two inches. It is especially suitable when trees need to be moved during their growing season or are considered difficult to transplant. In this method, the tree is removed with a soil ball that surrounds the root system.

The specific process for earth-balling involves several steps:

  1. Remove Loose Materials: Clear away any loose materials around the tree or vegetation to prevent damage to surface roots.
  2. Mark a Circle: Mark a circle about six inches or 15 centimeters larger than the diameter of the soil ball. This circle serves as the basis for the final trimming of the tree before transfer.
  3. Dig Around the Marked Circle: Use a spade to dig to a depth of nine to 12 inches (21-31 cm) around the marked circle.
  4. Shape the Soil Ball: Shape the soil ball by rounding off the top edge of the ball, creating a uniformly-tapered, nearly oval shape.
  5. Transfer the Tree: Smaller soil balls for small trees or vegetation can be manually transferred by sacking. For larger trees, especially heritage trees, mechanical equipment like cranes must be used for transplanting.
  6. Transplant Within 24 Hours: The earth-balled tree should be transplanted within 24 hours of its removal from its original location.

Cost Considerations

Earth-balling is an expensive procedure, and the cost increases as the diameter of the tree to be transplanted grows. For example, the earth-balling process for trees at Plaza Independencia during the construction of the tunnel cost approximately P1.5 million per tree. The expenses are mainly attributed to the use of equipment, such as cranes, and the labor required for moving the trees. To reduce costs, it is advisable to select trees with a diameter of not more than 15 centimeters, as this minimizes manual labor and the need for heavy equipment.

Historical Perspective: Earth-Balling Before 2009

Prior to the issuance of the 2009 DENR memorandum, there were no clear policies or uniform guidelines regarding earth-balling in the Philippines. As a result, many contractors preferred cutting down trees and replacing them with a corresponding number of new trees based on the age and diameter of the removed tree. This approach was more cost-effective than earth-balling.

For projects affecting a significant number of trees, particularly those considered to have heritage value, the DENR advises contractors to hire forestry expert consultants. These experts can provide guidance on the proper methods to ensure the survival of the transplanted trees and vegetation.

The Environmental Significance of Trees

Trees play a vital role in maintaining the balance of our planet’s ecosystems. Their contributions extend beyond aesthetic and environmental benefits. Trees offer direct advantages to both human society and the environment as a whole.

  1. Food, Clothing, and Shelter: Trees provide essential resources like food (fruits, nuts), wood for construction and furniture, and materials for clothing and shelter.
  2. Medicinal Uses: Many trees and plants have medicinal properties, serving as sources of natural remedies for various ailments.
  3. Environmental Benefits: Trees have an indirect but profound impact on the environment. They reduce pollution, modify the microclimate of an area, and produce oxygen. A medium-sized tree can produce as much oxygen as three people need. Additionally, trees act as carbon sinks, helping to mitigate the threat of global warming by capturing carbon dioxide.
  4. Noise Reduction: Trees can significantly reduce noise pollution, making urban areas more pleasant and less stressful.
  5. Improved Water Quality: Trees in water catchment areas improve water quality, making it suitable for community water supply.

DENR’s National Greening Program (NGP)

Recognizing the importance of trees and forests in maintaining ecological balance, President Benigno Aquino issued Executive Order 23 in February 2011. This order declared a moratorium on the cutting and harvesting of timber in natural and residual forests and established the Anti-Illegal Logging Task Force.

Under EO 23, the DENR is prohibited from issuing or renewing logging contracts and tree cutting permits until a comprehensive review and recommendations are provided by the office of the environment secretary. The goal is to identify and cancel contracts with parties violating logging agreements.

In the same month and year, President Aquino issued Executive Order 26, which established the National Greening Program (NGP). The NGP aims to plant 1.5 billion trees in 1.5 million hectares across the Philippines within six years, from 2011 to 2016. Since its inception, Central Visayas has made commendable progress, achieving an 85 percent annual survival rate.

For the year 2014, Central Visayas set a target of 23,246 hectares for reforestation, with Cebu contributing 7,142 hectares. The NGP for 2014 in the region was allocated a budget of P329,797.

Despite challenges such as the El Niño phenomenon, the NGP in the region has been actively planting trees, focusing on achieving its targets. As of June 27, 2014, the NGP seedling production inventory reported a total of 1,074,556 seedlings in Central Visayas. Cebu had the highest number with 474,496 seedlings, followed by Bohol with 389,234 and Negros Oriental with 210,826.

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