“They are ours. They are our heritage. They are our treasure. They are the crowning glory of the Philippine forest.” These powerful words from David Castor, the curator and manager of Negros Forest Park, emphasize the vital importance of preserving the native trees of the Philippines. In a world where environmental conservation is becoming increasingly crucial, the protection of these native trees is not just an option—it’s an imperative. In this article, we’ll explore the significance of preserving Philippine native trees and the impact they have on the environment, biodiversity, and our future.
The Slow Food Negros Community Food Talks series, as part of Terra Madre Salone del Gusto 2020, brings this crucial issue to the forefront. Slow Food International, a global movement committed to preserving local food cultures and traditions, organized this worldwide festival. The event’s theme, “Our Food. Our Planet. Our Future,” underscores the interconnectedness of our food systems and the environment, highlighting the role of native trees in this delicate balance.
David Castor, with over 33 years of experience in the conservation sector, has witnessed the devastating effects of deforestation. He vividly describes the heart-wrenching sight of fallen logs and the resounding thud of trees hitting the ground. However, this sad reality fuels his determination to protect the native trees of the Philippines. The role these trees play in the environment is irreplaceable.
One of the primary benefits of endemic trees is their contribution to clean oxygen production. Endemic trees are unique to specific regions and can thrive only under certain conditions. Some notable Philippine endemic trees include dapdap (Erythrina variegata), molave (Vitex parviflora), malabulak (Bombax ceiba), and katmon (Dillenia philippinensis). These trees are exceptional oxygen factories, producing oxygen that is not only essential for human life but also for the overall health of our planet.
Furthermore, native trees possess a remarkable ability to store and absorb large quantities of water, which is instrumental in mitigating the impacts of floods. A single tree can store anywhere from 300 to 500 gallons of water during a rainy period, gradually releasing droplets over time. This natural water management system plays a vital role in flood prevention, a critical concern in many regions.
Another significant advantage of native trees is their resilience to extreme weather conditions. Unlike some shallow-rooted exotic trees, native species are deeply anchored to the ground, making them more resistant to toppling during storms and typhoons. Protecting these trees ensures not only the well-being of humans but also the habitat and survival of wildlife.
Unfortunately, the economic value of native trees has led to their exploitation, contributing to the loss of biodiversity in many areas. As industrialization and monocropping practices, where a single crop is grown in a large area, gained prominence, the fragile ecosystem balance suffered. Exotic trees, perceived as fast-growing and profitable, were increasingly favored over native varieties.
Maintaining biodiversity is crucial for the health of our ecosystems. Planting various species, especially endemic ones, is essential to create a balanced and robust environment. When we cultivate a diverse range of trees, we provide multiple animals with healthy habitats. Native trees host particular insects and small animals, fostering a web of life within their branches and roots. This diversity is essential for ecological stability and can help prevent outbreaks of pests by encouraging natural predator-prey relationships.
At present, the forest cover in the Philippines is only around 16%. According to Castor, to achieve an ecologically balanced area, the ideal ratio is 60% for development and 40% for forest cover. This alarming statistic underscores the urgent need for action to preserve and restore the country’s native forests.
David Castor’s dedication to saving native trees, especially the endemic and rare varieties in Negros Occidental, serves as an inspiration to us all. He utilizes his social media presence to raise awareness about the importance of trees in our ecosystem, which has a ripple effect on others. His message is clear: he is not alone in this fight. There are many individuals committed to the cause of preserving native trees and protecting the future of the planet.
The diminishing forests in the Philippines due to deforestation and development are a call to collective action. The responsibility to conserve and protect native trees falls on everyone’s shoulders. It is not a task that can be achieved by one individual alone. It requires a collective effort and a shared commitment to safeguard the environment and the future.
Castor’s hope is that the younger generation will carry the torch of these environmental initiatives. They must continue to fight for the preservation of biodiversity and the protection of our forests to ensure a sustainable future. His message to the youth is clear and compelling: “We will continue the fight, the fight to conserve our biodiversity, to protect our forests so that we may have a sustainable life.”
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