A biotech home for neglected orphan trees; The Hangman’s axe (part 2 of 3)

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By Robert L. Domoguen

Mountain Light

Monday, February 3, 2014


THE axe fell methodically - once, twice and several times over against the prisoner’s robust and giant frame.

Raised and delivered in full force, blow by blow, the axe cut deeper.

The prisoner did not easily give up but held on to dear life. The blows kept falling and bit by bit, the cut widened.

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What evil inflicts such torturous act, tearing a victim’s body parts and limbs until all are severed and gone. It resides in the hangman’s heart and on this job, it would not be long before he declares his work done and collect his wages. The innocent shall pay it with tears and blood.

Who is the barbarian around capable of inflicting so much pain to a life, you may ask. Human beings were the barbarians, and in this case, their victim is the mossy forest in our mountains, now lost in the latest National Mapping and Resource Information Authority of the Philippines (NAMRIA).

The mossy forest is practically dead, gone. It cannot be seen, specifically isolated and identified in the current NAMRIA maps, I am told, but are included as part of the closed forest. Included in the closed forest are those areas still highly dense with trees and shrubs, pine, and dipterocarp or broadleaf trees.

Foresters of the Cordillera regional office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR-CAR) say that the mossy forest is in the old maps and they could not now pinpoint where this living category of the forest is unless ground validations are undertaken. Will they do that and from what definition would the validation prove for us, knowing how it once looked like and how it felt moving in its environs? What new definition of the mossy forest will a new validation give?

The mossy forest of old, an ancient evergreen giant that once clothed and cuddled the whole of the Cordillera’s rugged landscape no longer exists. What we see of this giant are but a few of its remnant parts, limbs and parts, contorted trees no more than 10–15 m high; their trunks, boughs, and twigs being festooned with mosses, lichens, and liverworts – fading remembrances of the mossy cloud forest. Worst, we do not know how many thousands of its species are gone – their images and roles - all but blotted out. These are lost to our springs and future generations, who must pay the hangman’s wages in our behalf.

Gone practically is the “year-long” prevailing mist that makes the growths of moss “luxuriant all year round and bathes this green giant all day. Gone also are the myriad of sights of creatures and the sounds they made in the forest cathedrals. Yes, that in sum makes the mossy cloud forest that was lost in the map – lost to our conscious experience and perpetual knowledge. The DENR may not waste its funds in validating what remains of the mossy cloud forest unless it is possible to bring the whole back to life.

Nature being lost, can it be reinvented and rediscovered once more in our mountains? Can we co-exist with it?

To those questions, science offers its own promise of possibilities. A surviving limb from the mossy forest can reproduce itself hundreds of times in a petri-dish in the laboratory, for instance. This is possible using tissue culture techniques and the “process of keeping tissue alive and growing in a culture medium.”

It is envisaged that the technology of tissue culture is competent to meet the challenge of reforestation, according to Forester Luisiano Bato of the DENR-CAR. He is in-charge of the operations of the agency’s clonal nursery at Pacdal, Baguio City.

He added that tissue culture techniques, has been used in the mass scale propagation of many horticultural crops for mass production of elite cloned plant materials. However, its exploitation for forest tree species has started only recently, and we are still in the process of establishing our operational protocol for our clonal laboratory, he explained.

Under the DENR National Greening Program, the Clonal Nursery is tasked to produce quality planting materials by cloning. Last year (2013), it reported a total of 33,583 cloned seedlings from various tree explants as follows: Bagras (Eucalyptus deglupta), 12,692 seedlings; Ficus sp (11,327); Mulberry (Morus alba), 28; Mangium (Acacia mangium), 700; Oak (Quercus sp)), 535; Igem (Podocarpus imbricatus), 480; Almaciga (Agathis philipinensis), 378; Kalumpit (Terminalia microcarpa), 4, 683; and Panglomboien (Syzigium simile), 2, 780. These are in addition to some 964 seedlings of cloned trees already planted and maintained in the nursery’s ramet garden that included Bugnay (Antidesma bunius), and Mt. Yew from the mossy forest of Mount Data that reportedly has high anti-cancerous contents.

The techniques employed by the DENR clonal nursery are mostly conventional methods of vegetative propagation like grafting, budding, and layering. For many plants and trees, vegetative propagation are often too slow or fail completely.

In normal vegetative propagation, each cutting can result in only one plant. On the other hand, micropropagation allows thousands of plants to be mass produced from a single living tissue of an explants or tissue donor.

Forester Bato says that micro-vegetative propagation using tissue culture allows much greater control and manipulation of the development of tissues within the culture tube than conventional methods. However, this can only be undertaken with sufficient funds, available expertise, and fully operational equipment, he said.

The clonal laboratory sitting on a 6,000 square meters lot has a capacity of 100.000 seedlings and currently faces problems with its fogging and misting equipment. Meantime, forester Bato recommends that seed propagation and the use of wildlings should be undertaken.

Actually some villagers in Mount Data. Sagada, and Besao, all in Mountain Province who are engaged in the production of specialty wine have tried using seeds and wildlings to propagate the bugnay tree. At best, the local initiative is a “hit and miss” undertaking.

Mr. Francis G. Basali, Chief, Planning and Management Division of DENR-CAR said, the survival of mossy forest wildlings,’ and seeds away from their natural environment are almost impossible. First, the wildlings once uprooted are sensitive to moist. The wildlings immediately degenerate when uprooted. They may die during transport to the nursery and if these survive, may require proper management that the locals may not have the expertise to provide. That is true for some seeds too, he added.

The use of clones, seed and wildling propagation are recommendations for highlanders to move forward in reclaiming the mossy cloud forest that is unique to the Cordillera landscape. Gaining expertise with these techniques maybe costly but necessary, if we know what the forest means to us.

To the Chipko people of Uttar, Pradesh, India, the forest bears “soil, water and pure air.” For that, they are known in the ecology movement worldwide for their willingness to face death if only to save the trees in their forests. We need not go to that extent. We only need to learn and become good stewards of our natural resources, according to our experts.

Both Mr. Basali and Forester Bato agree that unless our people know what they are losing, the remnants of the mossy forest can be lost in their minds and consciousness forever. Any initiative to reclaim the forest will continue to be a losing battle. In terms of cost and result, the operation and output of a clonal garden, seed or wildling nursery, are justifiable in terms of the number and area of a beneficiary plantation thriving with trees. That is possible if we are not forest executioners anymore, but real, long-term gardeners, community planners, life artists and good caretakers of our environment. Yes, it is possible and only the people and their leaders must provide the answers starting now.

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on February 04, 2014.

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