Climate Abyss: Not Really Cordilleran but...

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By Robert L. Domoguen

Mountain Light

Monday, May 12, 2014


I STAND on warm soil as I watch the shadows in the forest disappear with the emerging darkness. It is hot and the large number of dying embers blown by the wind offers no comfort.

Yesterday, this whole stretch of rolling land was green with rono grass, young and old Pine. There were pecos and woody shrubs in between, a familiar sight in the degraded and devastated mountains.

Notwithstanding their current state, one moves about them inhaling the freshness of nature coming into terms with change. Not all living creatures consented to the changes but one has hope still. Given time, things will get better – not back to the old order (not possible in my estimation) but to a cyclostyled script of balanced stewardship over the domain.

It seems to me, 90 percent of the Cordillera’s population are champions of domain and development. It seems to me, even the birds agree to that with their daily chirping.

That is just sad. As I stand here, I cannot endure the silence.

The chirping of birds and shrilly sounds of crickets, very much part of this domain, has long been put to flight while some animals burrowed deep in the ground. I hope they survive and return to the sunlit land by morning, or forever become part of the soil.

At this very moment, I get a definition of domain that reverberates with the dying embers of wood, plants and carcass. The scent and image are abysmal.

Some observers say that in the aftermath of a forest fire few animals actually die. At the first hint of smoke, or the first whoosh of grass going up in flames, animals instinctively move to safer ground,
Larger animals may run, birds fly away, but smaller animals like mice can hide in crevices and caves. The fire may not burn them but the smoke can suffocate these creatures to death.

Vertebrates and invertebrates, creatures often overlooked on a walk through a forest “may be the hardest hit during a forest fire.” These include insects, worms, their eggs and other invertebrates that can't run, fly or tunnel are likely to be consumed by the flames of a forest fire.”

A forest fire also affects the natural food chain. Annihilated vertebrates and invertebrates are food to the other animals in a forest. What happens to the fishes and animals in the small ponds in the forest? A forest fire heats the water temperature up and destroy their eggs too, if not kill some of them. The ash that flows into the pond can kill remaining fish that survived. If you need proof, mix ash and soot into the water that flow into a pond of tilapia until the water turns black. In an hour, dead tilapia will start floating above the water.

We cannot totally believe literature from abroad suggesting to us “animals, forests and forest fires are all part of a natural healthy cycle.” That depends on the terrain and the make-up of the forest and mountain communities. Not all plants and animals (in our case not many of them) depend on naturally occurring or “man made” wildfire to flourish. In the Cordillera, pine trees do not require the intense heat of a forest fire to open their cones and release their seeds. The population of cattle and small ruminants (quite negligible) depend on fire to keep undergrowth in check. Burning the forest for this purpose is at great cost to human and the fragile wildlife communities.

The annual burning of our mountain forests has gone on for decades. Even if we plant thousands of trees every year, we do not see our forests growing and expanding. The forest is shrinking. A few new trees survive the forest fires while the mature ones are logged and stolen.

The domain script was well written - its rhetoric expressed always with passion in the public square. It stops there. There are no local governance scripts, binding ordinances and systems of action to compel villagers to protect the trees, preserve the forests and watersheds as their own.

It was dark when I realized that I stayed on this space too long. The embers are dying and yonder, a great and wondrous sign appeared in the heavens. The smoke has blackened the west and the rainbow colors of the sunset. In its place “came flashes of lightning, rumbling and peals of thunder.” The echoes that followed the peals and rumblings whispered there accusation. Where are the keepers of these mountains and its forests? As inheritors of the domain it is up to all of us to take care of our precious public lands, and the amazing creatures that live there.

On the appointed day of our reckoning, how do we account for our time in these mountains? The appointed day is now and we may have started the process of making for ourselves an abysmal climate and environment. That is not the Cordillera in our minds?

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on May 13, 2014.

Opinion

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