Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Vista trees valued at P154M; ecological decay 'looms'

ON THE heels of a tree-cutting moratorium filed in the city, Vista Residences Incorporated chopped the remaining 24 trees in its private lot in Outlook Drive, beating the expiration of the Special Private Land Timber Permit set on Wednesday, July 15, 2020.

At the council meeting on Monday, July 13, 2020, the University of the Philippines Baguio Biology professor, Dr. Zenaida Baoanan, valued the 54 fully grown trees cut at P154,307,700 and warned an ecological collapse for the city, which has exceeded its carrying capacity and dwindled forest covers.

Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)–Cordillera Regional Executive Director Ralph Pablo said Vista Residences Corporation has written his office asking for a representative to be present when the cutting of the remaining 24 trees is be carried out, citing the validity of tree-cutting permits as well as compliance to requests made by City Mayor Benjamin Magalong to double the mandated tree donations from 5,400 to 10,800.

Pablo also cited pronouncements by Vista Residences Incorporated in the past council session, saying the remaining trees cannot be saved as they pose danger to life and property because of its location along hanging slopes.

The DENR said the realty firm went through the process of applying for a permit since 2018.

Pablo said the letter to proceed was received from Vista Residences Incorporated after the firm appeared for the council session last week, invoking the legality of the tree cutting permits and the requirements of the city and compliance with the DENR.

The UP study

Baoanan said that based on the Hamilton Urban Forest Strategy Plan, a forest cover of 30 percent of the land area is recommended for a city to be resilient and sustainable. Baguio City only has a remaining 8.1 percent old-growth pines and 19.8 percent production pines that stand as of 2006. From that time until present, cutting of pine trees paved the way for residential, condominiums, malls and other establishments. If unregulated and without proper urban planning, "the city will soon be at the brink of ecological collapse.”

Baoanan also cited the 1992 publication “Growing Greener Cities” by the American Forestry Association, which puts value on air conditioning, erosion control, wildlife shelter and air pollution reduction functions. Fully grown trees are set to contribute to the community multiplied with the 50 years life span of a tree plus a 5 percent compounding interest.

“Forest Parks are important for health and recreation, water retention and nutrient cycling, in regulating microclimate and home to diverse life forms,” the professor added.

Baoanan in a previous study “Valuation of the Ecological Services of the GSIS Tree Park at Baguio City,” recommended establishing a tree cutting moratorium within Baguio City to mitigate the adverse effects of deforestation that can exacerbate the effects of human-induced global warming and climate change, and maintain the urban forest patches in the city.

The team of composed of Dr. Corazon Abansi, Mr. Deign Frolley Soriano with Professors Liezel Magtoto and Jocelyn Floresca also recommend to involve the academe, researchers, urban planners, ecologists as core components of any work or policy related to the environment and to ensure the proper implantation of community consultations about these environmental issues.

Baoanan recommends the City to have a longer moratorium on tree-cutting, saying the city is already highly urbanized and all existing structures already answer to the needs of the people.

The professor also said a fee for tree parks may also be imposed as people are willing to pay just to maintain green spheres, citing the development of the economy with the balance of sustainable development.

DENR Recommendations

Pablo said most of the remaining trees in the city are set on private and titled lands with a few resting on government lots, school compounds and road right of way.

The Baguio environment is composed of a watershed, forest, civil and military reservations (with an area of 1,400 hectares, 700 trees and townsite), residential, central business district and commercial areas (covering 4,300 hectares with 800 trees, completing the 5,700 hectares of the city).

Pablo recommends the zoning approach in preserving the remaining forest covers and tree count of the city, which sets tree locations in forest reservations and watersheds, public parks and government lots and compounds.

The DENR also broaches for the government to acquire and buy out private lands with trees as well as to grant tax incentives or annual environmental cash subsidies to private landowners with maintained tree covers.

Pablo said an ordinance relating to advisory and guidelines to private landowners as to landscape management and consistent to the moratorium on tree removal in cases of death, posing danger and obstruction to development.

Included in the DENR recommendations are the identification of green zones and safeguarded lots within each barangay (as a city needs for environmental amelioration) as a specific purpose for location trees, small watershed and plazas.

Proper maintenance of planted trees (assign government offices in both local and national) to maintain specific areas likened to the “Adopt a Park” program.

The environment department said the City Government may also recommend for the award of applied lots for residential to be limited only to a maximum of 500 square meters with retained lots to be identified.

Private lands with more than 500 square meters must also allocate 30 percent of their land space to appropriate green cover.

Lastly, all infrastructure development plants passing through the city building official and the city engineer’s office should include evaluation of the land space and other consequential impacts such as tree cutting, before the same be subjected to the DENR permitting and environmental impact evaluation.

These were presented to the City Council during its regular session Monday.


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