Mahogany trees

Rox Pena
Rox Pena

I was in Bohol last week attending the seminar of the Philippine Councilor’s League-Pampanga Chapter. After the lectures conducted by officials of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), we set out on a tour to see the various attractions of the island. I was interested to see the controversial Captain’s Peak Resort in the Chocolate Hills which was the subject of this column a month ago. I was told however that it is far from our destination.

On our way to the Chocolate Hills, we passed by the man-made forest in the Municipality of Bilar. The dense forest which stretches two kilometers along the highway is one of their tourist attractions. Looking at the trees, I noticed that something was not right. The trees are mostly mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla), a tree species native to South America, Mexico and Central America. The tour guide commented that the fruits of the trees are not eaten by native animals and that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is now encouraging the planting of fruits trees. Exotic or non-native species are incompatible with the local environment. The tour guide’s comment confirmed this.

Mahogany was first planted in the Philippines in Manila in 1907 and at the Forestry School at Mt. Makiling in 1913 (Baguinon et al ., 2005). Until 2011, it was the most planted tree in the Philippine government’s National Greening Program or NGP (Torres, 2018). In Bohol it was planted in the 60’s as part of the island’s reforestation program.

Some studies have shown that mahogany has a negative effect on the ecosystem. So why did the Philippine government allow the planting of mahogany trees, not just in Bohol but all over the country? Today they are not just in forests, they are everywhere.

More than half a century ago, there was so much dipterocarp (hardwoods) forest in the Philippines and the timber trade was contributing as much as 10% of our GDP then. As expected, we lost most of our forest during this logging boom. The Philippines then started a reforestation program from way back 1970’s headed by an agency called Reforestation Administration.

Mahogany was used in many reforestation projects because it is fast-growing and adaptive to Philippine conditions. It also has high commercial value. It is the world’s most valuable and widely traded tropical timber species. This answered the need to quickly reforest heavily logged areas and at the same time provide raw materials to wood industries. There was a logging ban in secondary natural forest since 2012 and so the local wood industry relied on mahogany and gmelina plantations. Like the mahogany, gmelina arborea is a fast-growing non-native tree that has also proliferated in the Philippines.

Today, the DENR is encouraging the planting of native hardwood species like yakal, tanguile, lauan and molave. The use of native trees was also included in the NGP Commodity Roadmap for 2012 onwards. Environmental groups are urging the government to stop using exotic tree species like mahogany, calling it an ecological suicide. Furthermore, there is now a worldwide drive to eliminate invasive alien species.

Did the government make the right decision in using mahogany? Time will tell.


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