COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT KEY AGAINST FOREST FIRES
The vast damage on natural forests of the Cordillera due to fires in the first two months of the year clearly shows how the commitment of its people in protecting their natural resources has deteriorated over the past years.
Already, 100,000 pine trees and seedlings planted in a total of almost 900 hectares of forests in the different parts of Benguet alone have gone up to smoke, bringing to nothing a natural resource that usually takes time, effort, and money to develop and maintain. And we are not even half way through the year yet, the summer months have yet to be declared, and we were just about to start observing the Fire Prevention Month this March.
Like before, the Benguet Provincial Environment and Natural Resources has identified kaingin or the slash-and-burn practice as one of the main causes of the recent forest fires, which only indicates that those who continue practicing the same either have not learned their lesson or will not take heed of the impacts until they experience it themselves.
Allowing this to happen, even when we all have been aware of the negative impacts of neglecting the environment for personal purposes and how destructive forest practices could further speed up climate change, is a stark contrast to how this highland’s forebears were concerned and protective of their forests, which they had shown through sustainable traditional forest management systems.
Indigenous forest management strategies such as the batangan system of Mountain Province, imong of Kalinga, muyong of Ifugao, lapat of Abra, and kakayuan of Benguet are time-tested ways of the Cordillerans that employ communal ownership or management of forests wherein the whole community owns, governs, and protects the forests. These have been proven effective in assuring there will be constant trees and forest resources beyond their generation. These for us are best practices that the region could be proud of.
We believe many still carry on these practices. Unfortunately, preservation efforts then and now have not been enough, since forest fires as massive as what razed some Benguet forests recently and even in recent years continue as a regular occurrence in the region; it is more disturbing because most of these incidents are man-made.
It is not fair to say the government has not been effective. Sure, it is not perfect – with the lack of personnel, fire equipment, budget as a common excuse and hints of indiscretion here and there. However, everybody is a stakeholder when natural resources are at a stake, and so every member of a community should be its steward. As in raising our children, it should also take a whole community to nurture and guard our forests.
In the past, we also called on the government to review its parameters in declaring a state of calamity to include forest fires as a form of disaster even when human lives and properties are not involved.
While most forest fires in the Cordillera have not claimed human lives nor destroyed properties, the destruction it leaves behind on the forest and ecosystem in general is immeasurable. No amount of money can ever bring back a burned forest to its natural grandeur and its value to the environment and to human lives.
Also, we don’t even need a change in mindset, maybe we just need to remind ourselves that we were originally conscientious but needed to respond to emerging times and situations. We also do not need an entire course to realize this. In this case, starting a fire or unmanaged slashing and burning in forests put lives and resources at risk and cause immeasurable damage to the environment.
This we know through those who paved the way for sustainable forest resources. The indigenous forest management practices should remind us that we are able to enjoy vast resources now because our ancestors conserved them for us during their time. This was made possible because the community was deeply involved in the process. True, kaingin, frowned upon before and illegal until now, had been done before to allow grass re-growth. But its effects were not as grave as to allow it to rage on and ruin huge proportions of our forests like what usually occur now, because there’s a whole community that is up on guard and knows what’s at stake.
We might as well return the favor by bringing back the tradition of getting involved as a community, to save what is left of our forest resources for those who are next in line.