Captivated by a Dying Forest

It’s been about a year since my last trek along the mountain ranges of San Felipe, Zambales with Madtravel. And the most memorable part about the trek was the first part; when trail gradually opened up, and I found yourself walking in-between two parallel valleys side by side that just doesn’t seem to end.

When we got to the check point of the trail, our guide told us that the view that greeted us at the first part of the trail was that of a dying forest. As it turns out, the valleys and mountain ranges that traverse San Felipe used to be covered with trees, serving as a habitat for hundreds of wildlife. But due to the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo and effects of climate change, almost all the trees were burned down, and the top soil which would normally be there to protect tree saplings and help environment regenerate was gone as well.

“The most disturbing part about that experience was the realization that I didn’t know, and I couldn’t identify what a deteriorated environment looked like.”

“The most disturbing part about that experience was the realization that I didn’t know, and I couldn’t identify what a deteriorated environment looked like.”

The most disturbing part about that experience was the realization that I didn’t know, and I couldn’t identify what a deteriorated environment looked like. To make things worse, everyone who joined that trek didn’t seem to know any better as well. And this is troubling because it seems that we’re reaching a threshold in our time that we’ve become so familiar and acquainted with deterioration to the point that we’re captivated by the scenic view of a dying forest.

Throughout the rest of the trek, we got a chance to plant some of the seeds and also learn about the different factors and variables that go into reforestation. And here are some my main takeaways.

Reforestation is not just about planting as many trees as possible. Reforestation is about covering areas that are entirely lacking of plant material. It essentially covers all the activities and processes that contribute to the actual planning, planting and maintenance of the species planted. This includes determining what area should be prioritized, what species to plant, and the maintaining and supporting the species planted to make sure they survive for the long term.

The soil matters. A large part about reforestation projects is about rebuilding and nurturing the soil in order to support the tree itself. Trees, similar to other species, are also particular to the type of soil that they are planted in. Some trees are more particular than others requiring more nutrients, such as Narra, Kamagong and Lawaan, while other trees like the Bolivian Mahogany are not so particular. To put it simply, if the tree is planted in a soil that does not have the required nutrients, then the tree will not grow.

You cannot just randomly plant any species. When foreign species are randomly introduced in an area, it runs the risk of driving out other forms of native species, possibly permanently removing them from that area. This is a nightmare for biodiversity because it can wipe out habitats for all native species making it a biodiversity dead zone.

The participation of the community is a must. Reforestation also requires a bottom up approach necessitating local knowledge and community participation to maintain the planted species. This is important because even if reforestation projects are spearheaded by the government, in the end of the local communities are the ones that primarily inhabit these areas and are affected by the impacts of reforestation projects. And even after implementation of the project local communities are in the best position to sustain and maintain the species planted given their proximity and knowledge of the area.

One of the important considerations about reforestation is that there is no cut and dry approach. Life is complex. And like all living things, forests are highly complex ecosystems that don’t react to interventions in the same way.

In spite of this complexity, this is also what makes reforestation projects worthwhile. The more you get into it, the more you realize how much our forest have gone through to get to the state that they’re in now.  But on the other side of it, you also realize the potential and hope for each forest, and how it can be so much more captivating and beautiful for the future.