Okay, pine: a Busol tree-logy

Buwis-buhay ka talaga (you really defy death),” my friend Suzanne said when I insisted on climbing Busol again after more than a year. It’s been raining for days, and we were told that climbing the mountain would be trickier, if not dangerous. We did anyway, twice: once in June and another in July.

Bloom in June

The wind was uncooperative, making it even more difficult to keep our balance as we trudged our way up through the sludgy path. The wind was not only biting, but it was also blowing stronger.

busol trees 2013-2014 copyAt the top, I was reacquainted with SM’s pine trees that I visited last year. Planted in 2012, the trees are now about twice as tall as when they were first planted as saplings. I could see new branches growing out like gold fingers jutting out at the top of some young trees. Mother Nature must be so proud.

They can now survive on their own, our guide said, although human intervention would still be necessary to ensure that weeds do not interfere with the trees’ continuous growth.

This is the kind of thing that private companies should do when they get involved in tree planting activities. Yes, it’s a CSR prerogative, but there’s more to environment care than photo ops. They must make the trees grow until they are capable enough to grow on their own. But I digress.

fallen tree
Even trees supposedly protected by concrete blocks were uprooted by Typhoon Glenda.

Tree-high in July

I had the privilege of going up Busol for the third time with no less than World Wildlife Fund-Philippines CEO and Vice Chairman Lory Tan. This time around, our host allowed us to help with the planting of new saplings halfway up the old site.

I failed to ask how many were being planted, but I am sure this is far beyond the 50,000 that the mall giant had committed to DENR. It didn’t matter to me at that moment, as I was only too eager to get my hands dirty, so to speak.

During the entire climb, Mr. Tan had a lot of information (the man can talk!). His stories got me thinking about the havoc that Typhoon Glenda made in South Luzon and Metro Manila a few days before we went up to Baguio. Huge, full-grown trees either fell or were completely uprooted.

So what can be done to protect the trees? Mr. Tan had so much to say about the topic that our “storytelling” continued way after our Baguio trip.

Not so tree-via

Luz Baskinas, a forester and member of WWF-Philippines, joined us over coffee for a few “tree-via” along with Mr. Tan and a couple of WWF reps. Ms. Baskinas shared information as if she’s talking about a human being when we talked about trees and their vulnerabilities against typhoons.

Like humans, trees also get hurt and die from “injuries”. Ideally, there should be a tree risk appraisal after a heavy storm to determine its health and survival chance.

This is one of the pine trees in Busol that was hit by lightning. Fortunately, this has a chance to recover and survive.

“A tree needs to be cut if it is shown to have damage (injury or wound from typhoon) that is already fatal, or sick due to pests. Pests could contaminate or affect other trees,” Ms. Baskinas said. “One possible remedy is tree surgery. Those that have been uprooted and yet manage to continue to grow should be assessed for possible weakened roots. Depending on the condition of the roots, the appraisal should be able to recommend if the tree will eventually die or not.”

A tree is injured once it damages its bark, or when its core has been exposed. Mr. Tan clarified, however, that people should intervene only when the assessment confirms the injury. If surgery does not work, only then can cutting be done.

I asked them, when is it “okay” to cut trees? Mr. Tan explained that cutting only becomes necessary for two reasons: forest management and disaster prevention. “If you have a healthy stand* of residual forests, then it’s okay to manage the density of a forest by cutting some,” Mr. Tan said. He also cited a very large tree as an example: it can affect the growth of smaller trees around it because of the large shadow it creates. “The smaller trees nearby will have little sunlight to help them survive. If you cut down the large tree, you can see that all the smaller trees and saplings will grow and survive.”

“As the tree grows older, it requires more space. You have to give it the space it needs for it to continue with its growth. Sometimes, you need to take out other plants or even trees growing around it. Otherwise, growth stunt will occur. When branches of bigger trees fall, it might hit and injure younger trees beside it. Some trees can heal themselves, depending on the injury and degree of damage (or when the damage reaches the core) or for as long as the roots are unharmed,” Ms. Baskinas added.

Another reason for cutting trees is when there is a threat of impending disaster like landslide caused by soil erosion. “Forestry evaluation should be supported by an engineering study. If there is indeed erosion, then the entire residual forest is at risk. Imagine pag gumuho yan – that entire forest is patay –you will put all the people and properties within the vicinity in danger as well. You can put up all the riprap wall you want, but when mother nature decides to erode, you can’t do anything to stop it. Even the virgin forest of Sierra Madre suffered from landslides,” Mr. Tan pointed out.

Baguio City, being the place that experiences the heaviest rainfall in the country, is the most susceptible to landslide or soil saturation. Mountain forests are being replaced by mountains of subdivisions; so the thought of these houses running over one another in the event of a landslide sends shivers down my spine.

“Baguio’s adaptation to its increasing rainfall is the real issue here. Have they prepared? It (the city) sits on an active seismic fault, it has no airport, and has three access roads that are all prone to landslides. They have to do the engineering now. The effect of climate change could be felt anytime…it could be tomorrow,” Mr. Tan emphasized.

Beyond the trees

20140719_093706We see a lot of tree-planting activities being done by different groups everywhere. But how many of them actually go back to what they planted to make sure they grew or survived?

Ms. Baskinas gave us a perspective: “With all things being constant, a forest stand will survive on its own. But trees planted by companies must be managed and maintained. They have to have a maintenance plan that includes monitoring, weeding, visits after every storm, treatment as needed for both soil and trees, pruning when the trees are fully grown.”

My thoughts exactly. I can’t go up to Baguio as often as needed to look after the trees I planted in Busol, but I know that SM will take care of that for me. I can proudly say that I am part of the 50,000+ SM Baguio pine trees, and counting.

*Forest stand: basic unit of forest mapping; density, size and sometimes habitat

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