Fires burn 539 hectares of tree plantations in Malaybalay since February

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MALAYBALAY CITY (BukidnonNews.Net/ 20 April) – A total of 54 forest fire incidents from February 2 until April 15 have burned 539 hectares of tree plantations in the city, an official said.

This means an average of seven hectares being burned each day during the period.

Ninety-eight percent of the fire incidents can be attributed to “human” or man-made causes, said Dr. Jessie Suson, chief of the City Environment and Natural Resources Office, in an interview with Bukidnon State University’s Share to Heal Program on DXBU 104.5 FM on April 17. 

Suson, however, said that heat contributed to or triggered the spread of the fire. 

She said authorities have not yet caught the perpetrators of the open burning incidents, but added that there is an ongoing investigation. 

She said the forest fires were concentrated in the Poblacion area and identified five of the city’s 46 barangays as hotspots – Patpat, Kalasungay, Can-ayan, Casisang, and Brgy. 1. 

About 95 percent of affected areas belong to ancestral domains, she said. 

The official cited that though the burned area is only four percent of the 12,000 hectares of forest land covering four of the five hotspot barangays, the effect of burning one tree would last a lifetime. ”It takes years for a tree to provide benefits. Each tree saved has an impact on the entire ecosystem.”

She said the trees burned ranged from five to 32 years old. The city has a total of 71,328.52 hectares of forest land but only has 62 forest firefighters.

”They cannot do it alone. We need the barangay local government units. We need the indigenous people communities to work on this together,” she added.

Suson said the city government considers forest protection as a priority. 

In 2022, she said, the city government hired the forest firefighters from January to December, an improvement from the previous practice of hiring only in the first half of the year. She also noted the annual contribution of P1.5 million of the city government to the Mt. Kitanglad Range Natural Park to support the Kitanglad Guard Volunteers, a community-based forest protection group. 

Suson called for the collective spirit of the people of the city to help stop the burning. She said intentional fire incidents happened two to three times a week citing the case of a barangay where 140 hectares of pine tree plantations were burned. 

Sabangan, a popular campsite located in fire hotspot Barangay Can-ayan, experienced burning three times. She said a total of 100 hectares in the area have been “intentionally lit”. 

She said it will take 10 to 20 years for the trees to recover, and at least 10 years for Nature to restore itself. The city government, she said, is working with other stakeholders to address the issue. 

Suson said they are coordinating with the Armed Forces of the Philippines for possible fire suppression support.

City Councilor Alan Ryan Legaspi, chair of the committee on environment, who has been providing updates about the incidents, has called for an end to the forest fires and for the people to be vigilant against the perpetrators.

 ”Efforts for reforestation are costly. All of it will be undone. Ma quits ra (it will all be put to waste),” he said in a message to BukidnonNews.Net.

Legaspi said he has filed a resolution prohibiting ayuda (assistance) from the City Agriculture Office for those in areas that experienced forest fires.

Suson said they have factored in the forest areas under the ancestral domains in preparing the Forest Land Use Plan. She noted that 84 percent of the city’s forest lands are under Certificate of Ancestral Domain Titles/Claims (CADTs/CADCs).

The plan, she said, has already been presented to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-10, and will be presented to the City Development Council next month, so that it can be incorporated in the City Comprehensive Land Use Plan. 

”Including only the 16 percent forest lands outside of ancestral domains in the plan, there is no meaning to it,” she said.

She said that last year the city also trained the volunteer forest guards of the tribes to help suppress fires.

Suson cited the strong resolve of City Mayor Jay Warren R. Pabillaran, a member of the IP community, to work closely with the indigenous peoples.

One of the leaders of the indigenous communities in the hotspot areas vowed support for the city government’s ongoing investigation of the forest fires. 

Lawyer Burt Estrada, leader of the Bukidnon Tagolwanen tribe, confirmed that they have been working closely with the City ENRO “on many fronts”. 

 “As it is our domain and our plantations we have the primary duty and interest to protect our domain – our forest and plantations,” he said via online messages in response to a query by BukidnonNews.Net. 

He said the fires have also damaged one hundred hectares of their bamboo plantations. He said Thursday that he has requested from the City ENRO and Legaspi a list of the people who are occupying and/or cultivating in and around these areas. He said they commit to work with the local government to exact accountability from those that have damaged their forests and plantations. 

“More importantly, to minimize or prevent these damaging events in the future by demonstrating that there is the possibility and certainty of prosecution if you violate environmental and other laws,” he said. 

But Estrada said they need government agencies to be the lead in bringing justice for everyone affected. 

“We will do our part if needed to file complaints as CADT holders and owners of the (damaged) plantations and as stewards of our forests and environment for all peoples and generations,” he added. (BukidnonNews.Net)

Photo courtesy of Manoy Legaspi FB Account 
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