Earth-balled trees harmful to Baguio

"We are losing oxygen that 866 people need in a year"

PROTEST. Residents of Baguio oppose earth-balling of trees. Photo by May Ling Rosito

MANILA, Philippines – The controversial plan of SM Baguio to transplant 182 trees is bound to fail and will be harmful to Baguio in the long run, experts said.

“Pollutants are concentrated in the area so there must be a concentration of vegetation. Trees intercept and absorb pollutants,” Prof John Tacloy, professor at the Benguet State University College of Forestry, told Rappler.

The Luneta Hill area from which the trees will be moved is one of the few areas in the city where patches of trees remain.

In a statement posted on his Facebook page, Dr. Michael Bengwayan, Director of the Cordillera Ecological Cordi Eco-Center Pine Tree, said, “One pine tree or alnus tree absorbs an average of 40 to 45 lbs of carbon a year. The 182 trees are contributing to the reduction of an average 8,790 lbs or carbon in the atmosphere yearly.”

Bengwayan added that “the trees give us oxygen to breathe. If the 182 trees are cut, balled or harmed, we are losing 546,000 lbs of oxygen a year which is the equivalent need of some 866 people in a year.”

Trees hold water

He also explained how the trees hold water and prevent water run-off. (See related story.)

“An average 10-year-old tree holds some 1,500 to 2,000 liters of water. Thus, the 182 trees store as much as 364,000 liters of water. As the trees grow, they lose the water,” Bengwayan said.

Wary about the thinning of the remaining green patches in Baguio, Tacloy suggested “interspersing areas with pine trees.”

With a clearance signed by Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary (DENR) Ramon Paje, DENR Regional Executive Director Clarence Baguilat issued the tree cutting, pruning, and earth-balling permits to the SM Development Corp (SMDC) on Oct 27, 2011 to pave the way for a parking complex.

Transplant Shock 

“When a tree is dug for transplanting, more than 95% of the absorbing roots are severed. With less than 5% of its root system remaining, the newly transplanted tree suffers from water stress,” Bengwayan explained.

Bengwayan added that uprooted trees are also subjected to stress-related problems due to tremendous root loss, a condition called “transplant shock,” which can kill them.

In a study conducted by Tacloy on the effects of root-pruning to Benguet pine seedlings, he observed that it is relatively practical to earth-ball pine trees during the seedling stage when they are less than one meter high.

The study revealed a 50% survival rate for transplanted pine seedings. But experience has shown that the survival rate for earth-balled full timber is way lower at 17%.

Scientific processes

According to Bengwayan, “a tree with a diameter of more than 15 cm has less survival chance. In the late 1990s, some 497 pine trees were earth-balled by Camp John Hay Development Corp but only less than 20% survived and those not dead are showing signs of deteriorating.”

But SM Supermalls vice president for Operations Bien Mateo asserted that the construction will not harm the trees, as experts in earth-balling have been hired to ensure that scientific processes are observed.

“For the transfer and balling of trees alone, we will give it more than a month so that proper methodology is done carefully and ensure tree survival,” he said in an interview with Sunstar Baguio.

LEAVE THE TREES. Protesters march to communicate their message. Photo by May Ling Rosito

Dialogue

Meanwhile, Presidential Adviser on the Environment Neric Acosta stressed that if earth-balling were indeed a scientific process, the people have to know what kind of technology it is and what the survival rate is. 

Calling for a dialogue among the local government, DENR, SM Baguio and the protesters, Acosta said he is giving all stakeholders the benefit of the doubt. 

Acosta will write a letter this week that will encourage stakeholders to sit down and talk “not just about the trees but also about what they represent, the value of tourism and the tradeoffs.”

He said that the problem can’t be solely viewed as a methodology and private property issue, adding that “it’s an environmental issue that has a bearing on the heritage and identity of Baguio. 

Nearly 5,000 Baguio residents and environmental activists held a rally on Friday, January 20, to protest the construction of the SM Baguio parking lot, which they fear, will lead to the cutting of 43 fully grown Alnus japonica trees and the uprooting of 97 growing pine trees (Pinus kesiya) and 42 saplings within the 1,500 square-meter Luneta Hill area where the mall is located. – Rappler.com