Illegal loggers cut down 1,000 endemic trees in Negros

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – Timber poachers struck again at the Northern Negros Natural Park – this time in Sitio Marigauk, Barangay Canlusong, EB Magalona, Negros Occidental – and cut about 1,000 lauan and tanguile trees of endemic species.

Atty Jose Maria Valencia, executive officer of Task Force Ilahas, said he was appalled to see that trees of endangered species, with diameters ranging from 6 to 30 inches, were cut for charcoal making.

Task Force Ilahas (TFI), an environmental enforcement unit of the provincial government of Negros Occidental, reported that it also found about 10,000 board feet of timber and logs and 14 charcoal pits, 7 already harvested, in the place.

Two weeks ago, TFI operatives also confiscated more than 7,700 board feet of abandoned round timber and finished lumber in Sitio Dinaldangan, Barangay Celestino Villacin, and barangays of Andres Bonifacio and Magsaysay.

These villages are all in Cadiz City and form part of the Northern Negros Natural Park.

Informal settlers blamed

Chief Inspector Gabriel Gutierrez, TFI action officer, said informal settlers within the Northern Negros Natural Park are behind the timber poaching activities.

The task force has discovered that some structures - including houses, the chapel of a religious sect in barangays Celestino Villacin, Magsaysay, and Andres Bonifacio, all in Cadiz City – are made of endemic species of trees, such as lauan, almon, nato, mandulawnon, and odling.

Gutierrez has recommended that cases be filed against some barangay officials in Canlusong, EB Magalona, for gross negligence as the charcoal and logs pass their vicinity, and houses in plain view in the area are made of lauan.

"Unless our forest is cleared of informal settlers, timber poaching will continue to exist," Gutierrez said.

It was also noted that the destroyed forested areas have been converted into farms planted with various root crops, bananas, and corn, among others.

Status of logging ban

The Northern Negros Natural Park consists of the hinterland areas of Cadiz, Victorias, Sagay, Silay, San Carlos, and Talisay cities, and the municipalities of Murcia, EB Magalona,Toboso, Calatrava and Don Salvador Benedicto.

It has a remaining forest cover of 30,178.7 hectares, according to the Provincial Environment and Management Office.

One of the major targets of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources under their 2011-2016 Development Plan is to ban logging in forests nationwide. Secretary Ramon Paje reported that in 2012 the department reduced the number of illegal logging hotspots nationwide from 197 to 31.

He also said they have closed down all major legal logging concessions in the country in order to uphold Executive Order 23, which prohibits the issuance and renewal of logging contracts and tree-cutting permits.

However, small-scale operations or operations in hotspots difficult for forest rangers and monitoring agencies to reach continue in different parts of the country. – with a report from Pia Ranada/Rappler.com

Illegal logging in Tropical Asia image from Shutterstock