Butuan City

Butuan ramps up reforestation efforts vs flooding, water supply depletion

Ivy Marie Mangadlao

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Butuan ramps up reforestation efforts vs flooding, water supply depletion

FEBRUARY FLOOD. Residents of walk across a flooded road in Barangay Mahogany in Butuan City in early February 2024.

Ivy Marie Mangadlao

Butuan officials aim to increase their city's protected forest area from 7,456 to 27,208 hectares

BUTUAN, Philippines – The Butuan City government started stepping up reforestation efforts amid serious concerns about environmental degradation resulting in flooding and possible depletion of the local water supply, 

Butuan Vice Mayor Lawrence Lemuel Fortun said this as he noted that the city experienced flooding for several days despite fair weather in early February.

“It’s not raining here, but we got flooded. This happened because it rained in the upland, and the water flowed towards us, and apparently, the mountains there could no longer hold and contain the water. The denudation in our forests here in Caraga and other areas is happening rapidly,” Fortun said.

Fortun said the city government’s reforestation efforts would go full blast with the implementation of the Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) that was approved on July 21, 2023, by the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development.

Based on the CLUP, the current size of the protected forest area in Butuan is only 7,456.52 hectares. The proposed expansion aims to increase the protected forest to 27,208.70 hectares, constituting the largest proposed land use percentage at 34.47%.

“We should focus our preservation and restoration efforts on areas that genuinely require preservation and reforestation. If an area is designated as a protected forest, then we should absolutely avoid disturbing it because if we do not, it will continue to denude, and any further disturbance would exacerbate the situation. These forests are supposed to help mitigate, not worsen the flooding problem,” Fortun said.

He, however, noted that while the policies being pushed by the city government would help Butuan, the city would still be affected by the policies of other local governments in the Caraga region.

“If there are no efforts in preserving the forest in other areas, we end up being the ones who are affected at the receiving end,” he said.

When Fortun was still the representative for the 1st District of Agusan del Norte, he authored House Bill No. 9088, a proposed measure that seeks to ensure the sustainable management of forests.

He and other lawmakers then proposed that the “the protection of forest ecosystem, as well as rehabilitation through reforestation and afforestation of the degraded forest ecosystem, shall be given priority to mitigate climate change, improve and conserve biodiversity, enhance ecosystem functions and services and provide long-term economic benefits.”

The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) reported that House Bill No. 9088 was approved by the House of Representatives and transmitted to the Senate.

The proposal was stalled in the Senate committee on environment and natural resources chaired by Senator Cynthia Villar committee, but it has been reintroduced in the 18th Congress along with two other bills focused on protecting natural resources and promoting sustainable development.

“Congress should revisit this. It is evident that these calamities are largely attributed to the denudation of the forests considering also that the magnitude of the problems is not only in Caraga but also in other areas,” Fortun said.

Watershed protection

Fortun said the CLUP stresses the need to enhance protection for the Taguibo Watershed Forest Reserve, vital for the Butuan’s drinking water. 

He noted that less than a quarter of the watershed area retains forest cover, totaling less than a thousand hectares.

“If the forest denudation continues, within 20 years, we might lose our water supply. That’s why we updated our code and will implement the ordinance aggressively this year because the situation is very alarming,” Fortun said.

On November 23, the Revised Watershed Code was approved through a city ordinance that aims to “strengthen the enforcement of protection, conservation, rehabilitation, and management of the watershed within the jurisdiction of the city.”

“This reforestation project is extensive, and there is still much work to be done. We will hire a consultant to assist us. We have already sought help from UP-Los Baños (University of the Philippines),” he said.

Jeffrey Carin, the executive director of the Father Saturnino Urios University Foundation Incorporated, said his group, the Save Taguibo Watershed, has planted trees on 30 hectares of the watershed area since 2015.

Carin, also a member of the technical working group on Butuan’s watershed code, said they are currently planting on another 30 hectares and intend to submit a proposal to the city government for 30 hectares more.

“This initiative focuses on long-term sustainability. We have planted indigenous trees to maintain the watershed area, ensuring forest cover for the future. Additionally, we have planted fruit-bearing trees to provide livelihood opportunities for the local community,” Carin said. – Rappler.com

Ivy Marie Mangadlao is a community journalist writing for Mindanews and an Aries Rufo Journalism fellow for 2023-2024.

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