The once spectacular primary forests of the Philippines are now a relic of a bygone era. What little primary forest does remain exists on the island of Palawan, the last sanctuary for the Palawan eagle.
Between 1990 and 2005 the Philippines lost a third of its forest cover, according to FAO estimates, but the country's deforestation is down since its peak in the 1980s and 1990s.
Widespread logging was responsible for much of the historical forest loss in the Philippines. Despite government bans on timber harvesting following severe flooding in the late 1980s and early 1990s, illegal logging continues today.
After temporarily lifting the log export ban in the late 1990s, the government has increasingly tried to crack down on timber smuggling and forest degradation. Additional threats to Philippine forests come from legal and illegal mining operations — which also cause pollution and have been linked to violent conflict — agricultural fires, collection of fuelwood, and rural population expansion. In recent years, deforestation has been increasingly blamed for soil erosion, river siltation, flooding, and drought; environmental awareness is now rising in the country.
Environmentalists in the Philippines now fear that plantation agriculture, especially oil palm, could emerge as the newest threat to remaining forests.
The continuing disappearance of Filipino wildlands is of great to concern to ecologists due to the high levels of endemic species. Of the 1,196 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles in the country, nearly 46 percent are endemic. Among plants, the number is around 40 percent. Only about 5 percent of the Philippines land area is under some form of protection.
A closer look at the forests of the Philippines
Estimates of current forest cover in the Philippines are highly variable between sources. According to the national Forest Management Bureau, forest cover in the Philippines declined from 21 million hectares, or 70% of the its land area, in 1900 to about 6.5 million hectares by 2007. This data is very similar that to the U.N. FAO, which is usually based on government data. Both the government and the FAO show an increase in overall forest cover since 1990.
However satellite-based data from Sassan Saatchi of Caltech's Jet Propulsion Lab and colleagues, published in 2011
, estimated forest cover in the Philippines at 21 million hectares using a 10 percent forest cover threshold, 13 million ha using a 25 percent forest cover threshold, and 11 million hectares using a 30 percent tree cover threshold.
In contrast, data first published in 2013 by Matt Hansen and colleagues paints a much different picture, estimating 2012 forest cover at nearly 20 million hectares, using a 10 percent tree cover definition of forest. Hansen puts dense forests — areas with more than 50 percent tree cover — at 17.4 million hectares, or nearly three-fifths of the archipelago's land cover.
Hansen et al 2013
Hansen et al 2013
However annual loss data between the various sources is similar. FAO estimated that forest cover in the Philippines declined by an average of about 54,750 hectares per year between 1990 and 2010. Hansen puts the figure at about 51,400 ha per year between 2001 and 2012, increasingly slightly over the period. At 3.2 percent, MIMAROPA or the area formerly known as part of the Southern Tagalog Islands — including the provinces of Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan, had the highest rate of loss between 2000 and 2012, accounting for 42 percent of all forest loss in the Philippines during the period.
Hansen et al 2013
Philippines environmental news updates
|Total forest area||Dense forest area||Forest gain||Forest loss||Total land area|
|>10% tree cover (ha)||% total land cover||>50% tree cover (ha)||% total land cover||2001-2012 (ha)||% total forest cover||2001-2012 (ha)||% total forest cover||(ha)|
|Agusan del Norte||250875||86.1%||226179||77.6%||3903||1.6%||7242||2.9%||291360|
|Agusan del Sur||790820||92.4%||759500||88.7%||17280||2.2%||48442||6.1%||856309|
|Davao del Norte||267847||76.9%||226594||65.1%||4896||1.8%||8264||3.1%||348314|
|Davao del Sur||423007||70.0%||354343||58.7%||7155||1.7%||8882||2.1%||604087|
|Lanao del Norte||225190||79.5%||199083||70.3%||1176||0.5%||3943||1.8%||283331|
|Lanao del Sur||294877||83.9%||271254||77.2%||964||0.3%||6949||2.4%||351576|
|Surigao del Norte||167643||84.2%||151673||76.2%||1031||0.6%||2155||1.3%||199027|
|Surigao del Sur||396702||92.6%||380925||88.9%||7465||1.9%||18139||4.6%||428458|
|Zamboanga del Norte||484838||76.0%||419478||65.8%||13187||2.7%||26041||5.4%||637981|
|Zamboanga del Sur||344226||65.5%||281327||53.5%||7678||2.2%||11572||3.4%||525809|
Philippines targets 8M ha for palm oil production
||Philippines Forest Figures
Total forest area: 7,162,000 ha
% of land area: 24%
Primary forest cover: 829,000 ha
% of land area: 2.8%
% total forest area: 11.6%
Deforestation Rates, 2000-2005
Annual change in forest cover: -157,400 ha
Annual deforestation rate: -2.1%
Change in defor. rate since '90s: -20.2%
Total forest loss since 1990: -3,412,000 ha
Total forest loss since 1990:-32.3%
Primary or "Old-growth" forests
Annual loss of primary forests: n/a
Annual deforestation rate: n/a
Change in deforestation rate since '90s: n/a
Primary forest loss since 1990: n/a
Primary forest loss since 1990:0.0%
Social services: n/a
Multiple purpose: n/a
None or unknown: 2
Forest Area Breakdown
Total area: 7,162,000 ha
Primary: 829,000 ha
Modified natural: 5,713,000 ha
Production plantation: 304,000 ha
Production plantation: 316,000 ha
Plantations, 2005: 620,000 ha
% of total forest cover: 8.7%
Annual change rate (00-05): -46,400,000 ha
Above-ground biomass: 1,566 M t
Below-ground biomass: 376 M t
Area annually affected by
Fire: 6,000 ha
Diseases: 1,000 ha
Number of tree species in IUCN red list
Number of native tree species: 3,000
Critically endangered: 46
Wood removal 2005
Industrial roundwood: 403,000 m3 o.b.
Wood fuel: 138,000 m3 o.b.
Value of forest products, 2005
Industrial roundwood: $60,272,000
Wood fuel: $722,000
Non-wood forest products (NWFPs): n/a
Total Value: $60,994,000
More forest statistics for Philippines
The Philippines is proposing to convert 8 million hectares (20 million acres) of 'idle, denuded and unproductive lands' for oil palm plantations, reports the Philippine Daily Inquirer
Extreme cold and drought in U.S. linked to climate change
The U.S. Midwest and Northeast experienced one of the coldest, snowiest winters on record this past season. This might seem contrary to warming trends forecast by climate scientists, but a new analysis released today in Science
points out that climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions may actually have contributed to the well-below average temperatures seen in parts of the U.S.
Chinese poachers caught with 555 marine turtles, most dead (PHOTOS)
On Friday, eleven Chinese fishermen were caught by Filipino police with 555 marine turtles, 378 of which were dead. Officials in the Philippines have since released the 177 living turtles. But the incident has sparked an international standoff between the Philippines and China as the Chinese nationals were arrested in disputed waters in the South China Sea.
Weird and mysterious: scientists find new shark species
A long snout with teeth jutting from the sides? Check. Catfish-like barbels dangling from its chin? Got them. Gills on the side of its body? It has those, too. These are characteristics of a bizarre group of sharks known as sawsharks. And until recently, only seven species were recognized. However, a new discovery raises that number by one more.
The enemy of your enemy is your ant bodyguard: spider uses one predator for protection against another
The notion of spiders using ants as bodyguards seems a bit contradictory, but that is exactly what occurs on the tropical forest floors of the Philippines. The jumping spider strategically nests within the vicinity of the aggressive Asian weaver ant as a defense tactic against its main predator, the spitting spider.
The smoothtooth blacktip shark and four other species rediscovered in markets
) magazine recently ran an article on the rediscovery of the smoothtooth blacktip shark (Carcharhinus leiodon
) in a Kuwaiti fish market. Believed extinct for over 100 years, the smoothtooth had not been seen since the naturalist Wilhelm Hein returned from a trip to Yemen in 1902. With its reappearance, scientists scoured Kuwaiti markets and discovered an astounding 47 individual smoothtooth blacktips.
Microhabitats could buffer some rainforest animals against climate change
As temperatures increase worldwide due to anthropogenic climate change, scientists are scrambling to figure out if species will be able to survive rapidly warming ecosystems. A new study in Global Change Biology offers a little hope. Studying reptiles and amphibians in the Philippines, scientists say some of these species may be able to seek refuge in cooler microhabitats, such as tree holes or under the soil, in order to stay alive during intensifying heatwaves. But, the scientists' stress, the shelter from microhabitats can only protect so far.
Philippines' delegate calls out climate change deniers after Haiyan
Yesterday, the Filipino delegate to the ongoing climate summit, Naderev 'Yeb' Saño, dared climate change deniers to take a hard look at what's happening not just in the Philippines, but the whole world. Over the weekend, the Philippines was hit by what may have been the largest typhoon to ever make landfall—Typhoon Haiyan. Reports are still coming in days later, but the death toll may rise to over 10,000 with whole cities simply swept away.
Delegate for the Philippines vows to stop eating at climate summit
Following the devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan—which is arguably the strongest typhoon to ever make landfall—Filipino delegate, Naderev 'Yeb' Saño, has vowed to go on a fast at the UN Climate Summit that opened today in Warsaw, Poland. Saño made the vow during a powerful speech in which he said he would fast, 'until we stop this madness.'
Will Haiyan's impact in the Philippines be worsened by deforestation?
While it's too early to assess the impact of Super Typhoon Haiyan — reportedly the strongest tropical storm ever recorded to make landfall — in the Philippines, the damage could be exacerbated by the large-scale loss of the country's forests.
New species of beetle discovered in megacity
When imagining the discovery of a new species, most people conjure thoughts of intrepid explorers, battling the odds in remote rainforests. But this needn't be the case, at least according to a new study published in Zookeys
. The study reports the discovery of a new species of water beetle in the heart of the 10th largest megacity in the world: Manila, Philippines.
23rd new bird species of 2013 discovered
A ground-warbler from the Philippines is the twenty-third species of bird described in 2013.
Global warming may ‘flatten’ rainforests
Climate change may push canopy-dwelling plants and animals out of the tree-tops due to rising temperatures and drier conditions, argues a new study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B
. The development may be akin to 'flattening' the tiered vegetation structure that characterizes the rainforest ecosystem.
Scientists outline how to save nearly 70 percent of the world's plant species
In 2010 the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) pledged to set aside 17 percent of the world's land as protected areas in addition to protecting 60 percent of the world's plant species—through the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC)—by 2020. Now a new study in Science finds that the world can achieve both ambitious goals at the same time—if only we protect the right places. Looking at data on over 100,000 flower plants, scientists determined that protecting 17 percent of the world's land (focusing on priority plant areas) would conserve 67 percent of the world's plants.
U.S. signs $32M debt-for-nature swap to protect rainforests in the Philippines
The U.S. government will redirect $31.8 million in debt payments owed to the US Agency for International Development (USAID) by the Philippines to establish a conservation fund for endangered rainforests across the Asian archipelago, reports the AFP
Health effects of toxic waste sites in developing countries could rival malaria, air pollution, new study shows
Exposure to dangerous chemicals from toxic waste sites may be creating a public health crisis in developing countries comparable to that caused by malaria or even air pollution, a new study suggests, highlighting the urgent need to clean up toxic waste. In a study published on Saturday in Environmental Health Perspectives
, researchers calculated the number of 'healthy years of life lost' due to ill-health, disability or early death in individuals at risk of exposure to chemicals at 373 toxic waste sites in India, the Philippines and Indonesia.
Suggested reading - Books
CIA-World Factbook Profile