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.
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|
Next big idea in forest conservation? Empower youth leaders
||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
Want to save forests? Don't forget the youth, says Pedro Walpole, the Chair and Director of Research for the Environmental Science for Social Change, a Jesuit environmental research organization promoting sustainability and social justice across the Asia Pacific region. 'Youth leadership in environmental management is key,' Walpole told mongabay.com.
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