Philippines Project Breaks Record for Most Trees Planted at Once

February 28, 2011- Nick Engelfried

On Wednesday a group of nearly 7,000 people in the province of Camarines Sur in the Philippines broke the world record for tree planting.  The giant work party planted over 64,000 trees in fifteen minutes, as part of a province-wide project designed to increase tree cover in the Philippines.  Participants in the Camarines Sur tree planting now hold the official Guinness World Record for “most trees planted simultaneously.”  The previous world record was set in India last year, where slightly over 50,000 trees were planted at once.

The tree planting in Camarines Sur took place on land owned by the government, which had previously been stripped of its forest cover.  Conservationists hope that as the tree saplings grow they will reduce erosion and improve the health of the local ecosystem.  However breaking the world record for tree planting is just the first step in an ambitious initiative the provincial government of Camarines Sur is launching to restore endangered forests.  The El Verde Project, also known as “12 Million Trees by 2012” aims to add twelve million trees to the province’s forest cover by the beginning of next year, with an emphasis on planting native species. 

According to the El Verde web site, the project’s vision statement is “For Camarines Sur to be the greenest and most environmentally friendly province in Asia.”  By planting trees the provincial government hopes to conserve biodiversity, reduce climate change, enhance agriculture by preventing erosion, and improve quality of life for millions of people.  Besides planting new trees the project also focuses on conserving areas of tropical rainforest still standing in the province. 

According to the web site, participants in the El Verde Project are “working together in order to ensure that forests and their wildlife will survive for our children to appreciate, enjoy and live.”  To make the El Verde Project a success, the provincial government is partnering with local government entities, schools, and non-government organizations. 

The tropical forests of the Philippines archipelago are among the most endangered in the world, and are home to dozens of species found nowhere else.  Among these is the “flying lemur”—a mammal with few close relatives alive today, that uses flaps of skin between its legs to glide from treetop to treetop and that can spend its whole life without setting foot on the ground.  Other species unique to this tropical island country include the monkey-hunting Philippine eagle, the tiny Philippine mouse deer, and the smallest freshwater fish species on the planet. 

When Spanish colonists first arrived in the Philippines during the 1500s, indigenous inhabitants of the islands had left the natural forest cover mostly intact.  During the next five hundred years a combination of factors, including population growth combined with industrial logging and commercial exploitation of the forests, led to much of the original old growth ecosystem being eliminated.  Today less than ten percent of the original forest cover remains, making the country’s forests among the most endangered in the world.

Years of deforestation have pushed many Philippine species to the brink of extinction, but now the national and provincial governments are mounting efforts to save the country’s natural ecosystems.  The El Verde Project is one such initiative, which just might provide endangered species with the habitat they need to recover.  In an indication of how seriously some government officials take reforestation efforts, Wednesday’s record-setting tree planting was attended by both the governor of Caramines Sur and the president of the Philippines

Wednesday’s tree planting marked the kick-off of the El Verde Project, with the breaking of a world record adding excitement to the event.  Much work still remains to be done for Caramines Sur to achieve its goal of planting twelve million trees this year.  If the goal can be reached, it may spell a new and brighter chapter in the story of the Philippines’ endangered forests.

Photo credit: Trees for the Future

Deforestation Rates Slowing in Many Tropical Countries

By: Nick Engelfried 

October 11, 2010

In a piece of welcome good news for environmentalists, deforestation rates in at least some tropical countries slowed significantly over the last ten years—and especially in the years since 2005.  According to a survey of 121 tropical nations conducted by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, total annual deforestation rates dropped from 11.33 million hectares in the last decade of the twentieth century, to 9.34 hectares in the years between 2000 and 2010. 

Much of the decline can be attributed to slower deforestation rates in Brazil, which contains more tropical rainforest than any other country in the world.  Though Brazil continued to experience very high deforestation rates through 2004, yearly forest loss has decreased more-or-less steadily since that time.  According to at least some estimates, deforestation in Brazil in dropped 47% between 2009 and 2010 alone. 

Other countries besides Brazil where deforestation slowed in the last five years include Nicaragua, Mexico, Cameroon, Laos, and Cambodia.  Comparatively speaking, Mexico has experienced one of the most encouraging trends of any country surveyed, with deforestation dropping 37% over the last five years as compared with the first five years of the new century.

Yet despite a drop in tropical deforestation worldwide, loss of forests is still accelerating in some countries.  Yearly deforestation rates climbed 107% in Indonesia during the last five years, and increased by 94% in Peru over the same time period.  Other tropical nations where deforestation rates are rising include Madagascar, Mali, and Guatemala.  The factors influencing these trends vary from country to country, but can often be traced back to exploitation of rainforests for materials sold on the international market.  In Indonesia for example, rainforests are being felled for timber and palm oil plantations, feeding a demand that originates largely in the industrialized world.  In Peru, illegal logging and oil and gas development are both major causes of forest loss. 

In many of the countries where deforestation is declining, national policies that protect forests deserve at least some of the credit.  For example in Brazil, government initiatives designed to remove incentives to burn or clear forests on private lands have contributed to slower rates of forest loss.  In addition public pressure in industrialized countries has resulted in many major international companies adopting new policies to ensure they are not contributing to deforestation. 

Another part of the decline in deforestation may be due to the economic recession, raising questions about what will happen to the world’s forests as the economy picks back up.  When consumers in countries like the United States are hit by economic hard times, demand goes down for products like beef that add to deforestation in Brazil and other countries.  If the demand for beef goes back up, cattle ranchers in the tropics will have an incentive to produce more beef by clearing more forested lands. 

The next few years will likely show whether the worldwide slowdown in deforestation rates is a lasting phenomenon, or simply a temporary side effect of the recession.  But for now tropical forests in many countries have been granted at last a momentary reprieve, showing that conservation policies and changes in international market pressures can indeed make an impact on the fate of these ecosystems.  For the moment, those concerned about the future of tropical rainforests have a reason to celebrate.  

Photo credit: Nick Engelfried