LEGAZPI CITY, Dec. 14 (PNA) -- Measures that would keep Bicol ready to face the challenges of climate change are now in place, according to the regional office here of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
The first four years of President Benigno Aquino III in power saw the DENR instituting sustainable precautionary measures that are now in place through comprehensive programs implemented to fortify the region’s line of defense and facilitate its preparedness against the negative impacts of the climate change phenomenon.
One of the most important components of these programs is the massive restoration of local watersheds and forest lands, including mangrove areas to serve as the first line of defense against typhoons, floods, sea surgesand landslides during the wet season and drought taking place during the dry season.
Bicol has a total of 543,000 hectares of forest land, out of which only 155,689 hectares had remained forested as of 2011.
Of these forested areas, 86,931 hectares are in the province of Camarines Norte and 68,758 hectares in Catanduanes province.
Camarines Norte plays host to the Bicol National Park (BNP), a government-protected area which is considered as one of the region’s remaining natural forests once confronted with rapid deterioration, even as it is a natural heritage site for its endemic tree and wildlife species, pristine rivers and other ecological wonders.
BNP covers 5,700 hectares of forest and considering that only 15 percent remains of the old growth, meaning only 760 hectares of its original grandeur had been left as of 2011 due to past illegal forest activities, its dwindled vegetation could have endangered the watersheds that also supply water to some 40,000 hectares of rice fields in the province.
These wrongdoings have already been checked; reforestation efforts are showing good results and the area is now regaining life towards its old vibrant form, according to DENR Regional Executive Director Gilbert Gonzales.
In Catanduanes, the region’s island-province most vulnerable to typhoons -- being the first landmass to be kissed by the waves of the Pacific Ocean, protection of the substantial forests, which stand still as the largest remaining forest block in the whole of Bicol, has been heightened, he said.
These forests include the Catanduanes Watershed Forest Reserve covering 26,010 hectares, which is now being evaluated to become a natural park with an expanded protected area of 49,000 hectares.
The density of forest cover in Albay has also been increased to almost double owing to relentless reforestation activities and vigorous environmental advocacies over the past four years.
The growth is measured by the DENR based on satellite imagery which indicates that the province’s forest cover increased by 86 percent between 2010 and 2014 resulting from robust environmental advocacies and activities despite the massive destruction inflicted by typhoons especially "Reming" and "Milenyo" that hit the province successively in the last part of 2006.
Albay has a total land area of 256,677 hectares, of which around 80,000 hectares covering key mountains and protected areas like the Mayon Volcano Natural Park (MVNP), Mt. Pocdol, Mt. Malinao, Mt. Masaraga and Mt. Manaet are considered forest land.
Gonzales said, Albay’s forest cover was measured at only 26, 298.71 hectares or 10.25 percent of the province’s entire land area in 2007.
Over the next seven years or until this year, it grew to 44,891.16 hectares or 17.49 percent to post an increase of 18,792 hectares or an expansion of 41.42 percent over the total for a growth rate of 5.92 percent or 2,656.06 hectares per year.
“This is a very remarkable achievement for Albay, a province where about 73 percent of total land area is vulnerable to landslide and soil erosion due to its mountainous terrain,” Gonzales noted.
The DENR’s anti-climate change comprehensive programs on forest and watershed revitalization also cover Mt. Isarog Natural Park and Mt. Asog, both in Camarines Sur, as well as Bulusan Volcano Natural Park in Sorsogon, which are all part of the 25 protected areas in the region covering about 59,000 hectares of terrestrial, wetlands and marine or coastal ecosystems.
The National Greening Program (NGP), one of Pres. Aquino’s flagship environmental programs, generated the biggest impacts on these forest restoration achievements wherein nearly 15 million new trees, including mangrove propagules, have been put in place over the past three years largely through voluntary public participation.
NGP is a nationwide re-greening campaign launched by Pres. Aquino through his Executive Order No. 26 issued in February 2011 that intends to percolate the country’s green renaissance towards a more focused and unified interventions to achieve sustainable rural development.
The total log ban policy of the present national administration is another big help, Gonzales said.
Another key component of the DENR comprehensive anti-climate change programs is geohazard mapping that has provided local government units (LGUs) with maps that enable them to pinpoint specific areas where to focus disaster preparedness and mitigation measures for zero casualty during natural calamity situations.
The maps, technically prepared by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the DENR, are now in the hands of Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction Management Councils (MDRRMCs), particularly in 83 of the region’s 107 municipalities classified as highly vulnerable areas.
These geohazard maps, whose preparation and distribution are under the government’s Ready Multi-hazard Mapping and Assessment for Effective Community-based Disaster Risk Management Project, are designed according to geographic and tectonic settings with emphasis on areas highly exposed to natural hazards, Gonzales added. (PNA) CTB/FGS/DOC/CBD/SSC