The 2019 Philippines Forestry Statistics recently released by the Forest Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is quite interesting when it comes to data pertaining to the province of Negros Occidental, particularly on forest cover. While others might be doubtful, as there are some concerns that should be taken into consideration, this is so far the latest official statistics from the DENR.
From 2006 to 2019, the land classification status of Negros Occidental has remained constant with a total land area of about 792,607 hectares. The land classification is a general description on particular uses of our lands, as provided for in the 1987 Philippine Constitution. It is a system of classifying our lands into alienable and disposable land, forestland, mineral land, and national park.
The 1987 Constitution used the national park classification since the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992, later amended by the Expanded NIPAS Act of 2018, was not enacted yet. While the national park may still be considered under the protected area category, there is a notion that Congress should enact a law that will place a protected area under the national park land classification of the Constitution.
In spite of that clear provision of the 1987 Constitution, the FMB’s forestry statistics are still persistent in using two main land classifications, which are alienable and disposable land and forestland. The FMB considers the national park, game refuge and bird sanctuary, wilderness area, and forest reserves as sub-classifications under the forestland, which should not be the case anymore as they are already among the categories of protected areas.
A large part of the Negros Occidental’s land area has been classified as alienable and disposable land estimated at 595,591 hectares, or about 75% of its total land area. The remaining 25%, roughly 197,016, has been classified as forestland. It should be noted that the province has already three declared protected areas that should be classified as national parks – the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park, Northern Negros Natural Park, and Sagay Marine Reserve, with the latter comprised mostly of coastal waters but there are smaller islands within its boundaries.
The FMB generally categorized forest cover into three – closed forest, open forest, and mangrove forest. In simple understanding, closed forest is a forest type where the canopy of trees is dense and almost covers the land, and the open forest is where trees are sporadic and their canopies do not basically cover the land.
The data presented in the 2019 forestry statistics on forest cover was still from 2015. It provides that almost 10 percent of the classified forestland in Negros Occidental is still closed forest, while 14 percent is open forest cover, and three percent mangroves. Putting figures on these percentages garner 18,681 hectares closed forest cover, 28,496 hectares open forest cover, and 5,497 mangroves out of the classified forestland of Negros Occidental.
The forest cover of Negros Occidental, based on the FMB’s latest statistics, is about 52,673 hectares, or 27 percent of the classified forestland. With this figure, the total forest cover of Negros Occidental is placed at seven percent out of its total land area. On the other hand, only 2.4 percent and 3.60 percent of closed forest and open forest, respectively, can be derived if you compare these figures to the total land area of the province.
What do these figures tell us? The bulk of the remaining forest cover of Negros Occidental is basically open forest, which means these are sites that may cover logged over areas, secondary growth forest, and forest patches. These areas need to be protected from forest fires and other anthropogenic disturbances so they may be able to naturally regenerate thereby increasing the limited closed forest cover of Negros Occidental.
Although I am in doubt that the closed forest cover is entirely natural forest, as it may include tree plantations, especially reforestation using exotic species, it is still important to increase its coverage through natural regeneration or assisted natural regeneration. We should also include more restoration projects for the purpose of restoring the forests as habitats to numerous endemic species that can be found in Negros Occidental.
The mangrove forest is seemingly increasing compared to the figures, let say in the past 10 to 20 years, and it would be interesting to see more mangrove plantations in suitable coastal areas. Some mangrove areas in the province have been converted into fishponds and some of these are either idling or the agreement has already lapsed. Based on the FMB’s latest statistics, there are still about 6,818 fishponds in Negros Occidental, which are still classified under the forestland.*