Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Biodiversity and Watersheds Improved for Stronger Economy and Ecosystem Resilience (B+WISER) Program, provides the tools to properly plan for and implement forest protection. One of them is the forest conservation area plan that identifies forest conservation areas, targets, and measurable goals before defining any intervention, such as patrolling, monitoring, or response to any forest threat.To effectively conserve the nearly seven million hectares of forest remaining in the country, forest protection planning is the first crucial step. The LAWIN Forest and Biodiversity Protection System, which was jointly developed by the
It is similar to preparing for a hike to the peak of Mt. Apo. Even before taking the trip to Davao, one needs to assess one’s physical condition and address short-comings with a targeted training schedule to conquer the Philippines’ highest peak with a smile and without injuries. And like with every long walk, forest protection starts with the first step.
When developing forest conservation area plans, the first step is to precisely locate and define the natural forest so that protection activities can target the correct area. In many cases, the location and extent of the natural forest are different from that of a protected area delineation or another boundary such as ancestral domain or community-based forest management areas.
Once the extent of the natural forest has been defined, the second step is to describe the forest’s current condition. This includes forest composition, closed or opened canopy conditions, and distinct areas of degradation among others.
There are many reasons to protect the natural forest, such as the ecosystem services the forest provides for humans and wildlife. For planning purposes however, it is important to define specific conservation objectives. LAWIN’s forest conservation area plans therefore define location-specific objectives. For example, a conservation objective could be to protect the natural forest in a specific community to ensure continued water supply to irrigate rice paddies in a downstream barangay.
Targets provide the measure of success to achieve the objective. Forest conservation targets need to be specific, measureable, realistic, time-bound, and directly linked to the conservation objectives. For example, a target can be to reduce the rate of deforestation by a certain percentage to achieve the conservation objective.
In the fifth step, the desired future forest condition describes what the forest should look like if the LAWIN system were to be implemented as planned and the conservation targets and objectives were achieved. This will allow forest managers to identify and implement purpose-driven LAWIN interventions in the natural forest and help evaluate their efforts. A desired future forest condition could state that in at least 50% of the total area, the forest has closed canopy, is multi-layered, and the predominant species consist of Dipterocarps in closed portions and pioneer species in open canopy areas.
Only when the conservation objectives, targets, and the desired future forest condition are defined, can the final step to identify interventions be taken. Interventions need to close the gap between the forest’s current condition and its desired future condition. Basically, what will it take to get from A to B? Regular LAWIN patrols help measure the effectiveness of the interventions to reduce threats over time. If the LAWIN patrols determine that the forest suffers degradation from slash and burn farming, this threat needs to be addressed in order to protect the forest. Appropriate interventions could be timely environmental law enforcement to address violations, provision of alternative livelihood options, or technical support to farmers involved in unsustainable practices to change them into sustainable ones.
It is a long way to effective natural forest protection. With forest conservation area planning tool in hand, this path will become a manageable journey, one step at a time. With the roll-out of the LAWIN Forest and Biodiversity Protection System completed in all regions, more than 2,000 DENR personnel already went on purpose-driven patrol hikes in their respective natural forests thanks to properly defined plans. #