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More Than 20,000 People Ask Philippine Mayor To Stop Tree Cutting – OpEd

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Residents and non-residents alike of the Philippine City of Baguio, numbering more than twenty thousand, are petitioning the City Mayor Benjamin Magalong to stop immediately the cutting of some 53 fully grown Benguet pine trees in this city. This comes as continuous cutting of pine trees show no abatement in the city dubbed as the City of Pines, because of pine trees.

Baguio City, measuring sixty seven square kilometers, is known as the Summer Capital of the Philippines because of it’s cool climate brought about by the pine trees.

Today however, the city experiencing warm climate due to the disapperance of thousands of pine trees since 1950 caused by deforestation as commercial buildings and residential houses are taking over one’s forests stands. The cutting of fifty three pine trees is angering many people in Baguio who are demanding from their leaders to finally end the cutting of pine trees.

The petition reads:

“Please stop the intended cutting of fifty four trees at Outlook Drive. The trees supply oxygen needs of at least two hundred sixteen people, sequester more than 10 tons of carbon dioxide, help reduce global warming, recharge brooks and springs, help  prevent water run-off and act a buffer zone against strong typhoons and winds. The importance of the trees is priceless.

We are appealing to you because we know you also recognize the importance of trees in our beloved city and also because the company has already acquired a tree-cutting permit from DENR.

We hope you will act on this.”

Last year, a similar petition was sent to Pres. Rodrigo Duterte signed by more than twenty five thousand people requesting the President to stop the issuance of tree-cutting permits in the City of Baguio by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

This time around, the fifty three trees that will be cut will give way to the establishment of Vista Residences, allegdly owned by the powerful Villar family, one of which sits as a Philippine Senator.

Nine years ago, residents were also up in arms due to the cutting of one hundred eighty two trees by a giant supermart in the city.

Trees are important sources of oxygen, water, sequesters for dangerous greenhouses gases, prevent landslides and erosion, act as buffer against typhoons and trough winds, stops Urban Island Effect Phenomenon and recharge brooks and springs for water supply.

So What Do the Pine Trees Do?

On the surface, what most people see is the economic side of pine trees — lumber for housing, furniture and buildings. Very few are aware of the ecological, social, medical and cultural contributions of pine trees.

As food, pine trees seem unimportant to humans except for birds, insects and a few animals. While some pine tree species’ have seeds big enough to eat, Pinus kesiya’s seeds are, although edible, too small to really satisfy human hunger. Only the Lebanese pine, Korean and Pinon pine have seeds big enough to be harvested for food.

But the trees are more important for something else. There are four direct and uncontested facts that the pine trees do for the Philippine environment. First, the trees help directly contribute to oxygen supply to the environment for humans to breathe, directly affecting local and regional air quality by altering the urban atmospheric environment.

Humans breathe only oxygen which comprises 21 percent of our atmosphere. But oxygen in many parts of the world is being depleted due to pollution wherein dangerous methane, sulphur and nitrous oxides and CO2 and smog are increasing in the air. Trees supply about 70 percent of our oxygen supply.

Second, they provide water, absorbing as much as 150 liters per mature tree each year which they release slowly to recharge brooks, springs, rivers and ponds. Three of the nation’s biggest mega-dams, San Roque, Ambuklao and Binga generating a combined 1,200 megawatts of hydroelectric power—get their water from pine forests of Benguet and Mountain Province.

Third, the pine trees prevent soil erosion and landslides in the region, serving as the main soil cover thereby protecting soil loss. The Cordillera region looses some 100,000 tons of topsoil every year, without the pine trees soil loss would be worse affecting adversely agriculture, settlements, properties and lives.

Fourth, pine trees lower temperature. When Baguio had more pine trees, the city was cooler; it deserved to be called the “City of Pines”.

Today, the city is not only warm, congested and dirty but also dubbed by the World Bank as having one of the cities in the world with the “dirtiest air” as thousands of trees were allowed by the city government to be cut to give way to commercial and residential buildings, roads, tourism and hotels.

Oxygen Supply and CO2 Absorption

One mature pine tree, ten years and above, releases 45 lbs of oxygen a year. At least four trees can supply the oxygen requirement of one human each year.

As pine trees release oxygen, they absorb CO2, a dangerous greenhouse gas. Each mature pine tree absorbs 45 lbs of CO2, following physics’ Boyle’s law of “what element is lost is equally replaced by another element”.

The oxygen released by the millions of pine trees affect air by reducing temperature, remove smog and air pollutants, CO2, methane, sulphur and nitrous oxides thereby regulating microclimatic effects like cooling.

Pine Trees Lower Temperature

Clumps of pine trees and all trees for that matter reduce mid-day temperature from a minimum of 0.2 degrees C to 1.3 degrees C some 1.5 meters to 2.4 meters above ground.

Below individual and small fragments of pine trees over grass, mid-day air temperatures can be reduced to as low as 0.7C to 1.3C degrees cooler than in any open area.

When pine trees respire, they emit oxygen which do not only reduce air temperature, but also absorb radiation and store heat. They also reduce relative humidity, turbulence, and surface albedo of concrete. These changes in local meteorology alter pollution concentrations in urban areas.

Removal of Air Pollutants

Even though pine trees leaves are needle-type, they function as normally as a broadleaf. The needles through their stomata, remove deadly gaseous air pollution primarily by uptake.

Once inside the leaf, gases diffuse into intercellular spaces and may be absorbed by water films to form acids or react with inner-leaf surfaces. The trees also remove pollution by intercepting airborne particles. Most particles like CO2 are absorbed into the tree, and eventually stored in the soil by the roots.

Some particles that are intercepted are retained on the plant surface. These are resuspended to the atmosphere, washed off by rain, or dropped to the ground with leaf and twig falls. Consequently, vegetation is only a temporary retention site for many atmospheric particles.

Reducing Urban Island Phenomenon and Temperature on Buildings

Urban Island phenomenon is the heat transferred from cities via highway and roads to outlying communities. Pine tree reduce this, as well as lessen building energy use by lowering temperatures and shading buildings during the summer, and blocking winds during rainy season. When building energy use is lowered, pollutant emissions from power plants are also lowered.

The cumulative and interactive effects of trees on meteorology, pollution removal, and power plant emissions determine the overall impact of trees on air pollution.

Energy and Medical Relevance

Pine trees are the most popular among all conifers in the world, the most widespread, most varied and most valuable trees of their order. The biggest family of conifers goes by their name, the Pinaceae.

Pine trees are called pine trees basically because the contains the rare and highly expensive Alpha e-pinene chemical content that the tree treasures. E-pinene  contains an important hydro-carbon alkane, the chemical used for lighting and cooking in high altitudes and also ingredient for pharmaceuticals and chemical necessities.

The chemical is contained in the resin of the pine tree which explains why pine wood is highly flammable. The indigenous Cordillera tribes make use of resin-rich pine wood as flint or for starting fires called locally “saleng”.

Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan

Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan

Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan wrote for the British Panos News and Features and GEMINI News Service, the Brunei Times, and US Environment News Service. In the Philippines, he wrote for DEPTHNews of the Press Foundation of Asia, Today, the Philippine Post, and Vera Files. A practicing environmentalist, he holds postgraduate degrees in environment resource management and development studies as a European Union (EU) Fellow at University College, Dublin, Ireland. He is currently a Fellow of Echoing Green Foundation of New York City. He now writes for Business Mirror and Eurasia Review.

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