Current forest extent and distribution: Map 1 shows to a large extent how much forest remains on Polillo and its distribution. Historically the Polillo Islands were almost entirely forested. However today it is estimated that less than 16% of the Polillo islands are covered by forest, and of this only 3 patches of primary forest remain. In some areas forest and coconuts form a complex interlinked matrix, which cannot be delineated further at this scale, consequently forest cover on map 1 is an overestimate, confounded by the level of accuracy capable using a 3D participatory mapping technique. Ground-truthing was used to determine accuracy levels. Forested regions marked on the map vary in quality, partly due to the extent of logging and partly due to the underlying geology and landscape.

Protected status of forested areas: The only form of protection for lowland forest in the Polillo Islands is as watershed reserves:

  • Sibulan watershed, a 200 hectare reserve of old growth primary lowland dipterocarp forest provides water for Polillo Town and was conserved by the foresight and strong conviction of a previous Polillo Municipality Mayor in 1966 (Proclamation, Proc. 72 Aug 9th, 1966), despite repeated attempts by logging companies to clear the land. Both the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Polillo Municipal office employ a forest guard, however due to recent financial constraints the municipality forest guard position has been renounced. This latter position is crucial and will likely be reinstated in the near future. All logging and hunting is strictly forbidden within the Reserve.
  • In Burdeos Municipality a region of forest is designated a watershed but there is currently no formal protection and it does not provide water for the municipality despite its potential value. Re-establishment of the waterpipe should be a priority.
  • Barangay members of Aluyon in the Burdeos Municipality have designated a forested valley community forest status where felling trees is prohibited. Insufficient funds have as yet prevented the installation of a water pipe.
  • A watershed reserve (PAWB 1993) exists close to Barangay Bato in Panukulan Municipality but there is no formal protection for this site.
  • In Patnanungan local residents described the presence of a watershed, but its boundaries were not apparent, and there is no formal protection.
  • In addition the beach forest of Minasawa was declared a Game Refuge and Bird Sanctuary by administrative order PWAO No 7 (Sept 15, 1964, 4 Ha).

All other forested areas are unprotected.

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The north of Polillo is more subject to illegal logging, kaingin (slash and burn agriculture) and hunting, than in the south where local carabao logging is degrading forest patches more slowly. In Polillo municipality, a bylaw prohibiting kaingin although largely successful has not entirely eliminated the practice. Bantay-Kalikasan (environment guards) employed by the Polillo municipal office, are authorized to report all illegal logging. However the forest guards, the Ecology warden and his assistants all lack the direct authority necessary to make arrests. Financial limitations coupled with inaccessibility frequently prevent implementation of legislation

 

Forest use - past and present: With few exceptions all forests in the Polillo islands during the concessions of the 1950s-80s were very heavily logged by commercial companies, and have been under continual logging pressure since. The forests of Polillo yielded excellent quality timber exported worldwide. At least 3 ships each month were reported to depart from Polillo town carrying wood for furniture as far as Europe. Universal Timber Company had the largest sawmill and its markets extended to Italy. Japan was also a major destination for Polillo's timber products. Today, the remaining logged forests have little economic value and are relatively accessible due to previous logging roads.

Logging operations started in the south of Polillo and progressed northwards, leaving the Anibawan region in the early 1980s; the last logging camp was situated near the junction of the Maputi River. Logging roads followed ridges; hence the more accessible hilltops were typically logged, whereas in some areas forested valleys were neglected. In the south of Polillo rapid conversion of land to coconut plantations after commercial clearance rendered remaining forest highly fragmented with few forested areas for people to use for basic needs such as houses, and fuel. In contrast, forest in the north of Polillo, although heavily logged, is less isolated because considerable expanses were not converted to grow coconuts.

Most land in the Polillo Islands is individually owned, claimed, or to a lesser extent government posessed. Landowners tend to chose to use their forests when necessary although are sometimes subject to trespassing illegal loggers. However the moratorium ridge across the north of Polillo is common land with free access for all. Inevitably illegal logging is particularly prevalent and is a principal occupation for men in surrounding areas. There are no sawmills on Polillo, and inaccessibility frequently restricts timber extraction to small-scale carabao logging for local use. Where old logging roads or large rivers exist timber is transported to major sawmills in Quezon or Infanta e.g. timber from the north of Polillo is carried down the Anibawan River and its tributaries, a trade route less tightly controlled than others such as Polillo town which has strong legislation and where implementation is more feasible. Similarly since bylaws against hunting were passed in Polillo municipality, key traders have moved to other regions where their actions are less visible.

Recent crashes in copra prices due to the advent of cheaper synthetic alternatives and regular typhoons have forced residents to expand their coconut plantations, encroaching into forest. DENR discourages land conversion but due to its varied programmes little effort is focused on forest protection. Wood from privately owned forests, cut with permission from DENR for personal use, is often sold locally or transported to other places. When no legal papers exist authorizing landownership, inhabitants sell forest at lower prices.

Reforestation initiatives have as yet been unsuccessful in terms of a contribution to forest conservation. A reforestation effort that planted nonnative species, acacia and mahogany, adjacent to Sibulan watershed was not sustained and animals were reported to have damaged seedlings. Similarly reforestation near Abuyuin only uses Mahogany, whereas native timber trees that grow well under local conditions would also be a more useful wildlife habitat. A nursery in Bigyan established by the Department of agriculture grows fruiting trees and vegetables. Between the municipalities of Burdeos and Polillo a reforestation program was initiated, planting Nara (native) and Mahogany (nonnative) but was limited by financial setbacks. The root problem identified by municipal councilors is financial, attributed to the islands burdened economy. The time perspective therefore is short term, not generations ahead necessary for achievable rewards from sustainable forestry.

Table 2 lists how many species are used by local people and includes where possible their monetary value. The current price of good timber on Polillo is approximately 12 pesos per board foot although Narra fetches up to 30 pesos per board foot (1 board ft measures 12ft x 1ft x 1inches). In the north of Polillo in 1991 large timber trees typically harvested 300 to 500 board feet, some even exceeding 1000. At this time a single logger would extract approximately 10 trees per week. However today logging is not selective; operators remove around 30 trees per week regardless of the species with trees only averaging 100 board feet each. A chainsaw operator typically earns 2 pesos per board foot, a figure that accounts for the machinery hire. (June 2002 50 pesos = 1US$).

In the Polillo Islands forests protect important watersheds, reducing erosion and protecting the lower reaches of rivers from flooding. In some regions degradation of soil due to forest loss was evident after heavy rains and paths were transformed to streams and meandering rivers into dangerous torrents. Flash floods are suspected to increase if deforestation continues. Only Polillo municipality is served potable water from a forest watershed, Sibulan. However all the existing watersheds have great potential to provide potable water for every municipality given resources to develop such infrastructure.

Hunting and the Pet Trade Historically the Polillo Islands were actively used for hunting, and were renowned within the region. For example Patnanungan derived its name from visiting traders searching for the prized dried feet of the islands' wild pig and deer ('Pata'=hog and deer feet; 'Tanungan'=query). Today, particularly under the influence of the Polillo Ecology Warden, Vicente Yngente, many attitudes have changed and in Polillo municipality legislation against hunting has been passed. Nevertheless, hunting, albeit reduced, is still prevalent across the islands, supporting local and more distant demands for pets and providing bush-meat.

Animals most commonly hunted include:

  • Various birds: the Luzon Bleeding Heart (Gallicolumba luzonica), the Green-winged Emerald Dove (Chalcopops indica), the Green Imperial Pigeon (Ducula aenea) and the Philippine Hanging Parrot (Loriculus philippensis) -the latter is a particularly popular pet on the island.
  • The Philippine Wild Pig (Sus philippensis), the Philippine brown deer (Cervus mariannus), the Long-tailed macaque (Macaca fasicularis) the Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) all usually caught for bush meat, although monkeys are also popular pets.
  • Wild chicken
  • The water monitor, Varanus salvator marmoratus and Gray's monitor lizard, Varanus olivaceus (popular as pulutan, an accompaniment to drinking).

Hunting of flying foxes (Pteropus and Acerodon sp.) known to have occurred in the past, was not encountered during this visit. Crocodiles were once hunted regularly on Jomalig and Patnanungan, and their skin sold for a high price in Manila. However specialised equipment is necessary and only a few skilled people occasionally capture specific crocodiles normally on request from landowners (See crocodile report). On Jomalig ducklings are also frequently collected as pets, which could threaten the population of endangered Philippine duck.

Ground noose traps are commonly used to catch doves, monitor lizards and occasionally monkeys, deer, pigs and civet cats. Cavity nesting birds such as tarictic hornbills and parrots are typically taken from the nest, although other innovative traps are used to catch birds whilst perching. More sophisticated methods are sometimes employed for large mammals such as baited traps, stick traps for civet cats, monkey traps and lethal tripwires that release bullets for catching pigs. Dogs are often used to help hunters catch monitor lizards.

An example of a trap used to catch perching birds

A ground set noose trap and a tree set noose trap

On Polillo Island hunting is less frequent in the South than in the middle (eg Anibawan valley, Burdeos, Aluyon) and northern (e.g. Balete Sapa, Abaca, Salapukan, Moratorium, Anibawan) regions, where wild pigs are regularly caught although hunters are occasionally found in Sibulan watershed. This probably reflects the extent of remaining forest and the alternative options for earning a living. Between 2001 and 2002, three captive sea eagles were seen on Patnanungan, and two juvenile tarictics caught before fledging were being kept as pets near Mount Malulod, however very few tarictics are hunted today (despite previously being known to make very good soup). The warden has recently confiscated a nestling nutmeg imperial pigeon caught in Minasawa Game Reserve (May 2002), a young palm civet (May 2002) and a young pig near Kalubakis (November 2001).

Trade around Polillo town is relatively transparent. The more remote coastal stretches especially in the north, offer more concealed trade routes and captive birds to be sold as pets, are more evident. A middleman trader brings birds caught from Polillo to Manila, where prices increase extortionately. Sales of most birds on Polillo typically only fetch 50 pesos each. However in 2002 a resident of Patnanungan reported that a sea eagle had recently been sold for 2,500 pesos. Although island residents describe declines of some animals, this mostly represents habitat loss.

Hunting levels most seriously threaten species caught for commercial rather than subsistence reasons, that are inherently susceptible such as rare cavity nesting birds, for example the critically endangered Philippine Cockatoo (see bird report), is most vulnerable due to: the tiny size of its remaining population; its low rate of reproduction; the small numbers of large trees remaining that are suitable for breeding and perhaps most crucially, its open vulnerability to poachers.

Recommendations:

1) Vigilance against the capture, transport and trade in endangered wild animals,

2) Municipal legislation against trade of endangered species and an explanatory information campaign about the status of wildlife in the Philippines and the need for such laws.

Conservation value of forest: All forests even if logged play a vital role in maintaining the environment. Forests:

  • provide potable water
  • protect land from erosion, frequent bagios and risk of flash floods
  • influence the health of mangrove and coral reef systems, which are fundamental nursery and breeding grounds for fish
  • produce natural resources, such as timber, bamboo, rattan, fruits and medicinal plants which are found only within forests.

Many important tree species unique to Polillo or very restricted in range were found during the recent surveys including Dipterocarpus orbicularis (a type of Apitong hagaghak), Vatica pachyphylla (Yakal Blanco), Anisoptera aurea (Palosapis), Kibatalia gitingensis (Laniti), Teijsmanniodendron ahernianum (Tapat-tapat), Palaquium elliptilimbum (Dulitan Pasak) and Diospyros discolor (Kamagung). Apitong, Yakal Blanco and Palosapis are particularly threatened by logging. Of all forest sites, Sibulan watershed, the largest of the few remaining areas of old growth primary forest, was found to be of the highest quality, containing the greatest number of tree species particularly the shade tolerant species characteristic of forest that has never been logged and of great importance for conservation. Burdeos and Aluyon watersheds and surrounding forest to Abaca were rated second to Sibulan, underlying limesone geology influenced the floristics of certain sites. Other more fragmented sites subjected to some logging activities still contained good quality forest particularly those closest to Sibulan watershed and in the Mount Malulod region.

Forest Management: It is possible to promote regeneration in heavily logged forests by enrichment planting with seedlings of the native timber tree species. Many of these species do not disperse their seeds far, and so may not otherwise regenerate in logged areas. Mahogany and giant ipil are not native species, and should not be planted. The most suitable species to plant are natives such as narra, apitong, red and white lauan, yakal, bagtikan, palosapis and yakal blanco. These need to be protected as seedlings till they reach a size where they can survive independently (without being destroyed by animals). An endemic tree nursery could eventually be used to repopulate and restore disturbed areas, and would serve as an effective environmental education resource.

With sensible management logged forests on Polillo might provide long-term sustainable production of timber and maintained forest cover. Currently trees are cut when they are still small, causing two problems:

1. The amount of timber obtained per tree is low. If trees are left for a few more years they will grow to a much greater size, and yields will be considerably larger.

2. Regeneration of timber trees is poor. Trees are cut before they reach reproductive age. If this continues for many more years timber species (e.g. Yakal) will gradually be lost from the forests, and replaced by species of little value (such as Antipolo and Takip-asin).

Sensible forest management would leave heavily logged forests undisturbed for many years, to allow the trees to grow to a large size. Then, most trees larger than 45 cm diameter can be cut, although at least 20% of these large trees should be left to encourage regeneration, and all species under this size left to continue growth.

The lack of personnel and resources for forest protection, combined with the need of local people to earn money from land, makes enforcement of legislation impractical in all but extreme cases. Many loggers are aware of the eventual impact of their activities, but have no alternative sources of income. Community forest schemes appear to work by making it socially unacceptable to destroy forest that is communally owned. Such ventures need to be supported financially to allow communities to develop the areas (e.g. by installation of water pipes to supply towns and villages). Privately owned forest can rarely be protected by vigilance alone. A highly effective way of deterring illegal loggers from working in such forest would be to "spike" a proportion of the vulnerable trees with metal or ceramic pins that create an unacceptable risk of damage to the (usually hired) chainsaws. Even if treated trees are felled the timber has little value because it cannot be cut by a mechanical saw without the risk of considerable damage to the equipment. A number of landowners in the south of Polillo have expressed interest in this scheme, which we hope to initiate in 2003.

 

 

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