Tuesday, 12 March 2013

EDITORIAL: Tree planting in Larap: A massive enterprise

A PROPOSAL pitched by the Laking PIM Ako (LaPIMA) to develop as eco-park a portion of the abandoned mining camp in Larap, Jose Panganiban, CamNorte, is laudable.

It is one way of bringing life to the Mad Max-like desert which used to teem with people and machines during those boom years in Larap from the 50s to the 70s.

And should an eco-park rise there, the nearby community of Larap would greatly benefit in terms of revenues from the people – local and foreign visitors – who would come to see the place for what it has to offer to the nature lovers, according to LaPIMA, a group of residents in Larap during the years when the mine operated.

Larap was a former mining community that enjoyed prosperity during the heyday of mining carried out by the defunct Philippine Iron Mines (PIM). Now, it is the most depressed community among the 27 baranggays of Mambulao, where people survived on subsistence fishing and farming and other odd sources of income.

An eco-park is always synonymous with trees – lots of leafy, lush, tall, green trees – that are normally found in well-known tourism places such as Mt Makiling, the Corregidor Island, the La Mesa in Quezon City and the Jungle and Environmental Survival Test (Jest) in Subic, among others.

These are eco-parks that are drawing hundreds of visitor every year for their green scenery, cool breeze and nature still unspoiled and untainted by the wastes from modernization – pollution.

To grow trees in places like the abandoned mining camp in Larap where there has been no green life since almost three decades now is an exercise that raises a lot of questions and requires heaps of technical and scientific considerations.

For one, would trees still grow there like before? If so, what kind of tree species would be the most suitable? Who will do the study? How would the tree planting be carried out? Who will plant the trees? Who will fund the project and for how long?

And the most obvious: Will there be takers?

The mining camp, which was abandoned in mid-1974, covers a big area – not just one hectare but hundreds -- which after long years of gradual slide to become a massive wasteland, may have become hostile to any form of vegetation.

But there is a glimmer of hope in here offered by a small group of non-governmental organization (NGO), which is attempting to bring green life into this environmentally-debased place.

An initiative of a forester-environmentalist, Teodoro Licarte, and his colleague and former classmate, Prof Pastor L Malabrigo, Jr, a biologist and tree scientist, the replanting project in Larap is slowly inching forward.

After a thorough study, Prof Malabrigo, who specializes in taxonomy, has already determined the tree species that would grow well in the mangrove areas of and in the mined out sites.

In October and December 2012, the team conducted an ecological survey to find out the vegetation existing in the project’s target sites.

The research team was assisted by a group of local environmental advocates called the Jose Panganiban Environmental Protectors Association (JPEPA), composed of members who used to work at mines.

This group does not have in mind to develop the former mining camp as an eco-site when they decided to rehabilitate the area and make it alive again – with trees.

All they wanted is to replicate some tree projects they have successfully put in place elsewhere in CamNorte, and hoped that it would also succeed in Larap.

Licarte and Prof Malabrigo’s Larap reforestation-rehab projects are back by funding from a foreign group known as the Rufford Small Grants Foundation.

While growing tree seedlings for the mangroves and the mining camp in a makeshift 10x10 meters nursery, the team conducts workshops with the locals to determine the problems related to the mangrove destruction as a result of charcoal-making activities of a number of hand-to-mouth families in the area.

Licarte is also coaching the community-based organization how to access funds and projects from different government and non-government organizations in the province.

Hopefully, the transplant of the mangrove seedlings is targeted in May or June – when the rainy days shall have started --  along with those to be replanted in selected mine camp sites.

This two-man enterprise, with lots of help from the local people who are now realizing the importance of trees around them, is just a small-funded project to be able to totally rehabilitate and reforest Larap.

But Licarte and Prof Malabrigo are crossing their fingers that the tree planting initiative in Larap would serve as an eye opener to the local government under Mayor Ricarte Padilla, academicians and researchers to change the strategy of rehabilitating degraded lands, specially the abandoned mining sites such as Larap.

The proposed eco-park may remain just a dream for its grandiose scale, but the possibilities of trees rising around the ex-mining camp in a year or two are great, thanks to the initiatives of environmentalist-forester Licarte, tree scientist Prof Malbrigo and the concerned residents of Larap.

- Alfredo P Hernandez

For comments, email the writer: ahernandez@thenational.com.pg  and alfredophernandez@y7mail.com

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