Planning to cut down a tree? Think again
Cutting down trees in urban areas is often driven by the need for space, fuel or construction material and, in some cases, to prevent it from causing an accident when it shows signs of falling down.
Even in public places, road-widening projects often result in cutting down trees. In school premises, trees are cut down to build extra schoolrooms or provide more space for children’s activities.
However, there are good reasons for not cutting down trees** .
It takes years to grow a tree. Sometimes, one will not even survive its first year.
Trees are needed for the oxygen they produce. They also provide shades—natural protection against sunlight and rain—plus the beauty they provide to the natural environment.
Fruit-bearing trees provide food and serve as home to wildlife—birds, bees, all sorts of insects, fruit bats—which help in maintaining ecological balance in both rural and urban settings.
Law against killing trees
The law against cutting down trees, or killing trees, Presidential Decree (PD) 705, or Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines that was signed on May 19, 1975, regulates the act in both public and private lands.
It calls for the prior approval or permission from the government, specifically the Bureau of Forest Development whose mandate now rests on the Forest Management Bureau (FMB), one of the four bureaus of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
Section 68 of PD 705 states that “any person who shall cut, gather, collect, or remove timber or other forest products from any forest land, or timber from alienable and disposable public lands, or from private lands, without any authority under a license agreement, lease, license or permit, shall be guilty of qualified theft as defined and punished under Articles 309 and 310 of the Revised Penal Code.”
Moreover, the same section states that in the case of partnership, association or corporation, the officers who ordered the cutting, gathering or collecting shall be liable, and if such officers are aliens, shall, in addition to the penalty, be deported without further proceedings.
Under the 1930 Revised Penal Code of the Philippines, the penalty for qualified theft depends on the value of the property stolen. Essentially, however, since a tree is valued at least P50,000 nowadays, a tree-cutting violation may land the culprit up to a maximum jail term of 25 years.
Cutting of trees, even with a permit from the DENR, is also tricky because there’s a law regulating the use of a chainsaw, which can also put one in trouble if it is used without license or permit from the DENR.
The Chainsaw Act, or Republic Act 9175, signed on November 7, 2002, regulates the ownership, possession, sale, importation, and use of chainsaws and penalizes violators.
Regulating chainsaws is not without a good reason. A chainsaw can cut a fully grown tree in minutes, and it takes only a few hours to cut 100 trees using this equipment.
Hence, the law’s Section 7, which provides for the penal provision, states that actual unlawful use of chain saw may land one in jail from six years and one day to eight years or a fine of not less than P30,000 but not more than P50,000.
Exception to the rule
However, the cutting of trees and the use of chainsaw are not strictly prohibited. All one has to do is apply for a permit with the DENR or with the concerned Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office, or with the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office, and cite the reasons, officials of the DENR said.
In fact, the DENR is lenient in implementing the law in urban areas where trees are fast becoming extinct.
“Cutting of trees, even in private land for a registered tree plantation, needs a permit. That is why we are trying to liberalize tree cutting,” said Environment Assistant Secretary Ricardo Calderon, also the concurrent director of DENR’s Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB).
He explained that liberalizing means that if one “has a registered tree plantation, then you will no longer need to apply for a tree-cutting permit.”
A draft policy for registered plantations in private land, Calderon said, is in the works.
“Why will you invest in tree plantations when the law makes it hard for you to cut them later on?” he asked in Filipino.
In the case of cutting of trees in private lands that are not covered by a registered tree plantation, he said the DENR encourages the landowner to still apply for a tree-cutting permit whenever possible.
“That is what the law says. In some cases, we let the local government units help monitor these activities,” he said.
According to Calderon, the Revised Forestry Code is already obsolete and needs revisiting.
“That has been the consensus and the clamor of [those] in the wood industry,” he said, adding that the 1975 Revised Forestry Code was meant to regulate logging at a time when the country’s economy is largely dependent on logging.
FMB Director Nonito Tamayo agrees. He said cutting of trees needs to be liberalized to promote investment in forest or tree plantations that will support the country’s wood industry requirement.
The current annual wood requirement of the Philippines is 6 million cubic meters.
However, the country can only produce 1 million cubic meters. This means it is importing around 5 million cubic meters of wood every year, according to the latest DENR-FMB estimates.
In private lands, Tamayo said cutting of trees for noncommercial purposes requires no special permit.
“If they intend to sell, that is the time they really need to apply for a permit. But if it is to cut the tree that is endangering people, it is okay,” he said.
However, he encourages the public not to cut down trees without a valid reason.
Trees and urban biodiversity
Even in an urban setting, trees are very important to keep the biodiversity alive and well, said Asean Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) Executive Director Theresa Mundita S. Lim.
Mainstreaming biodiversity in urban and infrastructure development is one of the programs of ACB.
In the Philippines, although the concept is new in the country, some cities are starting to adopt green infrastructure and to promote green spaces and green buildings, she said.
“Singapore and Thailand are leading this concept in the Asean, but there is also an emerging interest in some of the cities in the Philippines,” she said.
According to Lim, a former director of DENR-BMB: “If nature or biodiversity is taken into account in cities’ development, where a large part of the land is already privately owned or managed, then logically, even trees in private land or small patches of trees in the urban setting must have some kind of protection, especially if they are indigenous trees and vegetation.”
Communication is key
According to Lim, there’s really a need to communicate the importance of trees in urban areas where the competition for space is very stiff.
“There is a need to advocate the protection of trees in urban areas, as well as allocating spaces for tree planting and revegetation. There are studies that show that more trees in urban areas can reduce respiratory problems, and trees and greens around hospitals and health-care centers can hasten the healing and reduce stress-related illnesses,” she said.
According to Lim, if a tree poses danger, they may be cut, but she added that weak trees that might collapse could be prevented from cutting.
“Remember some trees that were planted in cities years ago might not be the appropriate species, and were not managed to grow well in urban settings with their roots growing and expanding to destroy concrete roads and sidewalks. Cutting the roots and branches improperly or nailing signages onto trees would make trees vulnerable to rotting and diseases,” she said.
Cutting trees just because the landowner wants these for timber or to make more space for infrastructure, must be looked into more carefully by concerned government agencies, in this case, the DENR and local government units (LGUs), she said.
“The species of trees must be taken into account, and there is a need for green spaces and corridors. Also, it should not just be the DENR’s responsibility, but the LGUs, as well, in making sure that they set aside the proper proportion of green areas when they prepare their land use and development plans,” she said.
Beneficial to homes
Environmental group Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE) added that trees in urban and suburban lots are actually beneficial to the overall wellbeing of residents.
“Trees sequester air and noise pollution, provide shelter from the rain, stormy winds and extreme temperature shifts,” Kalikasan-PNE National Coordinator Leon Dulce said.
According to Dulce, all tree-cutting activities require a permit from the DENR. But because household construction is seen as a small-scale activity that would have a smaller impact on the urban forest cover, regulating them would be seen as too much of an effort to cover all 24.2 million household units across the country.
“Practically speaking, ensuring a green architectural intervention in this situation would also be expensive,” Dulce said.
What the government can do, he added, “is to ensure that we have clear environmental architecture guidelines, and that we have in-house green architects and engineers across all cities and towns that will be available to guide the integration of trees in the construction instead of building over trees.”
That said, before we have to think again before we decide to cut down a tree.
** Although only about 7% of the world is covered with tropical rainforests, their ecosystems contain about half of the world’s species. Further, tropical rainforests store more carbon than other types of forests.
It’s difficult to find up-to-date statistics for Philippine deforestation due to funding issues, but from 2003-2010, the Philippines lost nearly 1% (50,000 hectares) of its forests per year. This is particularly distressing as the Philippines is considered to be a biodiversity hotspot.
Source: Business Mirror