DENR readies for forest fires

As summer sets in, Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje has ordered all field officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to adopt new strategies and draw up preventive and remedial measures against forest fires.

According to Paje, forest fires, which are particularly prevalent in the summer season, are a major and permanent hazard that could completely destroy forests. In an effort to address the issue, the DENR has invested in comprehensive training programs to equip its forestry workers with the needed skills to fight forest fires effectively.

This year, Paje called for an inventory of the agency’s fire-fighting equipment and the capability of its field personnel in putting out fires in response to the increased risk of forest fires due to the onset of the dry season.

He also tasked his 16 regional executive directors to update their remedial measures on preventing flare-ups, particularly grass fires that usually occur in degraded forestlands due to flammable ground debris that could burn up as a result of drought and high temperature.

“We have to make sure that forest fires won't happen in forestlands where tree-planting activities of the National Greening Program (NGP) are on the upswing otherwise the program's gains will literally go up in smoke," Paje explained.

Paje also ordered the prioritization of strict monitoring of protected areas, which also function as habitat for endangered species of plants and animals, for potential outbreak of forest fires and to ensure sufficient water supply in communities.

According to records of the DENR’s Forest Management Bureau, the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) tops the list of forest fire hotspots, followed by Central Luzon and Southern Mindanao.

The DENR regularly updates its personnel capabilities through a series of trainings held at its Environment and Natural Resources Academy in Carrangalan, Nueva Ecija.

Last year's trainings focused on prevention and management of forest fires in tree plantations in consonance with NGP's objective of establishing tree plantations in denuded forest lands.

Among the strategies being employed by the DENR to boost its forest fire prevention and fighting capabilities include the involvement of community members in its trainings in coordination with the Bureau of Fire Prevention of the Department of the Interior and Local Government, with which the DENR has a standing agreement to conduct joint trainings as well as forest fire-fighting operations.

Forest fire preventive measures consisted of monitoring for kaingin (slash and burn) activities and unauthorized bush burning in pasturelands, construction of water impounding structures to trap and store rainwater, clearing of new growth in fire lines or “fire buffers” inside tree plantations, and conduct of forest fire drills with forest resource-dependent communities especially in drought-prone areas.

From 2000 to 2010, the DENR recorded a total of 34, 921 hectares were affected by forest fires, with 19,607 hectares located inside natural forest, while the other 15,314 hectares inside plantation areas. #