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News release

DENR should re-assume responsibility for forest fire suppression - ITTO report

Yokohama, Japan, 18 February 2004

A law that removed responsibility for forest fire from the Philippines’ Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has reduced the effectiveness of fire management in the country, according to a new ITTO-commissioned report.

Written by a team of forest fire experts from the NSW Rural Fire Service (Australia) in close cooperation with DENR, the report reviews forest fire management in the Philippines and makes recommendations for improvement.

The team notes that “unwanted forest and grassland fires go unchecked and destroy forests, grasslands, plantations, agricultural areas and other assets”. This has many severe consequences, including:

  1. increased rural poverty through a decrease in forest cover, loss of soil fertility and increased erosion;
  2. the loss of biodiversity, especially in mossy forests and dipterocarp forests;
  3. impaired water quality and quantity in watersheds, especially due to erosion and siltation;
  4. reduced commitment to community-based forest management by communities due to the loss of forests by fire;
  5. damage to agroforestry and agriculture, including financial losses;
  6. threats to life and property; and
  7. people see fires as uncontrollable and become indifferent to them.

The report identifies four main constraints to improving forest fire management in the country:

  1. the limited organizational capability within DENR, the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) and other government agencies, non-governmental organizations, Peoples’ Organizations and the community at large to manage and prevent forest and grassland fires;
  2. the limited operational preparedness at all levels, with the possible exception of a few plantation enterprises;
  3. inadequate fire prevention capability at all levels, with the possible exception of a few plantation enterprises; and
  4. the often poor management of ‘controlled’ burning.

At the heart of these constraints is the fact that DENR’s Forestry Management Bureau is unable to allocate sufficient resources to forest fire suppression. As a result of a change in law, in which responsibility for forest fires was assigned to the Bureau of Fire Protection within the Department of Industry and Local Government (DILG), DENR (which retains responsibility for forest protection) has reduced its emphasis on forest fire management and its professional capabilities in fire management have declined.

According to the review team, rectifying this organizational arrangement is a precondition for effective progress in forest fire management in the Philippines. It proposes a short-term solution that would require DENR and BFP (through the DILG) to agree that DENR should be the lead agency for forest fire suppression. Such an agreement could be added to the Memorandum of Agreement that currently exists between the two departments. In the longer term, the team recommends a five-year plan over which the recommendations might be implemented as well as some suggestions for possible intervention projects.

The team also makes a large number of practical recommendations for addressing the main problems that were identified and establishes priorities for their implementation in view of the limited resources available. In the longer term, the team recommends a five-year plan for implementing the recommendations and makes suggestions for possible intervention projects.

For more information contact: Dr. Eva Muller, Assistant Director of Reforestation and Forest Management (rfm@itto.or.jp)