Loggers target Pangasinan’s last rainforest

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10:17 PM March 21st, 2012

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March 21st, 2012 10:17 PM

DAGUPAN CITY—Pangasinan’s largest remaining rainforest in Mangatarem town is threatened by illegal logging after roads were built deep into the forest for easier hauling of logs, environment officials said.

Leduina Co, provincial environment and natural resources officer, said a team from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Mangatarem government and the military inspected the forest last week and discovered illegal logging there.

Co said an unpaved road cutting through the mountains of Mangatarem, which was built without permit from the DENR, made it easier for loggers to enter the area.

Co was referring to a road  that traverses the mountain boundary of Pangasinan and Zambales.  She quoted reports as saying a resident of Mangatarem funded the construction of the road’s 19-kilometer section in Pangasinan. The road stretches to 55 km.

She said the road zigzagged through heavy timber areas when a straight road could have been built from grasslands in the area.

“Worse, the Department of Public Works and Highways said the project was not programmed, it did not have funding and was not covered by any contract. But it was constructed by [a Mangatarem resident] who claimed to have backing from an official in Zambales,” she said.

Co said there was no sense in building the road because there were no economic trading activities between the two provinces.

“Besides, it would be difficult for even 4×4 (off-road) vehicles to pass through that road. Maybe some try, but they no longer return and pass that route again,” she said.

From the main artery, the government inspection team discovered a network of smaller roads and trails that go deeper into the forest. There, the team saw felled trees, stumps and lumber ready for hauling.

But there were no people or logging equipment in the area, which made Co and the other members of the team suspect that illegal loggers were tipped off of their arrival.

“There was a tent inside the thick forest, presumably used by the illegal loggers,” she said.

The team of Col. Jesus Sarsagat, commander of the Philippine Army unit based in Binmaley town, helped secure and retrieve logs from the mountains before these could be hauled by illegal loggers.

Co said a military detachment was put up to prevent illegal loggers from returning there.

She said the area where illegal loggers had been operating was part of the 13,863.61-hectare forest of Mangatarem town. The old-growth tropical rainforest comprises 44.7 percent of the town’s total land area. It is Pangasinan’s largest remaining forest and is considered as an important biodiversity area by the DENR. Yolanda Sotelo, Inquirer Northern Luzon

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