A history of deforestation: When natural disasters make way for reforestation efforts
This is the fifth article in a series about deforestation: how it started, what it means, and what people can do about it. In this article, certified arborist Jeff Karwoski discusses the damage Typhoon Haiyan did to the Philippines and how this natural disaster led to the birth of the Leyte Reforestation Project.
By Jeff Karwoski
If you ask anyone who lives on one of the islands in the Central Visayas of the Philippines about climate change, they will not deny it exists. Before November 2013, changes in the weather could have been written off as temporary, but after the most ferocious storm on record slammed through the region, there was little doubt that the climate had changed. Typhoon Haiyan (locally known as “Yolanda”) was dubbed a “Super Typhoon.”
Unlike the numerous smaller typhoons experienced in the Philippines each year, this storm was unlike anything the world had ever seen. Yolanda produced sustained winds of 195 miles an hour and gusts recorded at 235 miles an hour. Needless to say, the damage to the region was extraordinary and extensive.
When the storm passed, the recovery efforts began. There were short-term goals, such as making sure people had food and water. Next came the cobbling together of debris to provide some semblance of shelter. Roads were cleared of debris as a communal effort to allow the passage of vehicles providing aid and relief services, and lines formed daily for items such as rice, hygiene products, drinking water, and small rolls of corrugated metal roofing. In the meantime, electrical crews faced a complete shutdown of the power grid and a snarl of poles and downed lines to contend with on every street corner. The power in some peoples’ homes would not come back on for months. For tens of thousands, there was no home left to power.
In addition to damaging houses and businesses, Typhoon Haiyan caused large-scale destruction to trees and forests. It is estimated that 33 million coconut trees were downed; entire orchards destroyed. The loss of trees across the Visayas was devastating. These beautiful islands lost the trees they depended on for food, and also for shade. Trees that remained upright were stripped of foliage and pointed a few of their shattered limbs into hot tropical skies. It was this loss of trees on Leyte Island that prompted a new organization to arise in the mountainous area of Kananga. They called themselves the Leyte Reforestation Project (LRP) (Disclosure: The author is a founding partner of LRP).
The founders of LRP wanted to do their part to help people recover from the storm. Since there were so many relief agencies working in the area, they knew short-term needs would be met, so instead, they decided to play the long game and help the people of Leyte Island re-establish tree canopy in areas where it was needed most. They began to grow seedlings in a small, storm-damaged house on some old family land while they cleaned the property and prepared to build a nursery. To educate themselves on the art of growing trees, they made frequent trips to Visayas State University where there were nurseries supporting horticulture and forestry programs. The university stood on the outskirts of the typhoon’s path and little damage was done to nursery facilities. They used their newfound skills to develop quality seedlings, which they began to plant at elementary schools to provide shade in the schoolyards. As the months went by, they expanded their knowledge of trees and the benefits trees provide, while also expanding their nursery to meet the ever growing demand people had to replant trees.
LRP had a lot to learn. It wasn’t started with a vast or even substantial knowledge of tropical reforestation. It was started with a simple belief that trees are inherently good to have in peoples’ lives. Over time, that belief matured as LRP came to realize how closely connected humans are with trees, even to the point of necessity.
A few months ago, the Kananga municipality held their annual commemoration of Typhoon Yolanda. LRP members stood at the forefront of the ceremony, honoring the day with a small planting of around 300 trees. Through hard work and a steadfast belief in what they are doing, LRP has made its way from humble beginnings to becoming a well-known organization and local leader in the environmental movement. LRP now maintains an internationally accredited nursery and works to pioneer planting techniques for local communities to utilize in the face of a changing climate. They continue planting at schools, hoping to foster a greater connection between youth and the environment.
Across the globe, organizations like LRP are stepping up to the challenge of restoring and reforesting their communities. These people believe that the Earth does not exist for man’s taking, but rather, it is here to provide a finely balanced environment for humans to live in. They understand the need to recreate a world where man is in balance with nature; where people value trees for their intrinsic worth and not only the face value of their lumber. These people are the protectors of Earth and the educators of man. They are the ones ushering in the restoration movement of preserving trees and forests and the ones encouraging people to reach new levels of awareness of their place in the natural world.
They want you to join them. Tree planting initiatives are easy to find online and there can never be too many people contributing to a better planet. Join the movement!
Jeff Karwoski is a certified arborist and the executive director of Reforest Our Future, a newly founded nonprofit focused on connecting people and trees. He works in the Pittsburgh area designing native plant installations and is a founding partner of the Leyte Reforestation Project on Leyte Island in the Philippines. You can reach him at email@example.com.