For World Environment Day (June 5): the role of urban forests and parks

I came across another significant study of Burnham Park.

Carbon Stock Assessment of Trees in Burnham Park, Baguio City, Philippines: A Tool for Urban Environmental Management is a masteral thesis written in 2009 by Roscinto Ian C. Lumbres. The study utilized Geographic Information System (GIS) to look into the potential of Burnham Park, estimated 34.46 hectares in area, to mitigate carbon. GIS products of the study include: locations of the identified trees using Global Positioning System (GPS); digitized tops and site maps; 3-D topographic map; and of course the database.

Burnham Park, Baguio City, Philippines

The findings of the study:

  1. There were a total of 52 species of trees and 3,414 living trees in the Park;
  2. There were discovered two (2) threatened species, namely the smooth narra (Forma Indicus), kalantiao
    (Pterocarpus Indicus Toona), and one (1) vulnerable specie, the tree fern (Ajathea Contaminans) found in the Park’s high moisture area;
  3. Total carbon stored in the Park was estimated at 2,522.24 tons;
  4. Total carbon dioxide (CO2) stored in the Park was estimated at 9,256.61 tons;
  5. Estimated total biomass aboveground was 4,970.86 ton, and 634.11 ton belowground (roots);
  6. Among all the Park’s natural resources, waters of the man-made lake held the highest carbon stocks at 581.23 tons which was 23.04% of total carbon stored in the Park (verifying the importance of water bodies in climate change mitigation);
  7. The tree specie with the highest carbon stocks and CO2 stored was the agoho (Camarina Equisetifalia) with 777.70 tons (carbon) and 2854.17 tons (CO2);
  8. The highest carbon stocks & stored carbon dioxide were found in the following tree species:
    • Agoho
    • Eucalyptus
    • Paperbark trees (Melalerica Quinqueneria) which were planted by the Americans during WWII
    • Benguet Pine (Diaco Keriga) at 3.7 ton/hectare/year. The pines were young but would hold the highest carbon stocks in the future or when mature.

In addition, the study cited these value-added roles of urban forests/trees:

  1. 100-feet width of trees absorb an estimated 6 to 8 decibels of sound intensity (Perone);
  2. One acre or 0.4 hectare of trees absorb 6 tons of CO2 and produce 4 tons of oxygen supply of annual needs of 18 residents or participants (US Department of Defense);
  3. On their net cooling effect: young trees produce 10-room-sized air-conditioners operating 20 hours a day;
  4. Every ton of carbon stored in a forest biomass corresponds to 3.67 tons of CO2 sequestered and removed from the atmosphere (US Department of Defense 2002).
  5. Real estate agents and buyers assign 10% to 23% of total value to trees on the property. Enhanced property value means increased and assessed values and ultimately tax base.

Recommendations put forward by the study:

  1. Parts of Athletic Bowl and Rose Garden (two of the 12 clusters in the Park with little carbon and CO2 absorbing vegetation) to be planted with the tree species that have high-absorbing carbon and CO2 capacity;
  2. Mapping of the Park’s vegetation and carbon stocks and maintenance of database;
  3. Maintenance of annual resource inventory (tree diversity assessment) and database;
  4. Proper maintenance and management of floral species;
  5. Considering that the Park is part of the City’s ecotourism destination, labels on trees as well as educational billboards to highlight the importance of the Park and it’s role in climate change mitigation for the City should be put in place to build awareness among tourists and locals alike.

For me, the question arising from the study is, what if the carbon and CO2 absorbed by and stored in the Park’s vegetation (including in the waters of the man-made lake) are released because City Hall or residents decide to tear down the Park or neglect it? That’s a total of 11,778.85 tons (2009 figure), enough to make the downtown Baguio a veritable heat island. And that’s what residents and tourists are experiencing these days. It’s as if there are two distinct weather in the City. In the CBD, weather is hotter and precipitation is erratic relative to the suburbs. The obvious reason: there are now concentrated at the CBD area more vehicles of which many are carbon inefficient and smoke belchers (where is LTO?) but with the same number of trees as that (or is it, less than) in 2009. The Philippine Master Plan of Forestry requires that there be one (1) tree per 4 persons. How far has the City ventured away from that goal?

As well, in this year’s Panagbenga (Flower Festival), the Park particularly the area lined with aging Paperbark trees was turned into a circus of sorts. Stores peddling cheap plastic wares that last for just a day (translation: waste). Grilling stops everywhere and so the uncontained smoke (translation: carbon) from barbecued meats. Worst of all, the din of out-of-tune karaoke singing 24/7. If the trees could move, I bet they would’ve given the butts of these mindless people a good swatting. I understand that we want to make money but there is also such a thing as responsible business. Otherwise, go chase away the MBA students and professors out of their classrooms and certificates. Making money by becoming a nuisance to others and the environment is tyranny, for rich or poor alike. Such businesses should not have been given permits in the first place.

With Executive Order 625 (2008) which effectively puts the responsibility and management of Burnham Park on the City government, there should be no reason why City Hall cannot pursue the Park’s maintenance, protection, and growth. And, oh, let’s not call maintenance of the Park as ‘beautification’ because that’s not why we’re planting and taking care of trees. As clarified by the Lumbres’ study, take out or neglect the trees and the equivalent is slow death to present and future residents.

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