Philippine Forest Cover 2002

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ESSC shares its 2002 forest mapping work undertaken with support from the Philippine Tropical Forest Conservation Foundation. This 2002 data set of ESSC serves as a new baseline for comparison with any contemporary images for any part of the country.

Forest cover in the Philippines has long been a critical indicator and emotional barometer of how desperate the need is for effective environmental management. Real figures, real location, and a distinction of forest types are needed before real geographic objectives can be established. Some specific area changes need to be tracked by setting the criteria for monitoring change to see where degradation is greatest, where it is levelling off, or even where there is regeneration. In order to do this, attention needs to be paid to other land cover in the uplands. There is a need not just to focus on the loss but creatively scope for areas of potential change and growth. This shift in orientation needs to be injected into broader discussions at the national level and to contribute to new levels of action that are emerging.

Figuring the Forest Figures by Pedro Walpole (2MB PDF)


The first satellite mapping of the country was done in 1987 as logging wound down. The next complete data set is for 2002. ESSC puts the figures for 2002 at 21.7% while DENR puts them at 24.4%. This reflects both a slowing down in the rate of deforestation but also a diversification in its degradation. For DENR both primary and secondary (closed and open canopy) forest slightly reduced since 1987, while pine forest significantly increased along with plantations to close the gap.

ESSC figures present a difference of 10% or a 2.2% further loss in forestland cover, but the difference is relative. General figures for forest cover did not change greatly in the last 20 to 25 years, but the forest did. There is a shift occurring that we must reckon with on several counts. Area calculations for Cotabato, Davao, Isabela, and Zamboanga cities are included in their province origin, i.e. Maguindano, Davao del Sur, Basilan, and Zamboanga Sibugay.

Forest cover here is a general term and of course includes mangrove and, for government, plantations. Mangrove and plantations have little bearing on the overall forest figures, generally being 10 percent or less of the total forest cover of a province but for a few of the small islands and extensive coastlines. The plantations when viewed separately also highlight the extent of degradation in some provinces and how this is being partially overcome. It would be good to study the figures for mangrove and plantations separately as they have very different environmental terms of reference and need particular consideration. These overall figures just help us see the need and understand how to unpack general figures to get the insights as to what they translate to.

bendumforestcoverThe list of the top 10 provinces with forest cover includes: Palawan, Isabela, Agusan del Sur, Cagayan, Apayao, Aurora, Surigao del Sur, Bukidnon, Quezon and Eastern Samar, with Samar, Lanao del Sur, Davao Oriental, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, Kalinga, Nueva Ecija, and Occidental Mindoro, all having areas above 100,000 hectares.

Metro Manila also has a reported 2,790 hectares of open canopy forest, but this is really plantation species in the vicinity of La Mesa Dam. There is now a new category of parklands under FAO and this can be used for such areas especially when dealing with cities.

The most recent data we have is 2002 and in terms of national coverage there is 12% difference between FMB’s data (7,169,668 hectares) and that of ESSC (6,410,646 hectares). If we remove 329,581 hectares for plantations that ESSC did not include, there is a 7% difference.

Regarding the national data of 2002, four points need to be made:

  • The original SSC imagery is no longer available, hence ESSC digitized the printed maps at a scale of 1:50,000. There is 116,000-hectare difference (approximately 3×3 square kilometer difference) between what was the published figure and what ESSC digitized. We therefore take the SSC published figures as accurate of that time.
  • The ESSC study needed to be directly comparable to the forest classification used by SSC and thus maintained the forest type called “mossy” and did not include mixed broadleaf, orchard, plantation, forest that were used most recently by DENR-FMB.
  • Mossy forest is assumed as incorporated to the closed canopy forest in the DENR-FMB data, though it may be actually a very low and thin crown at higher elevation. It is in fact a mature, unlogged primary forest.
  • ESSC did not have a category for plantations. And to the best of ESSC’s ability, it has not included rubber plantations nor plantations of alien pines and other wood or fruit-bearing species and termed these as forest. If we look at the total figure of the DENR-FMB study minus the plantations, there is a 303,840-hectare difference (approximately 6×6 square-kilometer difference), with forest being 2,532 square kilometers. If the Philippines is 29 million hectares of land and we were to put it in a cube, then it is 5,454 kilometers square. Our forests would only cover one corner of this at best.

The province figures for the different forest covers of DENR-FMB and ESSC are significantly different in a number of cases. We can take the 10 provinces where DENR-FMB has higher figures than ESSC and 10 provinces where ESSC has higher figures than DENR-FMB. This is a good way both to “calibrate” the differences but more strategically to look at what is happening on the ground. ESSC leaves out plantation figures when looking at total forest figures and also mangrove when focusing on the uplands. These types are dealt with separately and we can have less of the confusion of types and location difficulties.

This is significant as we looked at approaches to forest management for the coming decades. We need to seriously understand where it is we have to act and how it is we have to act. This means we need increased information on specifically what exists on specific areas and what would be most beneficial and most practical to implement.

Objectives and activities of the ESSC Forest Cover 2002 work

The overall objective of this activity was both technical and social: to arrive at an acceptable and relatively accurate identification of upland cover for the Philippines for the period 2000-2002 and to initiate discussions which can lay the ground for appropriate action based on this presentation of the current state of Philippine uplands and the uses and applications of the dataset generated.

To do these, ESSC undertook the following activities:

  • Identified and defined the upland cover of the Philippines based on readily available Landsat satellite imagery for the period 2000-2002
  • Produced a comprehensive documentation of the process undertaken to arrive at the output
  • Developed map outputs and the accompanying figures that are now Web-uploaded for viewing and downloading
  • Initiated two Philippine Working Group (PWG) meetings in 2009 with various government and non-government sectors that discussed the methodology used and the initial results

Documentation of the mapping method ESSC used (1.8MB PDF) 

ESSC is also sharing the mapping method used that involved the processing of data, delineation of uplands, consolidation of the LANDSAT images, and the process for forest cover classification.

PWG Meetings

Philippine 2002 ESSC forest cover maps

Philippine 2002 ESSC forest figures

  1. Philippine forest cover comparison – SSC 1987, ESSC 2002, and DENR 2002 (75Kb PDF)
  2. ESSC Philippine forest cover 2002 (81Kb PDF)
  3. DENR-FMB Philippine forest cover 2002 (67Kb PDF)
  4. SSC Philippine forest cover 1987 (67Kb PDF)

Related ESSC news article: Figuring Philippine Forests

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