Kalasan Pealagean: Protecting Sierra Madre using solar energy

BY Kathleen Lei Limayo

The Dumagat Forest Rangers at the Sagip Sierra Madre Environmental Society Inc. (SSMESI) in Norzagaray Bulacan are at the forefront of protecting 200,000 hectares of forests and ancestral lands with the use of solar-powered technology.

ABOVE: Solar panels power hand-held radios used by the Sagip Forest Rangers for forest protection.

To curb illegal logging and deforestation, the Dumagat forest rangers regularly patrol protected areas of Sierra Madre within the towns of San Jose Del Monte, Norzagaray and the Dona Remedios Trinidad in Bulacan.

The Sagip Forest Rangers monitor protected areas within Ipo Dam (left) and Angat Watershed (right).

During monitoring, the team brings with them a portable solar panel that enables them to charge their hand-held radios and cellphones used for coordinating with each other within the forests. The team uses GPS enabled cameras to “geotag” photos of illegally cut down trees that could be used as evidences. The team also uses a drone for aerial surveying of protected lands.

ABOVE: Forest rangers set up solar powered hand-held radios for their anti-illegal logging monitoring.

LEFT: A Sagip Forest Ranger peeks through a binocular to check a damaged area within watershed protected area. RIGHT: Solar energy powers hand-held radios for forest protection.

ABOVE: A drone charged using solar power is used to survey watershed protected areas.
ABOVE: Sagip Forest Rangers utilize GPS technology to geotag photos of illegally cut down trees.

Forests mitigating climate change

Deforestation, especially the destruction of rainforests, contributes significantly to climate change. Through forest monitoring and reforestation the Dumagat forest rangers help mitigate climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) special report on Global warming of 1.5 C emphasized the need to drastically cut down global greenhouse gases emissions to keep global warming below 1.5 C. Forest protection and reforestation can contribute to limiting emissions. Forests facilitate biosequestration which removes greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Protecting forests for the several generations to come will help ensure the reduction of gases that trap heat inside the Earth.

ABOVE: The Dumagat Forest Rangers patrol watershed protected areas within Sierra Madre to deter illegal logging activities.

LEFT: The Angat Watershed Conservation Area is among the protected areas monitored by the Dumagat forest rangers. RIGHT: Regular patrolling of watershed areas deters illegal logging activities.

Powering Dumagat homes

Since 2014, the Dumagat forest rangers have been using solar to power their houses. Solar panels with capacity of 3,000 watts power both devices used for forest protection and personal cellphones and night lamps. The use of renewable energy mitigates climate change. Fossil fuels are the major cause of global warming since industrialization. By harnessing the power of the sun, this Dumagat community is able to enjoy electricity without adding pollution to the atmosphere.  Apart from a centralized charging solar station, several households in the community use smaller solar panels atop their nipa huts to charge personal devices such as cellphones and portable DVD players.

ABOVE: A small solar panel atop a Dumagat nipa house help power small devices like night lamps.

“Ang goal namin ay magkaroon din ng solar panels ang iba pang settlements ng Dumagat dito sa Sierra Madre.” (Our goal in the future is to install solar panels on the other settlements of Dumagat in Sierra Madre), expressed by Brother Martin Francisco the president of SSMSI.

ABOVE: Small solar panels power personal devices like cellphones and radios.

Ancestral lands and culture

Sierra Madre is the home of the Dumagat indigenous communities from the provinces of Bulacan, Aurora, Isabela, Nueva Ecija, Quezon and Rizal. Forests serve as source of food, livelihood, and shelter for the Dumagat communities. For the Sagip Forest Rangers, the protection of Sierra Madre meant fighting for their ancestral lands, their way of life and their indigenous rights. Larry Garrais, a forest ranger, heeds the call to forest protection.

Lahat ng katutubo dapat dito sa Bulacan, ang unang una dapat pinag lalaban ang aming karapatan bilang isang katutubo saka lupaing ninuno para mapangalagaan namin ang kagubatan.” (All of the Dumagat here in Bulacan should firstly fight for their indigenous people’s rights and their ancestral lands so we can protect the forests.)

ABOVE: Solar stations power the Dumagat community in Norzagaray Bulacan.

According to Rosendo Cruz, another forest ranger, the Dumagat ethnic identity is rooted in their ancestral lands. The Dumagat communities are people of the land and they recognize the important of forests for their future.

Cruz added, “Dahil po sa aming lupaing ninuno kaya namin pinoprotektahan ang bundok. Kung hindi po namin babantayan iyan patuloy nalilipunin ng mga nagiilegal yang mga kabundukan namin. Paano po ang mga nahuhuling henerasyon na mga kabataan natin? Wala na po silang masisilungan.” (We protect the mountains because they are our ancestral lands. If we won’t protect it the illegal loggers will cut down the trees. What will happen to the next generation of Dumagat people? They won’t have forests that they can consider their home.)

Challenges of Forest Protection

Forest protection is a tough job. The forest rangers are risking their lives to protect Sierra Madre.

Larry expresses this risk, “Napakalaki na po ang pinsala ng ating kagubatan dahil po sa mga illegalista pero kami naman po na mga forest ranger sa ngayon pinipilit namin na mapiit namin sila…Kahit paano po sinusuong namin ang aming mga buhay para mapangalaan ang kagubatan.” (Illegal loggers have done so much damage to our forests and we, as forest rangers, we try to stop them… We are putting our lives on the line for forest protection).

Illegal loggers in Sierrra Madre operate with fire arms, while the Sagip Forest Rangers only carry with them bolo knives. According to Brother Martin, the illegal loggers have also become smarter in their operations and have even used dogs to alarm them of incoming forest rangers.

ABOVE: A forest ranger examines a protected land using his binoculars.


PHOTOGRAPHS & WORDS © Kathleen Lei Limayo
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