AC4’s Josh Fisher: On the Frontlines of Deforestation in the Philippines

In late March 2014, AC4 Research Scientist Joshua Fisher and Benjamin Bostick, Research Professor at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, guided a group of Columbia University graduate students – Eda Gimenez, Elisabeth Harnier, and Suzanne Lipton – from the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy program to research the socio-economic dynamics that drive deforestation in the island of Palawan, the Philippines. The team collaborated with students at Western Philippines University (WPU) to conduct surveys of smallholder farmers and collect soil samples in the region. Focusing primarily in Quezon and Narra, the research hypothesis tests whether deforestation can be curbed by increasing the productivity or economic output of cleared lands. In the span of 10 days, the students collected 70 surveys and over 1000 lbs of soil samples for further examination.

The team was invited to present their work and initial findings for the faculty and students of Western Philippines University at a colloquium titled, “Preserving Palawan: Understanding the Causes of Deforestation.” At the colloquium, Dr. Bostick discussed the physical dynamics of soil nutrient loss resulting from slash and burn agriculture in tropical soils, and Joshua Fisher discussed the social-ecological impacts of forest loss. Eda Gimenez presented the research design and discussed the shared learning that took place in this cross-cultural exchange. The research team will return to Palawan to present their findings to WPU and the surveyed communities later in 2014.

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ABOVE: The use of uncontrolled fire to clear forest for new farmland is widespread on Palawan. The photo above depicts a region recently cleared. Below is a fire the team encountered during the survey process.

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ABOVE: Students from Columbia University and Western Philippines University partnered to conduct a household survey in the local language of Tagalog.

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ABOVE: When examined in conjunction with information on household economy, soil samples like this (above) provide information about why certain households choose to clear forest to open new farmland.

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