Before the Second World War, the Philippines had more than 20 million hectares (ha) of dipterocarp forests, commercially known as "Philippine mahogany." During and shortly after the war, the forests were heavily exploited and agriculture expanded significantly, reducing the forest to only 12 million ha.
The man considered to be the "Father of Philippine Forestry," Mr. Florencio Tamesis, received his Masters of Forestry in the United States of America in 1923. After his return to the Philippines, he developed forest management systems for dipterocarp forests. In the late 1940s, he began to worry about the future of the indigenous tropical forests in the Philippines. Large North American forestry enterprises were already heavily engaged in the exploitation of the rich dipterocarp forests in the Philippines. By this time, the traditional technologies, that used hand tools for felling and crosscutting, and water buffaloes (carabaos) to transport logs, were gradually being replaced by chainsaws and cable yarding systems.
After seeing those wasteful new technologies in operation, Tamesis seriously began to consider the establishment of large-scale tree plantations. He selected a site for fast-growing trees on the eastern side of the southern island of Mindanao. The plantation site lay along the Agusan River, which had already become one of the main centers for wood processing and export in the Philippines.
The very first plantations had been established in the Philippines at the turn of the century, when teak (Tectona grandis) and mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) were planted in Luzon and the Visayas. Trials using potted seedlings were carried out as early as 1928. Unfortunately, all data and research results from these early plantations were destroyed during the Second World War. Thus, when the new plantation era started in the mid-1950s, no data on the previous plantation work in the country were available. The same applied to genetic data and data on seed sources. Therefore, the whole process of plantation establishment had to be based on new biological research.
The first of these new trial tree plantations was established in a place called Tuñgao, on patches of former "kaingin," or shifting cultivation areas, which had previously been logged over. The viability of the new plantation scheme was based on five years of research work that started in 1954. By 1961, large-scale plantation establishment was initiated, and by 1968 more than 5,000 ha containing 85 species had been established.
One of the main incentives for starting the plantation work in eastern Mindanao was the almost total absence of typhoons. While most of the Philippines is affected by an average of 12-16 typhoons per year, the frequency of strong typhoons in eastern Mindanao is only about once every 40 years. This was important because the fast-growing tree species that were chosen for planting were not very storm resistant, whereas the indigenous species generally tolerate typhoons quite well (as evidenced during the 1981 typhoon when the east coast of Mindanao was hit by 180 km/h gale-force winds).
In the early 1960s, the experiments with tree plantations spread from Agusan del Norte to Agusan del Sur, through the activities of a large foreign company. Soon after, the trials spread further south to Surigao del Sur, and finally to the Bislig Bay area, where a large integrated industrial wood complex, the Paper Industries Corporation of the Philippines (PICOP), was operating.
The wood industries in the Bislig Bay area had, in the meantime, expanded into pulp and paper manufacturing. PICOP was the first company in the world to use mixed tropical hardwoods as raw material in making paper. Nonetheless, in anticipation of raw material scarcity from natural forests, PICOP also started a plantation program in its forest concession area.
Despite widespread development of forest plantations in the Philippines in the 1960s, little thought was given to the harvesting of these plantations. The tree-growing schemes were primarily pursued because of government requirements to reforest areas that had been severely damaged in the process of logging the dipterocarp forest rather than because of any conscious strategy for future utilization of plantation-grown wood. Gradually, however, as the extent of the plantations increased, the future potential could clearly be seen.