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Applied Geography, Vol. 18, No. 2, pp.

137–152, 1998
Pergamon  1998 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved
Printed in Great Britain
0143-6228/98 $19.00 + 0.00
PII: S0143-6228(98)00004-6

Probing tropical deforestation

The use of GIS and statistical analysis of
georeferenced data

Armando A. Apan* and James A. Peterson

Department of Geography and Environmental Science, Monash University,
Clayton, Victoria 3168, Australia

The significance and magnitude of the relationship between forest cover and ten
environmental variables were investigated in a case study of Mindoro, Philip-
pines. Landsat Thematic Mapper data and thematic maps were processed for
Pearson’s chi-square test, Cramer’s V calculations and logistic regression analy-
sis. Attribute query and display of composite layers in GIS were further
implemented to analyse the deforested lands. These statistical analyses show that
some variables are significantly related to forest cover, although the magnitude
of relationship for all variables is weak. In contrast with most studies, the accessi-
bility and topographic factors in this study, among others, are not significantly
associated with forest cover. Associations between forest cover and some topo-
graphic and edaphic factors support the hypothesis that the area’s many defor-
ested lands are actually ‘natural grasslands’. However, external evidence sug-
gests that burning forests for grazing purposes at least maintains and probably
expands the area’s deforestation. Because of the high spatial, temporal and attri-
bute variability of deforestation, extrapolation and generalization from the
results should be made with caution, especially if they will be used as inputs for
planning and management.  1998 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved

Keywords: GIS, logistic regression, Philippines, tropical deforestation

Deforestation of tropical lands has become an issue of worldwide significance. At the

global level, the loss of biological diversity and the issue of artificial greenhouse effect
are the major concerns, frequently the subject of international debates. Locally, the on-
site and off-site consequences such as soil erosion, droughts, floods, displacement of
indigenous people, wildlife habitat loss and others are apparent. These problems and
issues have led to an increasing number of studies on tropical deforestation (e.g. Kummer,
1991; Grainger, 1993; Utting, 1993; Rudel, 1993).
One of the main research thrusts on tropical deforestation is the determination of the
causal factors. The identification of factors contributing to deforestation is considered to
be the first step in controlling forest loss (Grainger, 1993) and is necessary in comprehen-

*Corresponding author. Current address: Faculty of Engineering and Surveying, University of Southern Queens-
land, Toowooomba, Queensland 4350, Australia.

138 Tropical deforestation: A. A. Apan and J. A. Peterson

sive forest management planning. For instance, before embarking on a rehabilitation

programme, it is essential that the initial causes of degradation be identified and corrected
(Lamb and Tomlinson, 1994). The standard practice of planting trees to rehabilitate
degraded watersheds, without first removing the underlying causal constraints and
stresses in the socioeconomic and political systems, are doomed to failure (Bruenig,
Deforestation, with all its different causes and forms, has a spatial dimension. The
biotic and abiotic components of forests, along with human influences, exist and interact
in space. The natural and cultural settings of forest areas and vicinities have either pro-
moting or controlling effects. Even the size and shape of forests influence how people
clear land (Rudel, 1993: 6). This ‘geography of tropical deforestation’ (Rudel, 1993: 5),
though complex, should be analysed for a given locality so that appropriate forest policy
and management strategies can be formulated. Geographic information systems (GIS)
offer an environment in which spatial analysis of this geography is possible.
The objectives of this study are as follows:
(1) to determine the significance and magnitude of the relationship between forest cover
and some georeferenced environmental factors of a given area;
(2) to characterize and analyse the deforested lands using GIS-based spatial analysis
(3) to gain insights as to the causes of this deforestation.

Site factors and tropical deforestation: a review

Sader and Joyce (1988) proposed that the propensity of a forested area to be cleared is
a function of both biophysical characteristics of the landscape and human-related factors.
Similarly, Grainger (1993): 98) argued that the spread of deforestation is influenced by
environmental factors, ease of access to the forest and the sustainability of land use.
Deforestation only occurs when a certain set of conditions characterize an area (Rudel,
1993: 11).
Topography often influences the spread and extent of deforestation (Grainger, 1993:
98; Rudel, 1993: 8). Slopes may be too steep for cultivation, or an impassable river may
make farming in the upper reaches of a valley impossible (Rudel, 1993: 8). A study in
Costa Rica revealed that less deforestation had generally occurred as the slope gradient
increased (Sader and Joyce, 1988). In many parts of Southeast Asia, farming generally
began in the lowlands and later moved to the highlands, which in turn caused defores-
tation. In general, steep slopes limit deforestation by logging due to the difficulties of
transport and mechanized operations.
Roads provide access to loggers, cultivators and encroachers who can cause defores-
tation (Grainger, 1993: 97). Building new roads into an area can have a huge impact on
land use by allowing large numbers of people to migrate there. Roads also connect
farmers to urban markets, promoting cash crop cultivation if transport costs are attractive
(Grainger, 1993: 98). In a study of a region in Honduras, Ludeke et al. (1990) provided
both statistical and spatial confirmation of the importance of access in the location of
deforestation. Liu et al. (1993) found that the presence of major roads was a very
important factor affecting deforestation in the Philippines.
As with roads, bodies of water like rivers provide access for loggers, cultivators and
Tropical deforestation: A. A. Apan and J. A. Peterson 139

encroachers (Grainger, 1993: 97). In the farther east of the Amazon basin, navigable
rivers provided access to markets, so the first clearings occurred in corridors of land
along rivers (Rudel, 1993: 9). Roads are still few and far between over large areas of
the humid tropics, so rivers often remain the chief means of communication and, even
today, permanent cultivation tends to be concentrated close to waterways (Grainger,
1993: 97).
Land tenure rivals road construction in terms of its impact on decisions leading to
deforestation (Mahar and Schneider, 1994). In most cases, especially in the Philippines,
it is mainly state-owned land and ‘communal property’ that is deforested or more suscep-
tible to deforestation. Shifting cultivators and illegal loggers often target land not owned
by private individuals or groups. Also, deforestation respects no land use zones in many
developing countries. Deforestation in national parks, nature reserves or proclaimed
watersheds is very common. In the Philippines, for example, hundreds of hectares of
national parks and watersheds have been deforested (e.g. PCARRD, 1991).
In most cases, population increase is accompanied by deforestation. The studies
described in Brown and Pearce (1994) generally indicate a positive correlation between
population growth and deforestation. Population growth leads to deforestation by greater
cropping intensity or an expansion in farmland and increased demand for fuelwood,
building materials and land for settlement (Grainger, 1993: 94–5). However, this relation-
ship is less straightforward than it first seems (e.g. Bilsborrow and Geores, 1994;
Palo, 1994).
The effects of soil fertility on deforestation are not clear. Fertile lands are likely to
be chosen for agriculture. In most cases, swidden farmers flocked to areas with better
soil fertility. On the other hand, poverty and landlessness may force forest clearance
regardless of fertility, even if the swidden farmers can only crop the land for a few years
before moving on (Grainger, 1993: 98). Owing to the generally poor fertility of soils in
the humid tropics, unsustainable farming of this type can cause deforestation, for if yields
decrease, deforestation at progressively higher rates is necessary to maintain overall food
production (Grainger, 1993: 99).
Most lands converted and sought for agriculture and non-forest land uses are generally
located in coastal or alluvial plains, residual terraces and some hilly areas. Apart from
swamps and mangroves, forests are mainly located in mountainous and hilly areas. As
with landform, bedrock geology is an important physical attribute affecting, for example,
the distribution and growth of plant species, the nature and properties of soil (including
erosion), the site selection for engineering infrastructure and the potential for mining.


Study area
The study area covers the municipalities of Abra de Ilog and Mamburao, Province of
Occidental Mindoro, Philippines, with a total area of about 84,795 ha. It is located
approximately 25 km south off the coast of Batangas, south of Manila (Figure 1). The
area’s topography is generally mountainous and rugged, dissected by many rivers and
creeks. Elevation ranges from sea level to 1709 m above mean sea level. The province
has two pronounced seasons: dry from November to April, and wet during the rest of
the year. Monthly average temperature ranges from 26.8 to 31.7 °C.
140 Tropical deforestation: A. A. Apan and J. A. Peterson

Figure 1 Location map of the study area

Tropical deforestation: A. A. Apan and J. A. Peterson 141

National Statistics Office (1992) census data showed the two municipalities under
study to have a total population of about 35,390 as of 1990. Most of the people work
as farmers, fishermen and labourers. Primary agricultural produce includes rice, coconuts,
bananas, fruits and vegetables. Towns and villages are mostly concentrated on the coastal
and alluvial plains, although some inhabitants live on lower and midslope portions of
mountains. The province has indigenous inhabitants, the Mangyans. It is also the home
of the endangered ‘tamaraw’ (Bubalus mindorensis), a buffalo-like upland animal that
can be found only in Mindoro, Philippines.
Licensed logging in the area began in the late 1960s and ended in 1983. In 1978,
there were about 40 pasture lease agreement holders covering some 23,825 ha (Bureau
of Forest Development–Occidental Mindoro, 1979). Permits to utilize ‘minor forest pro-
ducts’ such as charcoal, rattan, palm shingles and midribs, and beeswax, were likewise
issued. Currently, a logging ban is enforced in the whole province, and forest rehabili-
tation is one of the main thrusts in natural resource management. In the late 1970s, two
major government reforestation projects were established. In the early 1990s, the launch-
ing of the National Forestation Programme through community-based approaches further
sparked interest in forestation activities.

Data acquisition
Existing literature on tropical deforestation provided a knowledge base for the initial
selection of factors for this study. The final selection of data components depended upon
the availability of reliable data and the possibility of expressing the factor as a map
layer. The datasets and variables generated in this study are shown in Figure 2. All maps
were acquired at 1:50,000 scale, except the soil map, which was 1:200,000 scale.
For the forest cover map, a satellite image was used to provide up-to-date and reliable
information. A 1420 × 1350 pixel subset was used from Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM)
digital data (Path/Row 116–51), taken on 11 February 1992 at 1:40 p.m. (dry season).
Using the microBRIAN Ver. 3.1 Image Processing System (MPA, 1992), the following
digital image processing techniques were implemented: geometric rectification, atmos-
pheric correction, generation of the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI)
image, unsupervised classification, filtering, and accuracy assessment. The details of the
image processing techniques employed can be found in Apan (1996a, b).

Data input and definition of terms

Using the Unix-based ARC/INFO Rev. 7 (ESRI, 1995), all relevant data layers were
manually digitized to produce vector coverages. After editing, the topology was built
and the basic attribute table was created for each coverage. The attribute table was
expanded with the addition of the corresponding class codes for each polygon feature,
for all the thematic layers. All vector coverages were then converted to raster data,
standardizing all layers into 30-m grid size. For layers with a distance theme (i.e. distance
from road and river/creek), an ARC/INFO program was used, calculating for each cell
value its Euclidean distance from the spatial feature (i.e. road and water) under consider-
ation. Furthermore, to avoid samples from land uses or surface features that are inappro-
priate for the analysis (such as lakes, rivers and beaches), spatial masking was employed.
The construction of DEM was necessary to derive the layers corresponding to slope
and elevation. Digitized contours (resampled in 100-m intervals) from 1:50,000 topo-
graphic maps were mainly used in the triangulated irregular network (TIN) program.
142 Tropical deforestation: A. A. Apan and J. A. Peterson

Figure 2 Dataset and variable generation for the deforestation study

Rivers and creeks were likewise used as breaklines to improve the surface interpolation.
The accuracy of the DEM was verified through visual examination of the ‘flat triangles’
and through superimposition of the original contour layer. Selective addition of spot
heights in areas of ‘flat triangles’ was made to solve the problem. Then, the resulting
TIN was converted into raster cells containing elevation values, later ‘refined’ using a
3 × 3 low-pass filtering program. Slope and elevation were then derived using appropriate
ARC/INFO programs to obtain 30-m raster cell coverages.
Categories of the forest cover layer were reclassified to produce a dichotomous layer:
‘forested’ and ‘deforested’. Following the definition of deforestation by Singh (1993:
Tropical deforestation: A. A. Apan and J. A. Peterson 143

14), ‘bareland’ and ‘low crown cover vegetation’ classes comprise ‘deforested’, while
‘medium’ and ‘high crown cover vegetation’ classes comprise ‘forested’ areas. From this
initial reclassification, it is important to note that ‘deforested’ lands might contain ‘non-
forested’ and degraded areas but are not considered deforested. Examples of this include
some beaches and floodplains. Thus, with the help of land use maps and field knowledge,
these areas and water features were masked out. Inherent in this approach is the prelimi-
nary assumption that all areas, except the naturally occurring non-forested barelands and
water bodies, were previously covered with forest vegetation. The possibility that this
assumption is incorrect is considered later.

Sampling design and statistical analyses

The datasets for this study contain both categorical and interval data. A categorical vari-
able involves either putting individuals into categories with an inherent ranking, such as
in ordinal data (e.g. ‘low’, ‘medium’ and ‘high’), or placing individuals into discrete
classes, as with nominal data (e.g. ‘forest’, ‘grassland’, ‘beach’, etc.). Some variables in
this study (i.e. slope, aspect, and distances from road and water) contain interval data
(e.g. 2.5, 2.8, 3.0). A nominal data version for these interval variables was likewise
produced to facilitate some desired statistical analysis (Figure 3).

Figure 3 Statistical analysis for the deforestation study

144 Tropical deforestation: A. A. Apan and J. A. Peterson

Simple random sampling was used in this study because it can provide adequate esti-
mates of the population parameters, provided the sample size is sufficient (Congalton,
1988). It was implemented using programs in ARC/INFO’s GRID module to generate
10,020 random sample pixels (about 5 per cent of the total pixels) containing attributes
of 10 georeferenced thematic maps and the image-derived forest cover layer. An ASCII
file was produced, then brought into the respective statistical software for analysis. The
statistical analyses were performed using STATISTICA for Windows Version 4.5
(Statsoft, Inc., 1994) and SPSS 6.1 for Windows (SPSS, 1994).
The statistical analyses were divided into two major parts: (1) Pearson chi-square test
and Cramer’s V and (2) logistic regression analysis (Figure 3). The analyses are mainly
focused on whether forest cover is associated with other layers (for which the chi-square
test is appropriate) and assessing the strength of these associations (using Cramer’s V)
(see e.g. Cramer, 1994; Shaw and Wheeler, 1994). The latter is computed by dividing
chi-square by the total number of cases multiplied by one subtracted from the smaller
number of rows or columns and then taking the square root of the result (Cramer, 1994).
It ranges between 0 (no relation between factors) and +1 (perfect relation between the
two factors). Logistic regression and its associated statistics could respond to both types
of problems. Logistic regression may be used to describe the relationship of several
independent variables to a dichotomous dependent variable (Hosmer and Lemeshow,
1989: 1; Kleinbaum, 1994: 14). It addresses problems when the dependent variable has
two classes or categories such as ‘yes’ and ‘no’, ‘success’ and ‘fail’, etc. These categories
are normally coded as 0 or 1.
There are several measures for evaluating the logistic regression model. In this part
of the study, the model chi-square (GM) and the proportional reduction in chi-square
(R2L,) were used (Menard, 1995: 17–24). Treated as a chi-square statistic, GM provides
a test of the null hypothesis that β1 = β2 = ... βk = 0 for the logistic regression model.
If GM is statistically significant (p ⱕ .05), then the null hypothesis is rejected and one
concludes that information about the independent variables allow the analyst to make
better predictions than without the independent variables (Menard, 1995: 21).
On the other hand, R2L indicates by how much the inclusion of the independent vari-
ables in the model reduces the ‘badness-of-fit’ chi-square statistic. It varies between 0
(the independent variables are useless in predicting the dependent variable) and 1 (the
model predicts the dependent variable with perfect accuracy) (Menard, 1995: 22). This
study also looked at the accuracy with which the model predicts actual category member-
ship on the dependent variable. Two of the three indices of predictive efficiency (i.e.
tau-p and lambda-p) were used to assess the statistical and substantive significance of
the model (Menard, 1995: 36). In addition, the Wald statistic and the partial correlation
statistic (R) were interpreted (SPSS, 1994: 5). The Wald statistic, which has a chi-square
distribution, was used for hypothesis testing about the logistic regression coefficients.
On the other hand, R was used to look at the partial correlation between the dependent
variable and each of the independent variables. Its value can range from −1 to +1. A
small R value indicates that the variable has a small partial contribution to the model
(SPSS, 1994: 5).
Basic diagnostic procedures were performed before and after running the logistic
regression program. These included the test for collinearity (‘tolerance’ statistic) and
tests for outliers (‘Studentized’ residuals and ‘dfbeta’). Once the data had satisfied the
minimum requirements, several runs (backward stepwise method) were made for logistic
Tropical deforestation: A. A. Apan and J. A. Peterson 145

regression analysis, including: (1) all independent variables entered in the program separ-
ately or individually with FCOVER (bivariate logistic regression), (2) all variables
entered simultaneously (multivariate logistic regression), and (3) a combination of several
independent variables with the objective of maximizing the predictive efficiency of the

GIS analysis
Attribute data query and display were carried out to further characterize and analyse the
deforested lands. A combined map from the overlays of the relevant thematic layers was
produced. It was followed by logical searches or queries using set and Boolean algebra.
In addition to viewing the results from the monitor display, the results of these queries
were further analysed using simple descriptive statistics available in the software.


Significance and magnitude of the relationships

The results of the Pearson chi-square test indicate that all variables are significantly
related to forest cover (FCOVER) (Table 1). However, Cramer’s V values reveal that
the magnitude of relationship for all variables ranges from weak to very weak. The
highest Cramer’s V is only .331 (FCOVER and LUSE), while the lowest is for FCOVER
and LOWNER (Cramer’s V = .050). Those variables with very low magnitude of associ-
ation (almost no relation between factors) with FCOVER include POPUL (.067),
DISTWAT (.068), and DISTRD (.072). Contrary to a priori expectations, SLOPE and
ELEV have low Cramer’s V of .185 and .242, respectively (see Table 1 for variable
For bivariate logistic regression analysis, the GM statistic for all variables, except dis-

Table 1 Results of Pearson chi-square test and Cramer’s V calculations between forest cover and some
environmental variables (n = 10,020)a

Pearson Chi-
Variablesb square df pc Cramer’s V

FCOVER × LUSE 1,234.09 1 .00000 .3311452

FCOVER × GEOL 590.16 5 .00000 .2426901
FCOVER × ELEV 587.36 4 .00000 .2421137
FCOVER × SLOPE 342.88 5 .00000 .1849859
FCOVER × LFORM 171.44 4 .00000 .1308043
FCOVER × SOILFERT 157.21 2 .00000 .1252576
FCOVER × DISTRD 52.17 4 .00000 .0721599
FCOVER × DISTWAT 46.86 4 .00000 .0683829
FCOVER × POPUL 45.08 1 .00000 .0669227
FCOVER × LOWNER 25.58 1 .00000 .0504586

Computed from STATISTICA for Windows Ver. 4.5.
Variables were listed in decreasing Cramer’s V.
All variables are statistically significant at p ⱕ .05.
Variables: FCOVER = Forest cover; LUSE = Land use; LOWNER = Land ownership; SOILFERT = Soil
fertility; SLOPE = Slope; ELEV = Elevation; GEOL = Geology; LFORM = Landform; POPUL = Population
density; DISTWAT = Distance from watercourse (river and creek); DISTRD = Distance from road (all road
types and foot trails).
146 Tropical deforestation: A. A. Apan and J. A. Peterson

tance from roads, is found to be statistically significant (Table 2). All but one (DISTRD)
of the models fit well. For these statistically significant models, the null hypothesis is
rejected, indicating that the independent variables DISTWAT, ELEV, SLOPE, GEOL,
etc., are related to the variable FCOVER. However, R2L values for all independent vari-
ables are below 0.1, suggesting a very weak association between forest cover and all the
independent variables in this study. The same is true for the values of tau-p, which are
all low except for land use (.34). This indicates that these independent variables will not
allow the cases to be classified (into the categories of independent variable) with a high
or even moderate degree of accuracy. In short, the predictive efficiency of these variables
is weak.
In the multivariate logistic regression analysis, all independent variables entered for
possible inclusion were accepted by the program; i.e. no independent variable was
rejected. The GM value is 1999.57, which is statistically significant. This indicates that
the independent variables in the model are related to the variable FCOVER. Again,
the R2L value is low (0.148), suggesting a weak association between FCOVER and the
independent variables in the model. On the other hand, the predictive efficiency becomes
moderate (tau-p = .3780; a value of 1.0 corresponds to the highest predictive efficiency).
Looking at the Wald statistic, all but LFORM, SOILFERT and LCLASS are significant
at p ⬍ .05. Moreover, partial correlation R values indicates that all variables make a
small to negligible partial contribution to the model.
Trial runs of different combinations or elimination of variables were conducted. The
model with all variables except LFORM and SOILFERT was found to improve the
predictive accuracy slightly, from tau-p of .3746 to .3779 (.0035 difference). However,
this is substantively insignificant since it corresponds to only 0.16 per cent improvement
to the overall accuracy in the classification table. The association and predictive
efficiency between independent and dependent variables remain weak to moderate.

Attribute data query and display

Hundreds of queries, as logical expressions, could be made of the attribute table. How-
ever, the analysis concentrated on the mountainous barelands since they represented a
bigger portion of the area, and their nature is often the subject of debates. Querying the

Table 2 Summary of bivariate logistic regression statisticsa

−2 Log
likelihood Model chi-
Variableb (DM) square (GM) df Significance R2L tau-p (τp)

DISTRD 13503.18 0.028 1 .8673 2.07E-06 0.1639

DISTWAT 13472.40 30.082 1 .0000 0.00222 0.1624
ELEV 13228.36 274.843 1 .0000 0.02035 0.1545
SLOPE 13419.88 83.327 1 .0000 0.00617 0.1639
GEOL 12828.85 674.355 5 .0000 0.04994 0.2237
LOWNER 13477.88 25.330 1 .0000 0.00188 0.1639
LFORM 13334.35 168.860 4 .0000 0.01250 0.1940
LUSE 12255.72 1247.486 1 .0000 0.09238 0.3451
POPUL 13458.77 44.429 1 .0000 0.00329 0.1639
SOILFERT 13349.49 153.719 2 .0000 0.01138 0.1998

Computed from SPSS 6.1 for Windows
(FCOVER = dependent variable)
Tropical deforestation: A. A. Apan and J. A. Peterson 147

tabular data of the combined layer revealed that a large portion of deforested lands (some
17,547 ha; about 60 per cent of total deforested area), has steep to very steep slopes (>
50 per cent slope). This is quite surprising, and will surely generate a number of questions
if the theory of anthropogenic deforestation alone (particularly by commercial logging)
is advanced. The accessibility factor will serve as the primary argument: a considerable
proportion of this land (about 6431 ha) falls within the 4000–10,000-m category, indicat-
ing that it is fairly far from road/trail networks.


Statistical and data quality issues

The chi-square test, Cramer’s V calculations and logistic regression analysis indicate that
the association between forest cover and all the environmental factors in this study are
statistically significant. However, the magnitude of the association for all variables is
weak to very weak. In bivariate logistic regression, for example, the results show a case
of models that fit well but do a poor job of predicting category membership. This is
another illustration of the maxim that statistical significance does not mean practical or
substantive significance (Kirk, 1990: 545).
An important consideration in this study is that none of the statistical analyses used
could provide a direct measure of causality. Tests like Cramer’s V and the tau-p of
logistic regression analysis can indicate the magnitude of association or predictive
efficiency, but the causal relations between forest cover and the independent variables
cannot be directly ascertained. Thus this study could not answer questions about the
nature and the direction of the causal effects. The coexistence of two variables does not
imply causality. Moreover, with the low measure of association among environmental
variables considered in this study, it suggests that not one of them is applicable for
inclusion in developing a predictive model requiring adequate certainty. Not one of the
variables is a good predictor of deforestation in the area. The highest Cramer’s V, for
land use, is only 0.3, which indicates only a weak relationship rather than a moderate one.
The issue of data quality in this study mainly focuses on the quality of the spatial
data acquired and digitally processed. If errors are present, they most probably derive
from the original source map. These include errors in soil mapping or the failure to
reflect up-to-date thematic information such as road, land use, land ownership and so
on. Although errors could possibly have been propagated during data automation and
digital analysis procedures (digitizing, georeferencing, image processing, etc.), conscien-
tious efforts to check and monitor this stage ensured that the data are of reasonably
good quality.

Forest cover and site factors

One of the appealing results obtained in this part of the study pertains to the ‘distances’
variables (i.e. distance from road and distance from water). Grainger (1993: 93) identified
proximity of roads and rivers as two of the underlying causes of deforestation (see above).
However, the present study found that accessibility factors were very weakly associated
with forest cover. Deforested lands are significantly present in both accessible and in-
accessible areas (arbitrarily, > 4 km for roads and > 1 km for rivers/creeks).
A number of possible explanations for this finding can be offered:
148 Tropical deforestation: A. A. Apan and J. A. Peterson

(1) forest fires started in lower slopes have reached the forested steep areas, or they are
started on higher slopes by hunters and gatherers;
(2) a stage has come where forests are being cleared (mainly for cultivation and timber
poaching) even in remote areas;
(3) recently built trails were not depicted on the 1970 road/trail map layer used in
this study;
(4) a vast area of non-vegetated lands are not actually deforested, but are a ‘natural
grassland’ climax ecosystem, possibly developed due to complex interactions of
topographic and edaphic factors.

A combination of these reasons is possible, especially the first, second and fourth in
the list.
The results of the statistical analysis indicated that land use has the highest magnitude
of association among all the environmental variables under study. However, the magni-
tude of association is only moderate—consistent with our a priori expectations. This
confirms the widely accepted fact that in the Philippines deforestation respects no land
use zones. Even in a portion of the study area classified as forest land or ‘timber land’
(which by law should not be touched except for forestry purposes), widespread defores-
tation is still occurring. Conversely, there are portions classified as grassland areas (for
pasture) which have dense natural forest cover. From these results, it could be argued
that land use zoning alone is not guaranteed to combat deforestation. Zoning or land
classification to prevent deforestation can have some effect, but in the absence of a
mechanism and of resources to implement it ‘on the ground’, it often proves useless.
The land ownership factor has the smallest magnitude of association with forest cover
in this study. Deforested lands could be seen in both state-owned forest lands and alien-
able and disposable lands, and no particular pattern of segregation was exhibited. This
supports the generally held notion in the Philippines that it is mainly state-owned lands
that are deforested and more susceptible to deforestation (e.g. Kummer, 1991: 93–100).
It also supports the notion of the ‘tragedy of the commons’ (Hardin, 1968); the open-
access nature of these lands makes them a ‘common property’ susceptible to exploitation.
This study showed the pattern of population density to be weakly associated with
forest cover; deforestation occurs in areas of low, medium and high-density population.
Theoretically, areas of low population density are expected to have a lower (or no)
proportion of deforested lands compared to areas of high population density. But such
an expectation is not supported for Mindoro, contradicting the popular view that popu-
lation density is a key independent variable in ‘explaining’ forest cover. In most studies,
the relationship between the two variables is strong (e.g. Palo, 1994). A deeper analysis,
however, shows that the analytical context referred to in most studies is considerably
different from the one conducted here, despite the same variables being used. The studies
are not comparable: Palo’s (1994) study used cross-national data while the Mindoro study
is at the local level. Most importantly, the samples in this study are georeferenced
samples which compare the forest cover and population density on a per pixel
(location) basis.
With regard to topography (slope and elevation), the results obtained from this study
contradicted the results from many other studies (see previous sections). For Mindoro,
slope and elevation factors have only a weak relationship with the amount of forest
cover. Even steep to very steep areas were deforested, in addition to the deforestation
Tropical deforestation: A. A. Apan and J. A. Peterson 149

observed in the low to medium-slope areas. Likewise, both low and high-elevation areas
were also deforested. The pattern of deforestation has no definite relationship with slope
and elevation factors.
For steep to very steep areas and areas of high elevation, this suggests that cultivation,
commercial logging or cattle ranching per se might not be the major causes of defores-
tation. Something else could overcome the limitations possibly imposed by slope and
elevation. The most probable cause, which is also supported by reports and field obser-
vations, is the action of forest fires, which are mostly intended to augment the opport-
unities for cattle ranching (the fires induce growth of young grass shoots). In most cases,
forest fires started on lower slopes have reached the steep forested areas. It is also known
that fires are started on higher slopes by hunters and gatherers.
Soil fertility is among the environmental variables in this study with a very low to
negligible association with forest cover. There is no significant relationship between the
pattern of deforestation and soil fertility; whatever the fertility, deforestation has
occurred. In most cases, areas of low fertility are located on steep slopes, and are fre-
quently subjected to forest fire. However, as with other environmental variables, the
causality of the relationship between soil fertility and forest cover is difficult to ascertain.
As with soil, the pattern of deforestation is arbitrary, regardless of landform or bedrock
geology. The idea that forests are mainly located in mountainous and hilly areas is gener-
ally true in this case, but landform type did not either prevent or promote deforestation.
As for bedrock, again no regular pattern and distribution of deforestation was observed.
The main reason for this situation could be attributed to the causes of deforestation
in the area. While portions of plains and lower terrace areas could be deforested because
of shifting cultivation, illegal logging, overgrazing, and so on, those in high-relief areas
are mainly deforested by forest fires, the distribution of which is not significantly con-
trolled by landform. Similarly, fertile soils from alluvial deposits might be attractive to
shifting cultivators, and might lead to forest conversion, but again, forest fires could not
be hindered by bedrock geology.

The nature of deforestation

From field observations and perusal of reports, at least four major agents of deforestation
may be identified. Their nature or behaviour partly, if not fully, explains the results of
the statistical analysis reported above. These agents are as follows:
쐌 Forest fire: normally started for grazing on slopes of 18–40 per cent (gently undulating
to steep), and mostly left to burn out so that they reach even steep forested areas. An
aerial reconnaissance study of forests includes the following remarks relating to the
study area (DAI, 1992):
Perennial fires in the adjoining grasslands have eroded these buffer zones [open canopy
second growth forest or brush]. Most of these grasslands are being used as pasture; regular
burning is the conventional practice... In almost all cases, these are left to spread into the for-
The action of forest fire is an agent of serious devastation in the area (Mendoza, 1995).
쐌 Overgrazing: this has contributed to deforestation on land degraded by soil com-
paction, soil erosion and forest fires. The last has the most significant impact; forest
fire has become a favourite strategy of pasture lease-holders who wish to encourage
the growth of tender young grass shoots for cattle to graze upon. Pasture lease areas
150 Tropical deforestation: A. A. Apan and J. A. Peterson

are mostly located across slopes of 18–30 per cent. As of 1978, there were about 40
pasture lease agreement holders covering some 23,825 ha in the study area (Bureau
of Forest Development–Occidental Mindoro, 1979). The area is known in the region
for its cattle ranching.
쐌 Shifting cultivation: mainly prevalent in alluvial plains, lower terraces and lower
slopes, this is mostly practised by poor, often landless people. In most cases, the
practice leads to forest clearing and soil erosion. From field observation of the study
area, no such farms have been established on slopes greater than about 50 per cent.
Only in the last decade or so has the government started to seriously implement the
social forestry programme which aimed, among other things, to help the farmers in
sustainable farming.
쐌 Logging and charcoal-making: either for commercial or domestic uses, are mostly
damaging to forests. In the 1960s, licensed logging (and the associated sawmilling)
was in full operation in the study area. Although licences terminated in 1983, illegal
logging activities continue to thrive. Some are probably intended for domestic use
such as house construction or firewood, but illegal logging activities for commercial
purposes are still rampant. During the fieldwork for the present study, the confiscation
of tricycle-loads of sawnwood by local DENR officials was observed. In addition, the
gathering of other forest products, wildlife and charcoal-making are common. For
instance, during fieldwork for this study, a group of people was encountered in a
cleared portion of the forest; they were producing charcoal out of the wood cut without
a legal permit.

Some groups are claiming that many portions of the study area are not actually
deforested by human activities but are initially ‘natural’ grasslands. A 1934 map
(Fischer, 1934) indicated that the area analysed here included, at that time, much ‘cogon
grass [Imperata cylindrica] and open land’, ‘non-commercial forest area’ and ‘culti-
vated land’. Vegetation maps from second world war intelligence documents indicated
that most of the study area was dominated by grasses and shrubs (Allied Geographical
Section, 1944). In addition, historical records indicated that commercial logging in the
study area and its vicinity began in the post-war era, specifically in the 1960s (Bureau
of Forest Development–Occidental Mindoro, 1979). If these archival maps are accurate,
the question remains: how (and when) was the area substantially deforested in the pre-
1934 period? The ‘natural grassland’ explanation is further supported by the fact that
many of these areas are highly inaccessible from road networks, and are located on
very steep slopes where logging (especially the transport component) would be
extremely difficult. However, as a counter-argument, it is possible that ‘animal log-
ging’, mainly carabao-based (water buffalo), was used instead of the mechanized, road-
transport-dependent logging.
The most logical explanation to refute the ‘natural grasslands’ theory is the action
of the first agent of deforestation mentioned above—forest fires. Mainly used for pro-
moting grazing, forest fires are mostly started on lower slopes, from where they spread
to steep forested areas. They are also started on higher slopes by hunters and gatherers.
The results of the statistical analysis (that there is very weak association between defor-
estation and environmental factors) also support this argument. In the Mindoro case,
forest fires are related to no slope, land ownership, land use, elevation or other factors.
Tropical deforestation: A. A. Apan and J. A. Peterson 151

Deforestation is influenced by a wide range of biophysical and socioeconomic factors
which can vary in relative significance both spatially and temporally. Extrapolation from
results and generalizations should be made with caution, especially if the information
will be used for planning and management. For local-level planning, the conduct of
deforestation studies at the local level of the site under consideration, rather than regurgit-
ating ideas from other studies of different sites, is advantageous and is increasingly
becoming essential. This is more justifiable than previously, because digital spatial data
handling allows full and accessible archiving of data and information.
This study has demonstrated the utility and effectiveness of the GIS environment, in
tandem with statistical packages, to handle large datasets, to obtain samples of almost
unlimited number for a study area, and to analyse the relationship between variables
expressed as data layers. Data formatting for transfer to statistical software was likewise
unconstrained. It is, however, recognized that all the thematic layers should be digitized
and georeferenced with high accuracy.

The authors gratefully acknowledge the help of Mr Ver Santos (NAMRIA), Mr Esteban
Godilano (IRRI), Dr Rex Cruz (UPLB-CF), and PENRO Teodulo Ragudo and his staff
(DENR Occ. Mindoro). Comments from Dr Gale Dixon, Monash University are greatly
appreciated. Many thanks to Australia’s Department of Employment, Education and
Training and Monash University for Mr Apan’s scholarships and travel grant.

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(Revised manuscript received 25 April 1997)