A Forester that serves to humanity: An interview with Zobair B. Sidic

   I first met Zobair B. Sidic in Davao City for “Generation Change Project” of U.S. Embassy held at Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) on April 24-25, 2012. That time we only had causal conversation and it continued to flourish through online communication. 

   He studied at Mindanao State University in Marawi City with a double degree. He finished Bachelor of Science in Forestry in 2013 and BS in Agroforestry in 2014. His thesis entitled - Inventory of Avifaunal Species in The Lakeshore and Riparian Ecosystems of Lake Dapao, Lanao del Sur – got the best thesis accolade because its innovative approach in studying Lake Dapao. Furthermore, he got the 6th place in the 2014 Foresters Licensure Examination. He has various international exposures (thru U.S. led leadership programs) in which it aid him to become an active youth environmentalist. Currently, he is the Project Extension Officer in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Region XII (PENRO-South Cotabato). 

   Despite his busy schedule, he did not hesitate to accept my invitation for an interview. He managed to answer my questions and share his experiences as youth leader and environmentalist. 

"We became a youth once and never again. Being a youth is a calling and we cannot afford to let these precious years gone in vain. Life is a legacy when youthful years are lived in the service to our country; our nation is destined to rise and become a great again." - Zobair B. Sidic

Yadu Karu: What it is like to be a Forester?

Zobair Sidic: To become a forester is a perfect opportunity to serve humanity. As a junior Filipino forester, it means beyond dedicating one’s life to the conservation of our forests but also to address development issues such as poverty and food security among 25 million Filipinos depending on our country’s forestlands and forest resources. Yes, it is not as popular profession as Engineers, Accountants, etc. But foresters will play a central role in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs). Forester’s works are beyond borders, a hybrid of disciplines, more than a science and art but also about policy and people.

YK: Why did you choose to study Forestry?

ZS: In the beginning, it was never my choice, not even in my wildest dreams. I never heard of it then. My scholarship left no choice but to enroll in Forestry Department, thinking to shift then to accountancy or engineering courses. But, in the process, I learn to love it.

YK: Is that a conscious decision?

ZS: I can say YES, because I have choices whether to shift or not and I prefer to stay in Forestry.

YK: Can you share your experience in International Exchange Program (“Study of US Institutes on Global Environmental Science”) where you visited some places in the United States? 

ZS: It was a life changing program. The institute is sponsored by the US Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, is hosted by the East West Center (EWC) with collaboration to more than 50 outstanding organizations across the United States. Through intensive academic sessions, educational tours, and community service, SUSI engages future civic, professional, and political leaders from around the world in an exchange experience.

During the SUSI experience, I had visited native volcanic forests in Hawaii, Muir’s Woods in California, the oldest forest in North America where the tallest living things on Earth thrive - the Sequoia tree, and the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. I had also good opportunities to surf in the high waves of the Pacific, to get aboard on Polynesian vessel to observe traditional navigation skills using stars, to do kayaking in Chesapeake Bay, to trek, bike and climb in the Colorado plains and canyons, to raft in whitewaters of Kansas River, attend exhibits, conferences and host family, and to experience in-campus stay at University of Hawaii at Manoa and University of Colorado at Boulder. 

YK: What motivates you to become an environmentalist?

ZS: It was all started with the story of Martha, the last individual in the species of the extinct Passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius). That was the turning point of my consciousness for the environment. That story was my awakening and led me to the advocacy of saving Lake Lanao. 

YK: How's working with DENR Region XII?

ZS: It is a best experience so far. Region 12 has many things to offer. It is rich in landscapes, culture and biodiversity. The region hosts mountain ranges, protected areas, ancestral domains, mine reserves, coastal and marine environments. As a project extension officer, it requires to work more than eight (8) hours a day, five (5) days a week. 

YK: What’s your unforgettable experience as a Forester?

ZS: TreeVolution: Greening MindaNOW, a simultaneous mass tree planting within one (1) hour participated by the 28,154 participants and volunteers province-wide. It was full of challenges and lesson learned.

YK: As an active youth leader, how would you encourage other youth to participate in nation building?

ZS: We became a youth once and never again. Being a youth is a calling and we cannot afford to let these precious years gone in vain. Life is a legacy when youthful years are lived in the service to our country, our nation is destined to rise and become a great again. 

YK: As Moro youth environmentalist, how would you convince our fellow Moro youth to take care of our environment?

ZS: As young Moro, it is more than a responsibility to save our environment. Our environment dictates us – Moros, of who we are, Meranaos (People of the Lake), Tausug (People of the Current), Iranon (People of the Bay - Illana), Maguindanaon (People of the River – Rio Grande) etc. Thus, it is pride and honor (Maratabat) of every son of the Bangsamoro to protect and nourish what he called Home. We are stewards (Khalifah) of our environment.

YK: What's the worst problem you have solved (or help solve) with regards to the environment (so far)?

ZS: I think the critical scenario that needs attention and urgent action is the changing climate. As a forester, we believe to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and enhancement of carbon stocks in forests as major solution. My work in the National Greening Program, best illustrates its relevance, to plant 1 billion trees in 1 million hectares of forestlands in the country. 

YK: In your own opinion, what's the current environmental situation of Region XII (or Mindanao in general)?

ZS: Our environment is sick. We have abused our environment beyond capacity to recover. SOX needs CPR (conservation, protection and restoration) of its ecosystems from top ridges to its reefs. This symptom needs a new paradigm. We need to learn how live in harmony with nature. We have to shift the way we think of our environment. 

YK: Can you share to us a bit of your study about Lake Dapao?

ZS: It is all about the birds (avifauna) of Lake Dapao, a national park in Lanao del Sur. It assesses the ecological, socio-cultural and economic values of the birds and also identifies their threats and possible recommendation to save these birds in its lakeshores and riparian ecosystems.

YK: If you are given a research grant, what research would you like to conduct?

ZS: With the trending promotion on ecotourism, biodiversity-related topic would be of relevant area of research/study. 

YK: What's your take/reason on this quote that you have included in one of your studies? 

"Only when the last tree be cut, only when the fish to kill, only when the last river to be poisoned, only the man will realize that money cannot be eat."

ZS: Man fooled himself. He does everything for money even it costs his health, his environment and sometimes his dignity. But in the end, he will realize that money is not everything. Money cannot even bring back fishes, trees, rivers once gone. It is a good reminder.

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