GEORGE NEWS - The George Herald reported last week on the concern of Forestry Contracting Association CEO Dr Jaap Steenkamp and others about neglect by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (Daff) of plantations and exit areas under its management. It is believed the neglected areas add to the risk of veld fires spreading rapidly. Steenkamp is asking that plantations and "exit areas" (plantation areas taken over by the state from private growers) be returned to the private sector for re-planting and proper management.
Responding to Steenkamp's concerns and proposals, Daff agrees that they "seem" to have merit and "should be acknowledged as possible points for intervention". The department agrees furthermore that "more effective fuel load management" needs to take place. "The question that needs to be answered in a practical way is how this can be implemented, given that many land owners, including the state, will be involved."
Daff admits that revenue from private plantations enable investment in the management of the land resources.
It states as follows: "It may seem that the exit strategy has had the effect of terminating economic enterprise (which yielded revenue) and replaced that with a land use that yielded no revenue, whilst instead demanding substantial financial inputs towards land management. This may be an important learning point emerging from these events that may well find application in several other situations. At the core of this question lies the nexus between society, the environment and the economy. Decisions that may seem environmentally well justified could fail the sustainability test by their failure to account for social and economic realities.
"The local community may feel themselves well justified to lobby for a policy change. The fact is that Cabinet had taken a decision, in 2008, to retain some of the areas previously intended for forestry exit. The areas already cleared of plantations still need significant managerial and financial inputs for their rehabilitation. It is not clear whether Dr Steenkamp is proposing that some of those areas be reforested again; it seems to be the case."
Reforestation costly and ambitious
"The practical reality is that large scale reforestation of the exit areas will be a costly and ambitious undertaking with a time line well beyond one year. Even to review a policy change on the matter of commercial forestry exit may take more than one year to complete," reads the statement.
"Adaptive responses to these fire events should assume short, medium and long term perspectives. The department encourages stakeholders to debate these matters, as Dr Steenkamp is doing through his letter; and to propose viable practical solutions that would yield positive environmental, economic and social results ....as custodian of the National Veld and Forest Fires Act, 1998, the department has put more emphasis on an integrated approach and fire preparedness by landowners, in particular through the Fire Protection Association (FPA).
"Furthermore, the department is a paid-up member of the Southern Cape FPA, which serves as a platform of all the integrated veld fire management stakeholders in the Garden Route and further monitors compliance of all the members affiliated to it."
Read Dr Jaap Steenkamp's letter in response to Daff's statement on the letters page.
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