The Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries’ (DEFF) forestry plantations are located in some very remote areas with rural communities surrounding them. Due to recent veld fires, these areas might become a high legal risk and if left too long without proper management it would cost ten fold more to get it up to standard again,’’ stated Johan Heine, Chairperson of the Working on Fire (WOF) Board and initiator of the Forestry Support Programme (FSP).
He explains that MTO Forestry, that manages DEFF’s plantations, has an Exit Lease Agreement and have already handed back a large portion of these areas back to DEFF.
Therefore Johan, together with Dr. Guy Preston and Suzan Leseke from DEFF, initiated the FSP as an extension of the Memorandum of Agreement between DEFF and Working on Fire (Pty) Ltd (WoF) to manage this land. “Our goal is to upgrade and improve these plantations and we and to ensure they are compliant with the National Veld and Forest Fire Act of 1998 (NVFFA). We are well ahead in executing this successfully. The FSP maintains, upgrades and improves all the existing DEFF plantations in the Western, Southern and Eastern Cape, Kwa-Zulu Natal and Mpumalanga provinces,” Johan stated.
WoF – FSP will, through the various Fire Protection Associations (FPAs), be working closely with the neighboring land owners and corporates such as Sappi, York Timbers, PG Bison, MTO and other forestry operators to comply to the NVFFA in terms of land and fire management.”
These FPA’s are impressed with the positive results the WoF – FSP has created thus far. According to Hein Niemand from the Eastern Cape Umbrella FPA, “onsite resources for these plantations are very minimal and limited. Both forestry and fire prevention activities are not always able to be performed or completed which resulted in plantations that doesn’t comply with general forestry practices. This caused high fuel loads which exacerbate veldfires. This demoralises and demotivates the foresters at all levels, who are onsite and experience these challenges. This also makes firefighting assistance, when calls for help are received, extremely difficult.”
Firebreaks constructed at Grabouw DEFF plantations.
Hein says the FSP enabled plantations to get a fire prevention strategy and appoint contractors from local communities to perform various tasks, such as fuel reduction and fire prevention activities. This helps the local community with employment opportunities and job creation.
Mike Botha, who is managing the WoF – FSP, stated the FSP will stretch over a few years to ensure land is managed up to the highest standards. He continued that it created 530 new jobs where WoF recruited people from local communities in these provinces. “The new recruits have undergone similar training to those of the WoF firefighters, with additional forestry management skills training over a 21 day period.”
Riaan Fourie, Cape Peninsula FPA’s GM said that now, the Grabouw (Highlands and Lebanon) and Kluitjieskraal Plantations, has made a great breakthrough in managing these plantations and ensuring compliance to NVFFA.
“The three main requirements in the act entails firebreaks around the perimeter of the property, firefighters equipped, trained and able to suppress wildfires on the property and having the required equipment to suppress wildfires. “We have complied with all three in a short period of time and created employment opportunities for the Grabouw and Kluitjieskraal communities. Riaan said the high wildfire risk posed by these plantations is a major concern, yet, through the FSP, we will ensure consistent legal compliance and the rehabilitation of the Exit Areas back to Fynbos.
According to Paul Gerber, Fire Advisor for DEFF Southern Cape Region FPA (SCFPA) commended the WoF – FSP. “The SCFPA did an excellent job of extremely high quality and standards. It is impressive how much work was done in such a short period of time which is highly beneficial.”
The continuation of the WoF – FSP program is very important to getting the plantations to an acceptable forestry standard again, Paul concluded.