“The deteriorating state of water catchments in the Outeniqua Mountains makes the residents of the Southern Cape the biggest losers in the impass between the Department of Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) and Cape Nature, says Cobus Meiring of the Southern Cape Landowners Initiative (SCLI).

“Whereas private landowners and conservation minded entities are trying their utmost to ensure that their land is managed in accordance to environmental legislation, critically importantly mountain catchments are getting totally overgrown with run- away plantations”, continues Meiring. “Not only is this the case in the Southern Cape, but also in the Boland”.

“Land previously earmarked for forestry is now supposed to be handed over to Cape Nature for conservation, but because of the scale of these areas, and more importantly, the cost to manage the land, Cape Nature is an unlikely candidate to take custody of the land, and now nobody is taking responsibility”.

Whilst this situation prevails, says Meiring, “already places like Knysna and Oudtshoorn are facing water shortages, and a lot of water loss could be ascribed to catchments, streams and rivers falling victim to pine and wattle jungles, which will cost millions to clear and maintain.”

Socio-Economic impact on George and surrounds

In an ongoing saga where DAFF has simply not paid any attention to the state of forestry in both the Southern Cape and the Boland, the industry and down- stream value chain has shrunk to a fraction of its value in the 1980’s, says Meiring. “Sawmills have closed, factories have closed doors, and skilled foresters left the area, as there is little opportunity nor work to be found in the once thriving business sector.

“A prime example is the demise of the Witfontein state plantation outside George, which is now overgrown with invasive plants, un-kept fire breaks, and moribond trees where no silviculture has been practiced in almost a decade”.

Says Meiring, “it does remind one a lot of the predicament Eskom find itself in, where a lack of planning and poor management today affects everybody from the top down. The towns of George , Knysna and Stellenbosch are no exceptions, with a shrinking economy and a withering forestry industry. Studies indicate that up to 8 000 people have lost work over time as a result of the phasing out of forestry, which is detrimental to especially low skilled communities”.

“Fortunately, there are strong indicators that there is movement towards the right direction. Large areas will be replanted and the land be managed as the result of an interim agreement between MTO Forestry and DAFF”, says Meiring.

“SCLI, as a public platform for landowners and land managers with an interest in the eradication and control of invasive alien plants, continues to engage with the powers that be to find a solution for the spread of invasives, and we are hopeful that a solution will be found to the benefit of all”.

Contact Cobus Meiring for all enquiries: cobus@naturalbridge.co.za

Written by Cobus Meiring