Forestry sector joins forces to mitigate impact of wildfires on plantations

4th July 2017 By: Megan van Wyngaardt - Creamer Media Contributing Editor Online

Forestry sector joins forces to mitigate impact of wildfires on plantations

Photo by: Duane Daws

Following the recent wildfires that swept across the Southern and Eastern Cape areas, industry bodies Forestry South Africa (FSA), Sawmilling South Africa (SSA) and the South African Forestry Contractors Association will mobilise additional contractor capacity to ensure that the interests of local businesses and jobs are protected.

At a recent meeting, the industry bodies determined that there was a need for intensive collaboration and careful coordination between government and industry during the recovery operations, with FSA and SSA facilitating further meetings with national, provincial, regional and local disaster management officials.

The associations, along with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the Department of Trade and Industry and the National Disaster Management Centre are now assisting industry with plans to mitigate the impact of these losses, by salvaging commercially saleable product and re-establishing the affected areas.

The South African Wood Preservers Association would also carry out research around the “treatability” of burned poles.

The entities noted that the prolonged drought, high temperatures, powerful winds and fire-adapted fynbos combined to exacerbate the spread of and devastation caused by the fires.

“At a regional industry level, there has been extensive damage to the timber plantations and one complete saw mill was razed to the ground. The scale of the disaster is the worst that the industry has experienced in the region for many years.

“Currently, it is not possible to put a monetary value to the damage caused by the fires but preliminary estimates indicate losses running into hundreds of millions of rand,” the entities said.

From an employment perspective, there may be a short-term increase in jobs, as the industry seeks to salvage, re-establish and reforest operations – providing it can secure the finance necessary for these interventions.

However, in the medium- to longer-term and until the plantations return to a more normalised rotation, stakeholders will need to explore other employment interventions, as the future sustainable supply of timber will be adversely affected.