Felling of 150 Berg trees ‘exaggerated’

2009-08-21 00:00

MEDIA reports that about 150 yellowwood trees aged between 50 and 100 years were poisoned and felled near the Drakensberg Sun outside Winterton were “somewhat exaggerated”, says the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs (DWEA).

Recent news reports claimed that a contractor with the Working for Water (WfW) programme mistook the trees for black wattle trees. WfW is a part of DWEA, formerly the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF).

Yellowwoods are an endangered species and the national tree of South Africa, while black wattles are a category one invasive alien species, regarded by many environmentalists as SA’s worst weed species.

Kim Weir, acting regional director of KZN forestry in the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), said WfW and KZN DAFF officials conducted a site inspection and found that no yellowwood trees had been chopped down.

However, 104 small trees were ringbarked and poisoned and most are expected to die. The officials recorded the sizes of all the trees and most had a diameter less than 40 cm.

“Only two had a diameter bigger than 40 cm,” he said. None of the trees were more than 50 years old.

DWEA said disciplinary action has been taken against the WfW contractor, who violated the programme’s norms and standards, and she has been removed from the department’s list of contractors.

The WfW project manager responsible for the area has been given a written warning.

WfW has also undertaken to provide 200 indigenous trees to be planted by the hotel as reparation.

It will also monitor the local WfW team’s rehabilitation of the affected area and do a follow-up visit to quantify the number of yellowwoods that have died or are likely to die.

A media statement released by DWEA said the WfW programme “regrets the destruction of indigenous trees, the waste of resources associated with this, and the bad publicity for the department and its partners”. It also thanked DAFF for its support.

DWEA said several measures have been agreed to prevent similar incidents from happening again. These include:

• the greater involvement of land owners when WfW teams work on their property;

• an information road show and field days with all WfW contractors in KZN to address issues like this and to prevent similar problems (this will also help make landowners aware of WfW standards, procedures and practices);

• regional project managers will sit on environmental committees in communities;

• a community-nominated person will be available to sign off and check areas cleared by WfW if the landowner is not available;

• because of poor buy-in among landowners for WfW activities, DWEA is working on a far-reaching policy change that will require private landowners to take responsibility for the clearing of invasive alien plants on their land.

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