The City’s commercial plantations are being pillaged and there are renewed calls for their management to be outsourced so that the revenue from them can make a bigger contribution to the municipal coffers.Residents who live next to Msunduzi Municipality’s forest plantations, located in the Blackridge and Boughton areas, have raised the alarm on what they say is brazen looting of timber in broad daylight.The plantations are eucalyptus, pine and wattle.Blackridge resident Elizabeth Murray said she has seen people chopping trees above Albany Road and transporting them away in private bakkies.“I go for walks in the plantations with the dog in the afternoons. I have come across people loading logs which they are stealing. You can see that the cutters are not professionals because they don’t chop the trees at a height which is convenient for professional harvesters,” Murray added. “What is especially concerning is that the trees have not fully matured, as they were only planted a couple of years ago.”Murray said she confronted a driver of one of the vehicles, who was picking up his team at the end of the day.“I asked who he was paying for the logs and he said the trees were free. He told me that he needed the wood for his house. They are helping themselves to this municipal timber and that is theft,” she added.“This timber belongs to the whole city and the money that they get for selling the timber is supposed to be used for municipal expenses.“The City management would rather squeeze more rates out of us than manage our resources. The theft has going on for the last three weeks. They have cut a whole field of timber.”Another resident, John Deare, said he has also seen truckloads of timber being removed from the plantation.“One can only presume that it’s not legitimate. We see trucks up in the plantation and we hear chainsaws. The thieves have thinned out the trees tremendously, but no one seems to know who exactly is doing it. We can’t ignore it. If someone other than the municipality is getting monetary benefit, it needs to be stopped,” Deare added.Democratic Alliance councillor Bill Lambert said the City’s plantations were poorly managed and that the municipality needed to get someone to run them as had been done in the past. The municipal forest was previously managed by Natal Co-operative Timbers.The Witness previously reported that the plantation is now managed by the City through Ngubane & Co, a firm of chartered accountants. “It came up at our last economic development meeting. The City is failing to manage the forest. It has to be outsourced again,” Lambert said. “The City is not reaping any rewards from it. The municipality had anticipated to get about R27 million in dividends from entities such as the timber plantation. We always have to protect our assets. How can you run a business and not protect your assets?”A city expert, with a background in forestry, who asked to remain unnamed, said the environmental effects of illegal logging include deforestation, the loss of biodiversity and the emission of greenhouse gases. “Illegal logging has contributed to conflicts with indigenous and local populations, violence, human rights abuses, corruption, funding of armed conflicts and the worsening of poverty.“It undermines the legitimacy of the forest sector and hinders the efforts of governments to implement sustainable forest management,” the expert said.Municipal spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said the forestry business unit is aware of the allegations made against individuals and vehicles involved in the illegal logging of wood at the City plantations. “To mitigate against this practice, we have deployed security at the timber theft and dumping hotspots,” she added.Last month, timber worth an estimated R81 000 was stolen from the plantation.“Fortunately, that timber theft incident was not successful. We managed to prevent the alleged perpetrators from moving it,” Mafumbatha said.“We are in the process of selling that timber so that we can retain the value including the free harvesting benefit.”Mafumbatha told The Witness that the extent of timber theft is very minimal, adding that most of the incidents are committed by those who wanted firewood. “The last forestry valuation indicates that the plantation appreciated by 54% from R54 million in 2017 to R79 million in 2019.”Mafumbatha added that the municipality planned to introduce a permit system to control access to the plantation. Anyone caught without a permit will be arrested.She added that any suspicious activity at the plantation can be reported to Alpine Security at 072 944 1036 or to Sandile Nyandu at 076 586 8237.