Protect indigenous trees, or else

A warning to those flouting the rules regarding indigenous and invasive plant species

THE departments of forestry and the environment joined hands at the Port Alfred civic centre recently to create awareness in the fight to save our natural forests and eliminate alien vegetation.

ALIEN HUNTER: Zincebe Peter-Madikizela of the Department of the Environment spoke of the elimination of alien vegetation at the awareness campaign, held at the Port Alfred civic centre last Thursday morning Picture: ROB KNOWLES
ALIEN HUNTER: Zincebe Peter-Madikizela of the Department of the Environment spoke of the elimination of alien vegetation at the awareness campaign, held at the Port Alfred civic centre recently Picture: ROB KNOWLES

A small but influential group consisting of local councillors, estate agents, businesspeople and members of the public attended this, the third visit by the department of forestry to Port Alfred.

Thabo Nokoyo from the Department of Forestry and Fisheries (DFF) spoke of the penalties for breaking the law when cutting down or even pruning a protected tree without the necessary authority, even if that tree is on your own property.

He defined what was meant by the term natural forest.

“Trees forming a natural forest would be of different species and different heights and ages. They would also be evergreen and form a canopy,” he said. “In contrast, a man-made forest would consist of trees of a single species, be of the same age and height.”

Nokoyo added that natural forests for a firebreak, and that fires that meet a natural forest tend to stop at its borders, only burning a metre or so inward.

“Artificial forests do not form fire breaks and will therefore burn down in the case of a fire,” he said.

Nokoyo also said there was a need to understand that local municipalities and national departments do not always talk to each other, and was pleased the Ndlambe Infrastructure department, as well as environmental officers were present. He quoted the National Forests Act of 1998 with specific mention of sections seven and 15.

Section seven states that no trees in a natural forest may be cut down without a licence.

“Not just Milkwoods,” he added, but any form of natural forest. Section 15 states that no protected trees may be cut down (or trimmed) without a licence.

“This means that you may not cut down protected trees to build a house. We will not allow it. There has to be exceptional circumstances, like danger to life or property, for a case to be exceptional,” he said.

He went on to explain that exceptional circumstances did not include clearing trees to build houses or for agriculture.

“All other avenues must be explored before trees are cut down. Permission of the local municipality or even the MEC can be overruled by DAFF,” he said.

It was then the turn of Zincebe Peter-Madikizela of the Department of the Environment’s Green Industries, to talk about the invasion of alien plant species.

“It is not just the job of the government of provincial and local authorities, but the duty of everyone to help eliminate alien species,” she said.

“It is important we encourage the public to get involved and inform the authorities of invasive alien species.”

Referring to the National Environmental Management Act, she listed the invasive species under several categories, all defining the appropriate steps to be taken when dealing them. Category 1a means taking immediate steps to eliminate them, whereas Category 1b means to control the listed invasive species and comply with a management programme.

Category 2 requires a permit and ensures that plants cannot propagate beyond a set boundary and Category 3 determines what happens to more exotic invasive species where tight regulation is required.

She warned that routine inspections of farms, businesses and even the general public could be carriesd out and that heavy fines would be imposed on anyone not following the regulations.