Forestry Support Programme reduces fire risks and creates jobs

Firebreaks constructed at DEFF’s Grabouw plantation in the Southern Cape as part of the Forestry Support Programme.

Working on Fire (WoF) and the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) have launched a support programme to improve fire prevention measures on DEFF plantations in the Cape that are part of the forestry exit strategy and are being handed back to government by MTO.

According to Johan Heine, Chairperson of the WoF Board and initiator of the Forestry Support Programme (FSP) initiative, these areas are situated in remote areas with rural communities surrounding them. He said these areas are at risk from a fire and legal perspective, and if left too long without proper management would cost ten times more to be brought back up to standard again.

He explained that MTO Forestry, which manages DEFF’s plantations, has an Exit Lease Agreement and has already handed a large portion of these areas back to DEFF.

Therefore Johan, together with Dr. Guy Preston and Suzan Leseke from DEFF, initiated the FSP as an extension of the Memorandum of Agreement between DEFF and Working on Fire (Pty) Ltd to manage this land.

“Our goal is to upgrade and improve these plantations and we want to ensure they are compliant with the National Veld and Forest Fire Act of 1998 (NVFFA). We are well ahead in executing this successfully. The FSP would maintain, upgrade and improve all the existing DEFF plantations in the Western, Southern and Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga provinces,” Johan said.

He said that WoF would work closely with the various Fire Protection Associations (FPAs), and with the neighboring land owners and corporates such as Sappi, York Timbers, PG Bison, MTO and other forestry operators to comply with the NVFFA in terms of land and fire management.

According to reports, the FPAs are impressed with the positive results that the WoF-FSP has achieved thus far. Commented Hein Niemand from the Eastern Cape Umbrella FPA: “Onsite resources for these plantations are minimal and limited. Both forestry and fire prevention activities are not always able to be performed or completed which resulted in plantations that do not comply with general forestry practices. This caused high fuel loads which exacerbate veldfires. This demoralises and demotivates the foresters who are on site and experience these challenges. This also makes firefighting assistance, when calls for help are received, extremely difficult.”

Hein says the FSP enabled plantations to get a fire prevention strategy and appoint contractors from local communities to perform various tasks, such as fuel reduction and fire prevention activities. This helps the local community with employment opportunities and job creation.

Mike Botha, who is managing the WoF-FSP, said the FSP would continue over a few years to ensure land is managed up to the highest standards. He said it has created 530 new jobs recruited from local communities.

“The new recruits have undergone similar training to those of the WoF firefighters, with additional forestry management skills training over a 21 day period.”

Riaan Fourie, general manager of the Cape Peninsula FPA said that there had been a great breakthrough in the management of the Grabouw (Highlands and Lebanon) and Kluitjieskraal plantations, thus ensuring compliance to NVFFA.

He said that the three main requirements of the Act are that there should be firebreaks around the perimeter of the property, that firefighters who are trained and able to suppress wildfires are on the property, and that they are properly equipped.

“We have complied with all three in a short period of time and created employment opportunities for the Grabouw and Kluitjieskraal communities,” said Riaan.

Paul Gerber of the Southern Cape FPA was also impressed with the work done so far, and said the WoF-FSP programme was an important step in getting the plantations back to an acceptable forestry standard again.

Related article: Useful tips for a safer fire season

 

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