The people or the paper industry?

Press release from Geasphere, South Africa:

21 September, 2007

The Constitution says we are all entitled to water, and when the choice becomes necessary, who does the forestry industry think will win – the people or the paper industry?”Simon Evered, White River

Today, on the International Day against Monoculture Tree Plantations – we appeal to the delegates of the current Stellenbosch ‘FSC plantations certification symposium‘ NOT to endorse and promote the high impact monoculture plantation model through FSC certification.

Consider the impacts on Water.

South Africa is a water scarce region – it is not responsible to promote vast plantations of high water consumptive timber species. There are currently several cases where the impacts of timber plantations on the water resource are leading to conflict between plantation companies and other land users. The town of White River in Mpumalanga province is in a water crisis situation – the two main dams feeding the town virtually empty. 80% of the town’s catchment area is planted to eucalyptus and pine plantations – dramatically reducing stream-flow. Residents of the town are starting to demand to industry that a significant proportion of the timber should be removed in order to make some water available for use by the towns residents. “The Constitution says we are all entitled to water, and when the choice becomes necessary, who does the forestry industry think will win – the people or the paper industry?” (Simon Evered, White River)

Another case is of the farming community in Schoemanskloof (Mpumalanga, South Africa). Higher lying streams and fountains which used to supply these farmers with water year round have become progressively drier as more plantations was being established in the catchment areas. The farmers consolidated their efforts and an appeal was made to the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry to examine the situation and introduce mitigation measures. Industry responded with promises to undertake clearing of timber in sensitive areas such as riparian zones and wetlands. As yet no significant amount of timber has been removed outside the normal harvesting regime and the Schoemanskloof farmers have to adapt to the dehydrated condition by pumping water from the Crocodile River, which is compounded upstream by the Kwena dam.

Another clear example of how the region is being impacted upon by timber plantations is the way in which the world renowned Sudwala caves have dried out since a plantation was established in its upper catchments. The caves and adjoining rainforest have become visibly and significantly drier during the past 10 years. The FSC certified plantation company has denied that the plantations impact on groundwater recharge to these systems and demand proof before any action can be decided upon. The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry has launched a broad investigation of groundwater impacts – yet no information or reports are available to date. Cave management has resorted to artificially wetting the caves in an effort to control dust.

From the examples cited above is should be clear to the reader that industrial timber plantations have a significant negative impact on stream flow – and should not qualify for FSC certification if principle 10.6 be properly applied. As these impacts on stream-flow is well documented and available to FSC certifiers – we wonder how such a large proportion of South Africa’s timber plantations could have been certified during the past decade.

Apart from the severe pressure fast wood plantations exert on the local water resource, the timber species used is invasive to the extreme – with no natural predators these trees are continuously spreading onto natural / non planted areas adjacent to managed timber plantations. These trees need to be permanently managed at cost to the adjoining non timber producing land owners.

The large scale of these plantations is impacting most severely on the grassland biome of Southern Africa. Grassland animals and plants are increasingly being threatened by habitat destruction – they can not adapt and live in timber plantation conditions.

Though we are not opposed to a system which promotes change towards a low impact, diversified forest model through management and oversight – we do not agree the current certification system which seems to promote large scale ‘fast wood’ monoculture plantations as a responsible land use model – even though clear evidence to the contrary exist.

Philip Owen GeaSphere

FSC Criterion 10.6: “Measures shall be taken to maintain or improve soil structure, fertility, and biological activity. The techniques and rate of harvesting, road and trail construction and maintenance, and the choice of species shall not result in long term soil degradation or adverse impacts on water quality, quantity or substantial deviation from stream course drainage patterns.”

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