It’s official: a forest fire killed the giant Tsitsikamma tree… 

It’s official: a forest fire killed the giant Tsitsikamma tree…

17 June 2009

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South Africa —

The photo of a humungous yellowwood stump under the heading ‘Who killed this tree?’ in CXPRESS of June 3 created a stir among readers and feedback started streaming in as soon as the paper hit the shelves. Coincidentally, a group of environmentalists from The Crags and Tsitsikamma had, that same day, stumbled upon a clearing with unmarked logs and the assumption was that certain priceless indigenous trees were being culled from our forests on the sly. But  enquiries to the relevant authorities yielded the following information…

IN a comprehensive response to CXPRESS, Theo Stehle of the Dept of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) Technical and Scientific Support team in Knysna explained why the Tsitsikamma yellowwood was cut down.
Said Stehle: “The giant yellowwood tree sadly succumbed to a disastrous fire in the forest alongside the N2 in 2005. The tree was growing in the Tsitsikamma indigenous State forest – now part of Garden Route National Park, after having been transferred to GRNP by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry.”
He explained that SANParks staff felled the now dead – and dangerous – tree out of necessity, and copied us on a message by GRNP Senior Forester Carina Potgieter, which reads: “The yellowwood was cut down by SANParks on the morning of May 20. The tree was dead due to a fire that ran through the area in 2005 and it posed a risk of falling onto the N2. The DBH (diameter at breast height) of the tree is approximately 162cm.”
Stehle informed us that about 25% of the total forest area of the State indigenous forests in the George-Knysna-Tsitsikamma area are subjected to a highly sophisticated, scientific and environmentally-friendly timber harvesting system, rated as the Rolls Royce of rainforest harvesting systems in the world.
“Trees like stinkwood, yellowwood and other indigenous species are continually harvested and sold at timber auctions according to this cyclic system, by which single trees are selected from among the forest canopy trees.
“The environmental impact of this tree harvesting is so minimal that outsiders entering the harvested areas would hardly be able to notice it, as on average not more than 10% of the mature stems in a particular forest unit are harvested once every 10 years,” said Stehle.
“Only senile trees are harvested, and logs are slipped out of the forest with draught horses, not machines.”

Nature lovers stumped

In a deluge of emails and phone calls, readers from all over the Route – and the Tsitsikamma, in particular – responded to the photo of a yellowwood stump in CXPRESS of June 3.
One correspondent wrote: “I am not sure how legitimate the tree felling is. All I know is that they are cutting down huge amounts of forest and this needs to be stopped.
I have spoken to a few of the people involved in the felling – apparently they are replanting new trees in places where the old trees were felled.
“The point is, this is not sustainable. That yellowwood, for instance, could easily have been 800-1000 years old. Surely this is a natural heritage and should be protected, not destroyed? Also, if it is legitimate then why is the community of Covie not benefiting from the felling? Surely these trees are on their property.”
Interesting questions, which could be the subject of a different debate. But please check the story alongside for the forest authorities’ explanation of the harvesting system employed in our area’s indigenous forests.
Crags environmentalist Jenny Lawrence and climate change specialist Stephen Murphy wrote: “Since our initial discovery of the felled yellowwood in the early hours of World Environment Day, our investigations through the relevant authorities have revealed that the tree was damaged in the 2005 fire, and according to the international ‘senility harvesting criteria’ process, was declared dying and therefore suitable for felling.
“We have not uncovered any foul play but we do voice our concern for the wellbeing of our primary indigenous forests, of which a tiny remnant of what once existed still remains. If we don’t stay vigilant, investigate these incidents, and speak out, we may lose all of these old sentient giants forever.
“On Saturday June 20 at 4pm, a group of us will gather at the fallen logs for a quiet memorial ceremony. Please join us there on the dappled forest path to pay our respects to this giant Kalander soul.” (Read Lawrence’s tribute ‘To an Old Friend’ on the Environment page of this edition.)
If you would like to join this gathering, travel eastwards on the N2 and turn left just before the toll gate. After a few kilometres down the hill, you will find the entrance road to Covie.

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