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Forestry and Water Conservation in South Africa

Forestry and Water Conservation in South Africa: History, Science and Policy OPEN ACCESS

Brett Bennett
Fred Kruger
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: ANU Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt19893jr
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  • Book Info
    Forestry and Water Conservation in South Africa
    Book Description:

    This innovative interdisciplinary study focuses on the history, science, and policy of tree planting and water conservation in South Africa. South Africa’s forestry sector has sat—often controversially—at the crossroads of policy and scientific debates regarding water conservation, economic development, and biodiversity protection. Bennett and Kruger show how debates about the hydrological impact of exotic tree planting in South Africa shaped the development of modern scientific ideas and state policies relating to timber plantations, water conservation, invasive species control, and biodiversity management within South Africa as well as elsewhere in the world. Forestry and Water Conservation in South Africa shows how scientific research on the impact of exotic and native vegetation led to the development of a comprehensive national policy for conserving water, producing timber, and protecting indigenous species from invasive alien plants. Policies and laws relating to forests and water began to change in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a result of political and administrative changes within South Africa. This book suggests that the country’s contemporary policies towards timber plantations, guided by the National Water Act of 1998, need to be reconsidered in light of the authors’ findings. Bennett and Kruger also call for more interdisciplinary research and greater emphasis on integrated policies and management plans for forestry, invasive alien plants, water conservation, and biodiversity preservation.

    eISBN: 978-1-925022-84-1
    Subjects: Technology, Environmental Science, History, History of Science & Technology
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  1. Introduction (pp. 1-20)

    How exotic trees are managed in South Africa is a contested subject. One can quickly ascertain the contested nature of this issue by asking people their opinion about exotic trees or by reading articles in the opinion section of newspapers advocating for and against the removal of exotic trees.¹ Some South Africans want to maintain existing exotic trees or even plant more to expand the economy, maintain heritage aesthetics, and provide shade in treeless environments. Environmentalists, government policy, and international advocates are more critical of exotic trees, which are seen as a threat to the integrity of indigenous ecosystems, the...

  2. David Ernest Hutchins remarked amusingly in a letter from 1890 that ‘there is a twinkle in old [Dietrich] Brandis’s eye when he talks of the forest officers at the Cape who have never seen a regular forest!’¹ Dietrich Brandis’s description of Cape forestry, though somewhat exaggerated, nevertheless reflected an environmental reality. Southern Africa, and much of the former Cape Colony, was ‘wonderfully devoid of trees’, in the words of the Scottish-born botanist T. R. Sim.² Today, closed-canopy forests cover less than 0.3 per cent of South Africa’s land surface, a figure that probably approximates the size of these forests in...

  3. The British military and political annexation of the former South African Republic (ZAR) and Orange Free State at the end of the South African War (1899–1902) integrated the former Boer republics within British South Africa and the wider British Empire.¹ Among a broader suite of reforms, reconstruction officials established government forestry programs in the Transvaal and Orange Free State (renamed the Orange River Colony (ORC) from 1900 to 1910).² Though a few historians have briefly discussed forestry, studies of the reconstruction period have not yet documented and analysed the establishment of professional forestry in the Transvaal and ORC.³ Forestry...

  4. Poorly funded though the colonial forest services may have been, their first constraint during and after reconstruction of the Southern African economies following the South African War was the shortage of properly educated forest scientists and managers. The responses to this shortage led to several lines of development. First, the short-lived South African College School of Forestry provided education in forest science. It was based at Tokai in southern Cape Town, a facility that after a hiatus of 20 years was succeeded by a new Department of Forestry at the University of Stellenbosch in 1932. Second, the School for Foresters—...

  5. After political Union in 1910, the newly formed Union government decided to create a single Forestry Department located in Pretoria, the new administrative capital of South Africa. The department drew on the ‘system in force in the Cape Colony’, which was then ‘applied throughout’ the country.¹ English-speakers from the Cape filled the upper echelons of forestry, with less-educated as well as educated younger Afrikaners often taking up junior or technical positions.² The creation of a forestry department paralleled the establishment of a number of other new departments and institutes created after 1910, including the Department of Agriculture (1911), Geological Survey...

  6. Afforestation took top priority in the minds of leading South African politicians because it helped to address two problems at once: the negative balance of trade in non-mineral commodities, and the social and economic pressures related to the mining industry, while also offering potential mitigation of the ‘poor white’ problem. National forestry strategies also focused on two other key areas: catchment management and the conservation of indigenous forests. In the minds of most South African foresters, these three policies had a coherence based on nineteenth-century ideas about the climatic importance of trees. Planting trees produced timber and supposedly moderated climate...

  7. The first British Empire Forestry Conference was held in London in 1920 in response to the British government’s establishment of a Forestry Commission after World War I. British Empire Forestry Conferences held in 1920, 1923 (Canada), and 1928 (Australia) brought together foresters and imperial officials to share information, encourage inter-colonial trade, develop important statistics and coordinate central management problems.² Each conference had a significant local context and outcome. The Australian 1928 meeting, for instance, was instrumental in saving the Australian Forestry School in Canberra.³ So too would the fourth British Empire Forestry Conference have a lasting influence on South African...

  8. The dissent over afforestation did not abate after the conclusion of the 1935 Empire Forestry Conference, although open antagonism decreased as scientists and politicians waited to see the results of the experimental program. All parties had agreed that a comprehensive experimental program was required to solve the fundamental question of whether forests transpired more water than indigenous vegetation types, and whether or not the forest helped to equalise streamflow throughout the year. There would be no quick resolution, though the complaints from Eastern Transvaal farmers sustained the pressure to resolve the issue, while forest officers persevered with local studies to...

  9. Strong dissent surrounded ideas about forests and water in South Africa, in the political, public and intellectual spheres, but the available evidence is that the science in the forest hydrology program in South Africa from 1935 proceeded free of political interference. It did not become the victim of political expediency, as for example did the US study in New Hampshire in 1911–1912. Perhaps that was because of the scientific ethos that prevailed in the community of forest scientists at the time, or the greater ‘South Africanisation’ drive stimulated by Jan Smuts. It may be that Wicht and his leadership...

  10. While Jonkershoek was the source of method and technique, the real need for hydrological knowledge lay in the summer-rainfall forestry regions. Establishing Cathedral Peak in 1948¹ was a major step to fill this gap, but it was only the first, and the progressive extension of the forest hydrology program led eventually to a network of eight sites representing the upland forestry regions most important for water supplies, from Jonkershoek in the south-west to Westfalia in the far north-east (Table 3). Jonkershoek and Cathedral Peak were multiple catchment experiments, but with these as the benchmarks to assure ‘unimpeachable’ findings, subsequent sites...

  11. The period from 1986 to the present day marked a significant change in South African funding priorities, in national legislation and policy, and in institutions relating to forests and water. The excitement of the 1980s—which saw the creation of a coordinated national policy on catchments, plantations, invasive species, and biodiversity preservation—dissipated remarkably quickly as a result of several factors: shifting priorities in catchment management, for example, to recreation management, and the emerging litigious ethos arising from the changing fire risk profile as new commercial ventures penetrated the mountain landscapes,¹ but especially owing to changes in government from the...