A SWATHE of critically endangered forest and new generation legislation formulated to combat climate change are at the centre of a confrontation in Deer Park. The forestry department has slammed as “reckless and malicious” the clearing of the area, which is over 100m long by on average 4m wide.
Until 2000, the Forestry Act only protected specific indigenous tree species but a revolutionary amendment was enacted that year stipulating that “contiguous areas of indigenous forest” are also protected and cannot be removed unless a permit is applied for and acquired.
The regional office of the national forestry department intervened recently in the Deer Park Park Drive West matter after calls from several whistle-blowers who live in the area, senior inspector Thabo Nakoyo told The Herald yesterday.
“We visited this property involved and spoke to the resident and saw for ourselves that an area of indigenous forest including milkwoods and cheesewoods, had been cleared.”
Nokoyo said it was apparent that the resident, attorney Greg Clark, not only knew that what he had done was illegal but that he had also not stopped clearing immediately when instructed to do so.
Reacting to reports of chain saws in operation on the property, he had contacted Clark and issued an instruction to stop clearing over the telephone, he said.
“But when I got there it was not messy as one would have expected if operations had ceased immediately. On the contrary, all the felled material had been cleared away and he would not reveal where it had been taken to. He also refused to divulge who the clearing contractor was.”
Nokoyo said that, asked why the clearing was being done, Clark said it was to make it safe for his children from snakes.
“But the forest is the natural home to many animals, including snakes. Why live there if you do not want these things?”
Clark said he leased the property and it was owned by a trust.
“I can confirm I gave the instruction to clear vegetation – but I was acting on behalf of the trust.
“Furthermore, there is a debate as to whether it was forest or brush….. I have no idea if it was indigenous or not.”
He rejected the contention that he did not stop immediately when instructed to do so saying this was done the same day once he was able to speak to the clearing team.
Asked about the contention that he knew the clearing was illegal, he said he was “not prepared to comment at this stage” on this.
He confirmed that the “partial reason” for the clearing was to reduce the threat of puff-adders, which are plentiful in the area. He said there was a further reason for the clearing which he could not elaborate on, but stressed it was not for sub-division for townhouses, because he realises that the area is not zoned for development of this kind.
In terms of the metro’s Biodiversity Conservation Assessment and Framework for an Open Space System Plan, the forest section under the spotlight is part of the Bushy Park Indian Ocean Forest complex, which carries a critically endangered threat rating.
A resident in the area, Nick Scarr, formerly a senior official in the provincial environment department and now a “forest activist” and consultant on forestry matters, said although he is not been involved in this particular case, the department should be applauded for vigorously interrogating the matter.
Underpinning their intervention is the 2000 amendment to the Forestry Act which was a major environmental breakthrough, he said.
“It moved from protecting forest on a species’ level to protection for contiguous sections of forest as a whole including all the valuable bits and pieces inbetween.”
The negative result of the earlier legislation can still be seen today with loan milkwoods standing in horse paddocks surrounded by exotic kikuyu grass. But this was ludicrous because it was annulling almost completely the natural value of forest, he said.
“The new Act talks to the global de-forestation and climate change crisis. In this country, for instance, we have less than 10 per cent left of our original forest cover.”
De-forestation in turn means reducing ecological service value which includes crucially the capability of the forest to sequester carbon, thereby reducing carbon dioxide emissions, the chief driver behind climate change.
Other ecological services which would apply to the Deer Park case include the natural value of the forest to prevent erosion and to support biodiversity by providing a refuge for a complex mosaic of different plants and animals.
In order to put a financial value to the damage caused by the clearing of forest, the department has formulated a model which adds together real estate value, irreplaceability value and the size of the area cleared.