Fynbos a safety risk

Jane Laing, Tokai

I was one of many concerned citizens attending the Parkscape meeting (“Tokai Park debate,” Bulletin, July 28) and left with the feeling that once again the feelings of the community will be disregarded.

Over the years, we have attended meetings, seen presentations, and been given assurances concerning the lower Tokai plantation. In spite of all these, however, we are left with a vast area of fynbos in the middle of a residential area, with the attendant threat of fire and crime.

The pines, which gave good visibility throughout, have been replaced with thick, tall fynbos, (with not even the botanists able to agree on the reason for this unusual growth), which has destroyed the peace of mind previously enjoyed by the community. There is photographic evidence of vagrancy and the tragic death of Franziska Blöchliger earlier this year is a direct result.

During the meeting, there were valid and very reasonable statements and questions from the floor, all of which were rejected by SANParks and the conservationists, who appear to regard the area as their own personal laboratory.

Public participation is a legal necessity before changing the status quo of the area. It is insulting that, while the community continues to attend meetings on the subject, our concerns are continually overruled or ignored.

We understand the reason for MTO leaving the area ahead of the original date, which could lead to the remainder of the pines being felled soon, but the previously promised transition zones have not materialised. It appears that the delaying tactics employed by SANParks are working well in their favour leaving our community at ever greater risk.

* Merle Collins, SANParks regional communications manager, responds:

The decision to phase out commercial plantations on the peninsula was not made by SANParks but by the government in 1999. The trees are not being removed as part of an alien clearing programme; they are being harvested on a commercial basis.

Tokai (and Cecilia) are commercial plantations established to provide timber. Furthermore, the trees are not being harvested by SANParks but by a private company, MTO Forestry, which was awarded the public tender by the then Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) in 2004 for the trees.

As part of the tender process, MTO Forestry purchased the trees from government and has a 20-year lease with DWAF, in terms of which they harvest the plantation trees. This is a contractually binding, irreversible legal commitment. The clear felling of the plantation compartments is continuing in terms of the MTO/Department of Forestry lease for Tokai and Cecilia plantations and once the trees in a compartment are harvested by MTO Forestry, that land is then transferred to SANParks management as part of Table Mountain National Park (TMNP).

Tokai and Cecilia are located within a designated nature area – the Cape Peninsula Protected Natural Environment (CPPNE) and when the TMNP was established the government agreed that that the conservation worthy land within the CPPNE be incorporated into the TMNP over time. To this end, DWAF has assigned the 20-year lease with MTO to SANParks/ TMNP.

Following the public participation process initiated by SANParks in 2006 regarding the rehabilitation of the areas and future plans for Tokai and Cecilia, the Tokai and Cecilia Management Framework successfully achieves the compromise many have called for. The management framework is being implemented on an on-going basis and the proposal for planting of “transition” areas is being monitored and assessed for the planning of these areas.

The entire peninsula mountain range is covered with fynbos and has more than four million visitors a year.

On a daily basis thousands of people use the fynbos covered park for walking, running, mountain biking, horse riding and walking their dogs.

It is the proximity to the urban edge that introduces crime, not fynbos. It is illegal to cut fynbos and controlled burns are undertaken when required to maintain and regenerate healthy vegetation.

There are regular visitor safety patrols by park rangers in co-operation with police, neighbourhood watches and safety forums etc and the situation is being monitored on an on-going basis.