The long anticipated – and feared – felling of the Lower Tokai pines, ironically took place a few days before Arbor Week on Tuesday August 30.
This is the first section of the park to be felled that was within metres of the urban edge. The section is part of 30 hectares which will be felled over the next four to six weeks.
Some residents wept when they found out that clearing would begin on the centuries old plantation that day.
A tearful Lucinda King said: “I’m emotional. These trees have shared a lot with me. I walk in the forest every evening.”
Meanwhile, Gavin Bell, of South African National Parks (SANParks), told a press briefing in between the doomed pines that conservationists had been eagerly awaiting the day for “20 years”.
“The decision was made 20 years ago by Madiba and his cabinet. They realised the importance of our natural heritage. It was history, and we’ve been waiting for 20 years,” he said.
SANParks’ Tarcia Hendricks said: “As the then Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, stated in Parliament at the time a thorough, cabinet-endorsed process was followed that led to the decision to end commercial forestry at these locations, and assign the land to SANParks.
“The minister also stated that it is not possible to revisit the decision to end commercial forestry as ‘legal commitments are in place’ and ‘neither is it considered desirable to do so’.”
Nicky Schmidt, of Parkscape, cried foul that the felling began while she was away on holiday. Residents whispered of a “conspiracy” when it became clear that Ms Schmidt, the frontrunner of the association which is working towards a compromise that would suit both residents and conservationists, had left the same day for the Karoo.
In an emailed statement to the Bulletin Ms Schmidt said: “I am currently out of town. However, I drove and walked around all the lower Tokai gates on Sunday midday, and there was not a single notice of intent to fell. Local residents only received notification yesterday.
“The unseemly haste with which this felling exercise is being conducted, apparently planned in secret, with military precision, is arguably an act of bad faith.”
Mr Bell said that Mountains to Oceans (MTO) Forestry, which owns the pines, had notified SANParks last week of their intent to fell before the end of the month and SANParks had issued press releases, public notices and letterbox drops. He said MTO had confirmed the date of the felling the day before on Monday August 29.
Ms Schmidt however, accused SANParks of deliberately not engaging with them.
“Parkscape, which represents over 2 000 people, has attempted to engage with SANParks for over four months to reach a reasonable solution which meets the needs of the community and biodiversity needs. SANParks have ignored emails and employed delaying tactics to avoid engagement.
“Requests for information regarding future plans for Lower Tokai have also been ignored. The Tokai Cecilia Management Framework, to which SANParks agreed to with the City and the public in 2007, provides for ongoing shaded recreation on a rotational basis.
“Once the pines are felled, SANParks will be in breach of the management framework. Moreover, there is no evidence that SANParks are taking any measures to stick to the management framework. In failing to consult with the public on this deviation from the framework, they are also potentially in breach of South African administrative law.”
Kay Montgomery of the Save the Cape Fynbos said: “The landscaping of the Tokai Park, as outlined in the Tokai Cecilia Framework is an emotional issue for many.
“As part of the framework some shaded areas will be retained, such as the Arboretum, the braai site and historic plantings, which includes cork oaks and redwoods. The rest will be going to go back to Cape sand fynbos.”
But even these areas will be partially shaded, Ms Montgomery said.
“Shaded routes will be established at both the Tokai and Cecilia forests. An example is the multi-use, perimeter shade route developed with stakeholders in Lower Tokai. The perimeter shade route has been developed for multi-use recreational use by walkers, dog walkers, cyclists and horse riders.”
There will also be a rotation of “non-invasive exotic shade trees in designated areas” and fynbos in keeping with the framework, she said.
Glenda Phillips, who is directing Parkscapes in Ms Schmidt’s absence, said they had spoken to a lawyer on the day the felling began ahead of a peaceful protest on Wednesday August 31.
“About a hundred people made a line outside the forest,” she said, adding that Parkscape would be meeting with the lawyers again that day.
The biggest reason for residents’ opposition to the fynbos is its density which gives low visibility.
Ms King said: “Every evening I walk in the forest, 90 percent on my own.”
The open spaces between the trees gave good visibility and made the forest safe, Ms King said.
Residents are also concerned that the controlled burns, which are essential to the life cycle of fynbos, will bring the fires right up the urban edge.
But Ms Montgomery said: “The devastating loss of homes, tourist facilities and infrastructure on the urban edge during the March 2015 fires brought into stark focus the serious fire threat that timber plantations and invasive alien vegetation poses to residential areas abutting TMNP (Table Mountain National Park) land.”
Fire is also the reason why many residents are happy to see the pines go. One such resident is Eric Harley, whose home is right opposite Lower Tokai. He has lived there for 43 years.
Mr Harley said friends of his had suffered great damage to their property during the 2015 mountain fires.
“People want to walk their dogs there,” he said. “But there are other places to do that. I love the fynbos. I think it is lovely to walk through.”
Conservationists consider the Tokai Forest to be the last stand for many endangered fynbos species.
Ms Montgomery said: “It must be recognised that TMNP is a World Heritage Site and a nationally protected conservation area. TMNP incorporates the last remaining area of critically endangered Cape Flats Sand Fynbos in Lower Tokai that can be linked to the mountain fynbos.”