Judge Pat Gamble has given Parkscape its Christmas trees.
He reserved judgment on the “pines versus fynbos” debate until early next year, staying the interim ruling that the pines may not be felled until a verdict is given.
Members of Parkscape, who filled two rows of the Western Cape High Court gallery, were thrilled when Judge Gamble made the announcement on Wednesday November 7, but Tony Rebelo, of the the South African National Biodiversity Institute, said the delay would affect the tight burning and restoration schedule.
We need harvesting of pines after the rains are over, with enough time to burn the slash. We need the fire as the seed banks are small and we need optimum time.
“Harvesting from March to September will be detrimental to restoration – the seeds will germinate without fire, which means grass competition and aliens will not be controlled, and then any fire to get the seed banks fully up will kill any seeds that have germinated.”
Parkscape, a voluntary community organisation, took the battle to preserve the 3.15 hectares of pine plantation to court (“Pine court battle postponed to October,” Bulletin, September 15) after felling began on Tuesday August 30 (“Pines get the chop,” Bulletin September 1).
Parkscape’s lawyer, John Newdicate, argued that the decision between MTO Forestry and South African National Parks (SANParks) to fell the pines earlier than planned was unlawful and an abuse of administrative powers because it had been made without public participation.
“It was an MTO request to SANParks – that is where the emphasis lies – on the lawfulness of SANParks’ decision. If this was a request from MTO, there needs to be a SANParks decision taken validly. The central questions that I described must be asked. Was it a purely private contractual matter, between the two of them, or does it also constitute administrative action, requiring adequate consultation?”
The decision to escalate the felling schedule was taken after the mountain fires of March 2015 damaged large portions of the plantation making them economically unviable for MTO to harvest later.
SANParks attorney Johan Duval countered that public participation was not necessary and the rehabilitation of the area was a “life and death” situation for indigenous flora.
“This area is particularly important to the critically endangered sand fynbos,” he said.
“What will happen if we lose this case? The pines will come down in 2018.”
The delay would threaten SANParks rehabilitation plans, he said, because, “you can’t restore small compartments on their own”.
The case was of “enormous importance” for SANParks, a state entity wanting “to fulfill its primary task” mandated by the National Environmental Management Protected Areas Act (NEMPA).
Mr Duval also pointed out that even if SANParks had stuck to the original schedule, it would still be several years before there would be shade-bearing trees in Tokai.
According to the Tokai Cecilia Management Framework, the pines would be harvested in phases to allow transition shade areas to grow between felling. The framework was decided upon in 2009 after an intensive public participation process.
As part of the framework, the pine plantation would be harvested in stages, between 2005 to 2025, with the last pines, in the disputed area in Dennendal, lower Tokai, coming down in 2018.
In between, fynbos would be restored in the harvested areas and then burnt. Once burnt, the area would be replanted with exotic, non-invasive shade trees. This process would take 30 years, with the shade replanting taking place at the end of the cycle.
Mr Duval told the court that it was the choice of shade trees that was open to public participation and not the harvesting schedule as this was bound by contract, which was flexible, according to the needs of both parties.