13 December, 2018
Southern Cape forest fires pose serious risk to sustainability of regional timber industry
A total of 7 643 hectares of predominantly pine
plantations belonging to private timber growers in the
Southern Cape region have either been totally or partially
destroyed in the fires that raged in the Outeniqua Mountains
between 25 October and 16 November 2018. Plantations ranging
in age from one to 25 years old were affected.
These were the findings of a meeting of 35 people
involved in the timber and timber processing industries, held
at the Nelson Mandela University on 3 December.
The severity of the loss is exacerbated by the fact that more
than 65% of the timber affected was older than 16 years. This
will have a major negative influence on the future ability of
the forestry industry in the region to produce the timber
needed to supply the processing plants that rely on this
The value of the timber lost has not yet been completely
established, as many factors need to be taken into
consideration. The cost of re-establishing those areas that
have been totally destroyed has also not been established
accurately. However, initial estimates are that just the
re-establishment costs could be in the region of R80-million.
Furthermore, many jobs in the timber-growing sector will be
permanently lost. Forestry infrastructure was also destroyed.
The processing side of the industry in the region has the
potential to process approximately 700 000m3 of logs per
annum, the majority of this through sawmills and pole
treatment plants. An entire sawmill in the Geelhoutvlei area,
capable of processing upwards of 60 000m3 per annum, and
valued at more than R100-million, was totally destroyed. This
has left more than 400 people in the processing sector
After the devastating fires of July 2017, the latest fires
pose a severe risk to the sustainability of both the forestry
and processing industries in the Southern Cape. Both Forestry
South Africa and Sawmilling South Africa are working hard to
ensure that the future of these industries will be secured.
It is unfortunate that representatives from the Department of
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), the lead
department in forestry matters, did not attend the meeting,
despite assurances that a high-ranking official would be there
to be briefed on the seriousness of the situation. Resolving
the current situation will require close collaboration between
the private sector and Government.
Source: Forestry South Africa