18 January, 2016
Foresters turned into conservationists
innovative approach to conservation of wildlife in forests owned by PG Bison is
aiding the survival of the blue crane - South Africa's endangered national bird
- by turning foresters into informal conservation agents.
According to Mr Gerhard Victor, CEO
of leading diversified timber company PG Bison, the decision to locate conservation
with the people who manage the company's forests around Ugie in the Eastern
Cape - and not in a specialised unit that has to contend for scarce resources -
is part of a ten-year environmental strategy.
"We are mid-way through the planned
ten years, and so far it has worked really well. The best people to guard our
natural resources are the very people who deal with the intersection between
human-made forests, and indigenous forests every day.
"We have made conservation the
concern of every employee. Our foresters understand that the well-being of
natural resources directly impact the health of the company and the jobs that
PG Bison co-facilitated investments
of R2.1 billion in Ugie / Maclear when it built a world-class board plant in
the area in 2008. The plant is surrounded and supplied by managed forests
that contain important wetlands, patches of indigenous forests and a variety of
endemic wildlife species.
In compiling its environmental
strategy, the company has literally taken its cue from the wildebeest, a
variety of antelope species and three crane species breeding in the area,
namely the blue crane, wattled crane and crown crane.
No fences are erected without
consulting the animals' migration patterns, explains Amanda Sithole, Risk
Manager for PG Bison's forests. Under the watchful eyes of ordinary foresters,
cattle from local communities and wildlife control grassland growth.
"Over-grazing leads to erosion, but
under-grazing allows weeds and the grass itself to become so thick that it
creates other hazards. Wildfires that burn hotter than they should, for
example, change the soil composition and cause weeds to sprout, making it
impossible for indigenous growth to return - or for the cranes to breed in
their natural habitat," says Sithole.
"Unhealthy wetlands jeopardise our
forests. The type of tree and the density of planting are determined by soil
and water conditions, which are in turn naturally regulated in wetland systems.
It is therefore in our interest to conserve natural habitats."
Sithole says PG Bison has done its
homework, so foresters know where cranes spend their days and where they breed.
The company's response has been to create special dry and wet management zones
In the zones where the birds are,
operations are limited during crucial times in their life cycle. Intense
operations such as harvesting are therefore done in winter when it is dry, and
suspended during the wet breeding season.
PG Bison plants also plants forests
outside of wetlands as per legislation, where it can choose a suitable time of
the year to harvest.
"It is a win-win agreement between
our forests and their ecological context."
Careful monitoring of cattle and wildlife
numbers and locations is necessary to keep grass- and wetlands healthy. In the
past PG Bison made specific people responsible to fulfil this function.
"We have, however, decided to make
conservation part of our daily operations, turning the people who spend most
time between the trees and on the grasslands into conservation officers, so to
speak," explains Sithole.
Foresters and security guards are
trained to report back on the numbers and localities of indigenous wildlife
like wildebeest and various antelope species. Every second year, a headcount of
every single animal is done from an aircraft.
"In this way we keep track of where
wildlife is impacting on the health of our grass- and wetlands.
"The same goes for cattle that graze
between our managed forests. The forestry staff alternate their presence in
grazing camps in the grasslands and wetlands. It is built into their daily
The harvesting foresters' target is
not just to produce a certain volume of timber. They also have a target
in terms of how it is produced. Internal audits are regularly performed
to ensure the company sticks to its strategies.
"We are responsible to ensure that
we do not negatively impact on the natural resources we have left. It is a
priority to ensure that we sustainably manage our operations and the
Source: PG Bison