Subject: [sawac] Defining Characteristics of Forests and Plantations


I have recently attended a workshop on 'Sustainable Forest Management'. However, the overwhelming majority of attendants at the meeting were from the industrial plantation industry. This caused some confusion, as the management of natural forests differs vastly from that of Industrial Timber Plantations.

South Africa is not rich in natural forests. Climatic conditions and the effect of fire have limited natural forests to around 0.2% of S.A. land area. Management of these natural forests should revolve mainly around biodiversity conservation, research / education and eco-tourism.

Industrial Pulpwood Plantations are managed primarily for profit. These plantations occur mostly in S.A. high altitude grasslands, with drastic and permanent impacts on the grassland biome. Grassland is the most threatened biome globally, with 80% destroyed. Unplanted areas within the plantation estate should be managed according to the biome they represent, most often grassland.

I believe the document on 'sustainable forestry' should deal with the management of natural forests. There should be a separate document to deal with 'sustainable pulp-wood plantation management'. This document should explore methods of creating diversity within the plantation compartments, where the real problems regarding sustainability lurks.


Phil Owen


Defining Characteristics of Forests and Plantations




High species diversity within mosaic of specialised plant communities

Large expanses of mono-specific alien tree plantings

Multi-age, multi-stage successional processes in place

Uniform age Clear felling prevents successional processes

Permanent bio-community

Temporary agricultural crop

Fully evolved eco-tone

Invading alien tree seedlings

Substantial cultural value

No cultural value in Africa

Traditional/ historical value

No historical value

Not damaging to biota of adjacent ecotypes

Damaging to grassland and forest habitat communities

Contribute to conservation of water

Consume excessive water and cause increased run off

Support indigenous animal life

Threaten indigenous animal life

Provide diverse resources on a continuous basis

Supplies resource at a specific time e.g. every 10 years

Support adjacent land uses

Replace other land uses

Support human community subsistence usage

Undermine human community survival

Control soil erosion

Increase soil erosion

Minimal disruption during sustained harvesting

Total devastation of the environment at harvesting

Substantial educational value

Limited educational value

Few off-site impacts forests co-exist harmoniously with the communities that utilise them

Severe off-site impacts e.g. Road transport to mills and harbours

No ecological disturbance Supports continuation of evolutionary processes

Major ecological disturbance destroys original vegetation type (usually grasslands) and disrupts evolution locally

No social displacement as forests do not replace other land-uses

Major cause of migration from rural areas due to loss of access to resources

Most benefits accrue to local people and wildlife Most benefits accrue to multinational corporations

Retain and protect original natural vegetation together with endangered species

Cause destruction of natural vegetation on establishment and during harvesting

No pollution of soil, air and water

Major contributor to pollution both on and off site

All life forms indigenous

Usually only alien species

Spiritual value associated with natural wilderness

No spiritual value. Potential to cause mental illness

No spread of alien invading species in or around undisturbed forests

Contribute to spread of alien invading species in and around plantations

Multiple products and services

Limited range of products

Diverse landscapes

Monotonous landscape

Do not require the use of man-made chemicals

Heavy applications of chemical pesticides

Compiled by Wally Menne - TimberWatch


'Forests - contains a great variety of biological interactions which lead to the availability of abundant soil nutrients and long term sustainability. Plantations - Minimal biological interaction and a steady depletion of soil nutrients. Not sustainable.

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