8 April 2019

“The Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM), incorporating the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF), is looking at the establishment of an annual commemoration event for the 2017 Knysna fires. The forum is currently planning to host a seminar on Friday June 7 to review the environmental preparedness of the Southern Cape regarding risks associated with fire and drought,” says Nina Viljoen, Manager: Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation at the Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM) and a spokesperson for the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF).

“Much has happened in terms of regional disaster prevention and management since the widespread destruction caused by the 2017 Knysna and Plettenberg Bay fires, not to mention the 2018 devastation of some 100 000 hectares along the Outeniqua Mountains, Still Bay and Vermaaklikheid, claiming still more lives and causing untold damage to the regional economy,” says Viljoen.

At a recent workshop hosted at the Nelson Mandela University’s (NMU) Saasveld Campus, options were discussed to generate funds sufficient to address and reduce risks associated with invasive alien biomass in the Southern Cape landscape. In dealing with the aftermath of the respective fire disasters, the Executive Mayor of the Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM), Councillor Memory Booysen, was quoted as suggesting a tax on landowners to generate funds for invasive alien plant biomass reduction on the landscape. This was merely a discussion point and what was meant by his point-of-view was that we should be open for a debate on how we, as a collective, can become more prepared for future disasters.

Booysen pointed out that there was general agreement that much more must be done by both landowners and authorities to reduce risks if we were to safeguard the region from a recurrence of the 2017 and 2018 fires.

Fire-risk reduction is but one of several environmental matters hitting the GREF spotlight

The countryside near Vermaaklikheid resembled a lunar landscape following the devastating wildfire in 2018. The recovery of vegetation in the Southern Cape – following the devastation of some 100 000 hectares in 2018 – is a matter of concern where black wattle and other invasive alien plants are making an unwelcome appearance on the landscape.

The proposed 7 June Fire Commemoration seminar will look at the overarching research and strategy development that has taken place over the past two years regarding environmental risk reduction in the region, and the physical measures that have been implemented. The seminar will also provide a roadmap of what is planned for the region in the coming months.

Further announcements on the seminar will be made in due course and information will be published on the GREF website: https://www.scli.org.za/GREF/ closer to the event.

** The Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) is a regional forum for collaboration in conservation, environmental adaptation and community interaction. The forum aims to coordinate regional conservation efforts, serve as a catalyst to drive climate adaption practices in the Southern Cape and strive to establish a better-coordinated approach to environmental management.

Written by Marti Kirstein