Be careful of buying illegal firewood
It is a known fact that we as South Africans love to braai. Come rain or shine, nothing keeps us away from enjoying it. Even with lockdown, we will braai! Did you know the wood purchased next to road are often illegally harvested, destroying acres and acres of natural bush. The illegally chopping down of trees and removing them from their natural habitat, is slowly but surely destroying our sustainable way of living. Not even mentioning the devastation that is left behind on the natural environment.
Illegal logging is the harvesting of wood that is in violation of national regulations. This includes harvesting timber from protected areas, the felling of protected species, or exceeding logging quotas. Although most firewood comes from commercial farms under permit, a lot of illegal trading is taking place. It has been reported that the South African braaiwood market has become so lucrative that people upcountry are buying farms just to hack down the indigenous trees to sell as braaiwood. They make their money back in around two years, and then put the treeless farms back on the market. Unfortunately it is difficult to stop this practice as the authorities are often left powerless, as most of the bushveld trees are not protected.
Another serious threat is the polyphagous shot hole borer that is destroying thousands of trees which SANParks said was most commonly spread by firewood. The beetles spread primarily when firewood is purchased in an area where they are present and then taken to a different area of region, allowing the beetles to invade trees in the new area. The beetle, native to Southeast Area, were first detected in 2017 in Pietermaritzburg, but has since spread to Durban, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Knysna and George.
Rural communities are constantly put in a situation where they need to source firewood for cooking and heating purposes. This also in return results to the chopping down of bushveld trees to sell illegally to make an income.
Trees play a vital roll in the eco-system
Not only do trees purify the air that we breathe, they also provide a habitat for all kinds of creatures. Even dead trees are necessary in our ecosystems. Although dead trees may not always be the most attractive feature, they are essential to an ecosystem’s health. As dead wood is decomposed by fungi, bacteria and other life forms, it aids to new plant growth by returning valuable nutrients back to the ecosystem.
Did you know that those seemingly dead trees are actually teeming with life? Logs (dead trees on the ground) and snags (standing dead trees) play a vital role in the life-cycles of hundreds of species of wildlife, providing a place to nest, rest, eat and grow.
Some species of eagles, hawks and owls use snags or dead branches to get a clear view of potential prey when hunting. Certain birds that engage in fly-catching (catching flying insects directly out of the air) will use these perches to launch their aerial attacks. When dead wood is collected, an entire eco-system is thrown off balance.
Trees provide many ecosystem services that benefit all forms of life. The advantages of having more trees includes the following:
- Educates communities about the benefits of trees and nature
- Positive impact on mental health and well being, reducing stress and encouraging outdoor activities
- Removes and stores Carbon from the air
- Trees help to combat climate change
- Trees clean the air we breathe and provide oxygen
- Trees cool streets and cities and provide shade
- Trees save water and help to prevent water pollution
- Trees aid in preventing soil erosion and also benefit soil conditions
- Trees provide food and habitats to various animals
- Trees mark the seasons
- Trees can also play a role in reducing the risks of floods
- Having more trees around will increase pollinator numbers
The devastating effects of having less trees in our environment
Cutting down trees without replacing them allows alien invasive plants to invade and change the biodiversity of the landscape. These species can spread rapidly with negative consequences for indigenous vegetation. They affect water availability and also damages the quality of soil nutrients.
Trees extract water from the soil and release it to the atmosphere. This ads to the moisture in the air and also traps precipitation. With no trees to transpire water, the soil will dry up and this can lead to drought especially in the summer months.
Trees offer stability to the soil. Without their presence, it would not be able to absorb water. Chopping down trees can lead to major flooding problems, since a much greater amount of water arrives at the ground instead of being absorbed by trees and other plants. Flooding can wash away top soil and can be a danger to human life by causing landslides.
As trees grow, they help to absorb carbon dioxide from the air, releasing oxygen into the atmosphere. The loss of trees contributes to climate change as more greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere, trapping carbon dioxide that can lead to accelerating global warming.
Trees are our “green lungs” and we need to protect them
There are three golden rules to remember when it comes to trees:
- If it is not yours – do not cut it.
- Plan on planting trees (indigenous and not invasive exotics).
- If it is older than your grandmother – it is most probably protected.
Did you know that Mercury Design planted 1672 trees in 2019 alone. Trees are our “green lungs” and we need to protect them.
In future, when you stop next to the road to buy firewood for your braai or fireplace, please make sure it has been responsibly sourced.