Managing mistbelt forests in a landscape of poverty

Hylton Adie1*, Ian Rushworth2

1 School of Life Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, P/Bag X01, Scottsville 3209, South Africa
2 Ecological Advice Division, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, PO Box 13053, Cascades 3202, South Africa

Several factors conspire against the effective conservation of mistbelt forest in southern KwaZulu-Natal. First, land ownership is divided between the State, with responsibility devolved to national government and provincial conservation authority, private land-owners (predominantly commercial timber companies) and tribal authority. Legally, forests on communal land are state-owned. From a practical perspective, the community assumes ownership and resource use is administered locally through the Traditional Authority. Second, poverty is widespread in most tribal areas and, in many cases, forest resources make a substantial contribution to livelihoods in the form of fuel wood, building materials and traditional medicines. Forests in communal areas are thus vulnerable to exploitation. Even though 52% of forests (by area) receive formal protection, 75% of all forests are either in, or within 1km, of communal lands. Third, the forest landscape is composed of hundreds of predominantly small (mean size ~28ha) patches that have a diffuse distribution in a remote and mountainous terrain. Forests are therefore largely inaccessible to conventional management by conservation authorities, which operate under severe manpower and financial constraints. Understandably, management activities are confined to a handful of larger (> 200ha) ‘flagship’ forests at the expense of the majority. Within this context, we assessed and compared the status of forest patches in southern KwaZulu-Natal under three tenure categories (State, private, Traditional Authority) and surrounded by two disparate management systems (communal, commercial). Ultimately, the goal is to examine whether carbon financing offers a viable solution to forest management whilst creating opportunities that benefit rural communities. We used tree basal area (m2/ha) and the incidence of tree harvesting to assess forest status. Forests varied from negligible impact (basal area > 80 m2/ha) to highly degraded areas (basal area < 15 m2/ha), where wood cutting is ongoing and thicket vegetation with occasional remnant ‘canopy’ trees dominate.

Presentation Topic

Managing mistbelt forests in a landscape of poverty


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School of Life Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, P/Bag X01, Scottsville 3209, South Africa


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