“Fire Dragon” crosses Pachamama Land

The Fire Dragon approaches Pachamama.

“Fire Dragon” approaching Kraaibosch.

We had been on fire warning, since the fire jumped the “Seven Passes Road” at around four o’clock on Tuesday 30th October 2018. This fire was coming toward us like a huge Dragon.

This was scary to look at! We were surrounded.

Back at Pachamama Forest Retreat, we spent the day frantically clearing brush from around the houses and woodchipping all dry material. We also cut down some trees that were a bit too close to the buildings for comfort,  basically preparing for the fire, because it was coming our way and we wanted to do everything we could to prevent the structures from burning.

Clearing firebreaks.

We packed all our valuables like computers and phones and clothes and a bunch of stuff which we thought would be good to save. We got all the equipment out into the open, under wet sweat lodge blankets.

This picture was taken on the morning of the fire, four hours before the fire crossed the land.

Finally, as we could hear the fire approaching, we wet the buildings and the areas around them until the fire was too close for comfort to stay. …….. We Evacuated.

We have evacuated to the road.

We had evacuated the property in fear of a crown fire coming from the pine forest. We were told by authorities, not to take the tractor into the land and try to fight the fire, it was too dangerous. And it certainly felt that way. There were a few bakkies on standby and PG Bison team were fighting the fire around the back of the property along the Escom firebreak.

Hari Om. I let go.

By this time I have already let go, I thought we were going to lose everything and when this photo(above) was taken I thought the fire had already taken the ceremony space because this is what I had seen(below) moments ago. And the wind was gusting to gale force.

The fire approaching, with the wind blowing directly at the Ceremonial space at 14H35

But I had to go back, to try and find Magic the cat.  We had all the other animals accounted for, but I had not been able to find the Black cat, “Magic”.

“Magic” Jaguar cat

I ran back into the fire zone and found him pretty quickly. I grabbed him (he doesn’t like to be held) and he scratched me when I insisted he come with. I wrapped him in a blanket and put him in my car.

Groundfire approaching the new building.

But now, I had seen the fire up close and it wasn’t a crown fire, it was coming thru the undergrowth. And even though the wind was blowing hard, it was not blowing on the fire. The wind was sweeping over the tops of the trees. The fire I was seeing, didn’t have the same face that it had when it was coming thru the pine forest toward us earlier.

Our Fire Engine

We decided to go in and fight! Werner, Tadiwa and I(Nishi) drove the Tractor and Firefighting gear to the Opá and started to fight the fire that was surrounding the Opa. Once we were inside(the forest), I called for help on our local Whatsapp network and 8 or 9 Bakkie Sakkies, mostly from the surrounding community, pitched up to help pretty fast.

Some of the Fire Fighters who arrived to help.

The fire had jumped the firebreak from the P.G.Bison Pine plantation behind Pachamama at 14h35. With much help from local firefighters and their ‘bakkie sakkies‘, we had the fire under control by 18H30. We then spent the evening putting out small fires and wetting the smouldering ground around the property. A bunch of Bibishoek supporters and our volunteers all arrived to help with mop-up operations and their help was so appreciated!

“Mopping up”, Jake, putting out small fires and smouldering patches.

Some scary moments, but no-one was injured and we never lost any buildings, not even a beehive. Our Tractor got stuck in reverse and needed some attention and we burned an extension cable. We were exhausted but happy and we felt good about saving the Farm from complete destruction.

Our Family of Tree lovers

However, this is not the end of the story. Although we had saved Pachamama structures from burning, we were to be fighting fire off of the boundaries with many people for a further five days. But this story is about the day we saved Pachamama from fire and I will continue with the follow-up story in a few days,  a story of how the community came together to defend Kraaibosch from destruction.

If you enjoyed reading this story? Please consider contributing to the Pachamama Forest Retreat, Fire emergency, Funding Campaign  and help us to recover from this fire and regrow a “Forest corridor”.

Invasive, Alien Trees and Indigenous, Endemic Trees

Certain Trees which are not endemic to the area are often called Allien or invasive trees. We prefer to say that these trees are invasive, as no tree is Allien to Pachamama.

We also like to be clear that we want to work with plants and Trees that are endemic to the area, not simply with indigenous trees. A plant or tree such as the Karoo thorn tree is indigenous but it is not endemic to the area we occupy. 

Currently, the Pachamama forest retreat land is occupied with two-thirds of invasive trees. These trees are not indigenous and include several species of Pine, the Australian Acacia (Wattle) and Karri Eucalyptus, these types of trees have been imported to Southern Africa since the eighteen hundreds. Traditionally the natural forest was predominated with slow-growing trees. Therefore, exotic, fast-growing species were brought to South Africa to meet the demands for timber, mine props, charcoal and tannin (for tanneries). However, these trees ‘escaped’ from their plantations into the natural environment. Currently, about 200 plant and tree species are classified as ‘invasive’ trees. Without the presence of their natural enemies, which are mostly left behind in the country of origin, they are able to reproduce fast, survive and spread at an alarming rate across the landscape. Thereby causing personal, environmental and economic damage.

(Richardson et al., 2000a; van Wilgen et al., 2001).

It is estimated that about 90% of the Garden Route’s Fynbos vegetation is invaded by Pine trees. In addition, Australian Acacia and Eucalyptus cover 29% and 14% of the land respectively.

Listed below are several examples of environmental and economic impacts which are caused by invasive tree species:

  • Reduction in, stream flow and available water;
  • Loss of potentially productive land;
  • Loss of grazing potential;
  • Poisoning of humans and livestock (e.g. Melia azedarach and Lantana camara);
  • Increased costs of fire protection and increasing damage from wildfires;
  • Increased soil erosion following fires, in heavily invaded areas;
  • Siltation of dams;
  • Changing soil nutrient status;
  • Loss of biological diversity and threat to native plant species;
  • Changing the biomass of ecosystems;
  • Changing habitat suitability for native animal species;
  • Reduction of the borders of the indigenous forest with each fire.
  • Increased wattle growth in fire zones.

We have identified some of the invasive tree species on the land of Pachamama Forest Retreat, listed below are some effects of these trees on our land.


Pinus Pinaster


Pinus Radiata

Acacia Mearnsii


Karri Eucalyptus

Species Biome Effects
Eucalyptus ssp. Fynbos
Grassland
Savannah
Forest
  1. Increase water repellency
  2. Affects soil erosion to a variable degree
Pinus Pinaster Forest
Savannah
Fynbos
  1. Out-competes native trees
  2. Dense stands limit options for fire management
  3. Decreases stream flow
Pinus Radiata Fynbos
  1. Decreases stream flow
Acacia Mearnsii
(black wattle)
Grassland
Fynbos
Forest
Savannah
  1. Decreases diversity of ground-living invertebrates
  2. Decreases stream flow
  3. The destabilisation of stream banks
  4. Can increase erosion, but also used for land stabilisation

(Wilgen et al, 2001)

Three of the main problems that arise from a monoculture of these trees in plantations, the invasion of non-native trees in the Fynbos in the Knysna region and on the land of Pachamama Forest Retreat, are further explained below.

Natural Water Cycles

Invasive trees and plants consume more water than the indigenous plants, depleting valuable underground resources. Consequently, heavily infested areas of alien vegetation can have a reduced water-runoff up to 30%. This results in the reduction of water in the river and reduces the groundwater reserves. Less water within the river means that nutrients and pollutants don’t get spread out properly throughout the ecosystem (dilution capacity?). This again can harm the water quality, affecting ecosystems, human health and crop yields. (‘Alien Vegetation Management’, n.d; Charnier et al, 2012)

In addition, invasive vegetation has an influence on the quality of water through the biomass; the ‘terrestrial litter’ such as leaves, bark, seed, flowers and twigs that they shed to the ground. The output of biomass is relatively higher compared to indigenous species. Consequently, invasive trees with a lot of nitrogen fixers such as Acacia (Wattle) or carbon can elevate the amount of this particle in the groundwater, changing the nutrient cycle in the ecosystems (Stock et al, 1992).

(source: http://www.heartlandsprings.com/hydrological-cycle/)

Wildfire

Although these non-native trees use much water, they catch fire like a dry bunch of matches. These are the trees which make fire roam freely through the region. Generally, trees with needles (coniferous) burn up to 10 times faster and more intense than trees with leaves (deciduous). Trees like Pine have a large amount of sap in their branches that burn very quickly. Additionally, coniferous trees often grow very close to each other. This aids the spread of wildfire and its ability to jump from one tree to the other. The rough, loose bark can act as a ladder for the fire to climb into the canopy, causing smothering and making the roots burn beneath the ground for up to two weeks, increasing the potential to flare up again with strong winds. In addition, the bark can produce burning embers that are carried ahead of the fire front(Spotting), heightening the risk for the fire to jump over to another patch of forest. When such an area of coniferous trees catches fire, it becomes extremely hot, harming the soil structure of the burned area which can result in soil erosion (Chandelier et al, 2012; “Tree Species Impact on Wildfire”, 2012).

Deciduous trees have a higher crown base height, a higher moisture content of the leaves and stems and a tight, smooth bark. Altogether preventing fire burning as quickly as with Pine trees.

We have a high percentage of invasive trees in the region. The fuel that can burn in wildfires has substantially increased. Consequently, wildfires have become more intense and much harder to control. Resulting in the Knysna fire of 2017 and the recent fires of 85.000 hectares (Tineke Kraaij et al, 2018 ).

Affection Compositional diversity animals

The number of different species in a system; the compositional diversity of animals is affected by invasive plants and trees. Invasive plants have a larger decreasing effect on native species abundance compared to native species richness (Figure 1). The severity of this effect is dependent on factors such as the extent and density of the plant invasion, the stage of invasion, the region, and the taxation group (Clusella Trullas & Gracia, 2017).

Figure 1: Percentage of comparisons performed in 42 studies that found invaded sites to have (a) positive (increased diversity), neutral or negative (decreased diversity) effects on native ectotherm species richness (n = 80 comparisons) and abundance (n = 52), and (b) the same or altered species composition (n = 36) as uninvaded sites (Clusella Trullas &Gracia, 2017, p.5)

The physical conditions of the environment are directly altered by their presence. For example through changing the light, solar radiation and temperature levels. These changes in the microclimate influence the functional diversity of animals. Additionally, native animal species are not attuned to alien trees. Therefore, the presence of these trees changes the quality and availability of the possibilities to create nests, find refuges, move, or acquire food. As a result, in an extreme case, alien species could move an ecosystem from natural heterogeneity to homogeneity if left uncontrolled over a large scale and timeframe. (Clusella Trullas &Gracia, 2017; Foxcroft, 2002).

Bibliography:

  • ‘Alien Vegetation Management’ (n.d.). Care For Nature: Alien Vegetation Management. Cape Nature. retrieved on 08-11-18 from https://www.capenature.co.za/care-for-nature/conservation-in-action/integrated-catchment-management/alien-vegetation-management/
  • Charnier, J., Schachtschneider, K., Le Maitre, D.C., Ashton, P. J., van Wilgen, B. W. (2012) Review: Impacts of Invasive Alien Plants on Water Quality, with Particular Emphasis on South Africa. Water SA, 38: 345-356.
  • Clusella-Trullas, S., Garcia, R. A. (2017). Impacts of Invasive Plants on Animal Diversity in South Africa; A Synthesis. Bothalia, 47(2); 1-12.
  • Foxcroft, L. C. (2002). Impacts of Invasive Alien Species on Biodiversity. Invasive Alien Species, Skukuza, KNP.
  • Kraaij, T., Baard, J. A., Arndt, J., Vhengani, L, van Wilgen, B. W. (2018). An assessment of climate, weather, and fuel factors influencing a large, destructive wildfire in the Knysna region, South Africa, Fire Ecology DOI: 10.1186/s42408-018-0001-0
  • Richardson, D. M., Pysek, P., Rejmánek M., Barbour, M. G., Panetta, F. D. and West C. J. (2000). Naturalization and Invasion of alien Plants: Concepts and Definitions. Diversity and Distributions, 6: 93-107.
  • Stock, W.D., & Allsopp, N. (1992). Functional perspectives of ecosystems. p.241-259, in: R.M. Cowling (ed). The ecology of fynbos; nutrients, fire and diversity. Cape Town, Republic of South Africa: Oxford University Press.
  • “Tree Species Impact on Wildfire” (2012). How Different Tree Species Impact the Spread of Wildfire, Alberta Government.

van Wilgen, B.W., Richardson, D.M., Le Maitre, D.C., Marais, C., & Magadlela, D. (2001). The economic consequences of alien plant invasions: examples of impacts and approaches to sustainable management in South Africa. Environment, Development and Sustainability, 3: 145-168.

What is a ‘Bakkie Sakkie”?

 

Bakkie Sakkie and Nishi resting between fires.

This is a term used by firefighters, farmers and generally people who care for a particular piece of land, have the appropriate vehicle and the desire to protect life from a fire. It describes a homemade firefighting unit, comprising of a water tank, a water pump and some fire hoses fitted on to the back of a Pickup truck (Known in Southern Africa as a Bakkie, an Afrikaans word describing a small basin or another container).

Bakkie sakkies are usually run by concerned members of the public who have a desire to protect the community from the threat of wildfire by being prepared and organised.

These fire units(Bakkie Sakkies) are mostly privately owned and financed. When there is a fire emergency, the community comes together under an FMU (Fire Management unit) to protect people, animals, plants and trees from fire.

Pachamama Forest Retreat is setting up the Kraaibosch/Homtini FMU. It is part of our forestry program. If we are going to plant thousands of trees, we want to be in a position to protect them. Read more about “Fingers of the forest” project.

If you enjoyed reading this? Please consider contributing to the Pachamama Forest Retreat, Fire emergency Funding Campaign below and help us to regrow a “Forest corridor”. Click here.

Forest Corridors or Buffer Zones

Buffer Zones

Buffer Zones are also known as corridors or fingers. It is the zone between occupied(human) land and the natural forest.

The pine plantations literally blanket the earth in the Knysna Area. To bring the land back into balance, indigenous trees and plants need to be planted, but not just planted, they need to have a vein into the indigenous forest to connect with it. A forest consists of plants, trees, animals, bugs, moss, mycelium etc. The land needs to source these creatures from the central forest.

The Knysna Forest needs to reconnect to the land and interconnect with the small pieces of indigenous forests that are scattered around. To do this we need to begin creating fingers or corridors of fire-resistant indigenous trees, coming out of the forest, continuing in strips of 50-100 meters in width and 1 – 5 km in length. Corridors between the plantations could consist of indigenous trees and plants that are fire resistant.  They will take less long-term management than keeping a firebreak maintained and provide more protection as a firebreak. These trees can also be harvested after their growth period and be used as indigenous woodlots.

We are currently doing research into Pine forests and what dangers they create for local communities. The firebreaks seem obviously inadequate.

Until now, eleven meters of open space around every farm owners individual boundary (which needs to be maintained three times a year to be effective) is the current law. This is not effective, but because the law says a firebreak needs to be like that, citizens are compelled to follow it. However, this cannot stop a forest fire and often makes things worse. However, an indigenous Cape beechwood can(stop a fire). Why have empty space when you can grow a corridor of the indigenous trees as a firebreak and even be able to harvest wood from it once it has been established?

These Buffer Zones will increase species diversity by allowing small animals like birds, monkeys, deer, etc to thrive and move freely from one section of the forest to another. The insects and animals pollinate and spread seeds, constantly increasing the natural growth of the forest.

With the public sector and pine corporations direct involvement, it could be a huge step to reducing South Africa’s carbon footprint. If the firebreaks become corridors of indigenous forest, everyone wins, the pine companies, the environment and the people who take care of the land.

We want to commence the start of this initiative, “Fingers of the forest” as soon as possible. A nursery will be the first step, combined with a clearing and replanting program. The nursery will be for many thousands of trees. We are already in negotiations with Sanparks officials and municipality (with SCFPA approval) to be allowed the right to revitalise the boundary of the indigenous forest.

Step two; will be to source the funding to assist local dwellers to extend the forest into their properties following the natural water courses mimicking nature and planting indigenous trees that grow naturally on the boundary of this forest.

‘The hand’ from which the fingers extend will be with the particular community (In this case, Pachamama Forest Retreat) along the forest edge who will nurture baby trees plants and other forest resources to feed these Buffer zones providing the forest with fingers reaching over the land connecting the land with the heart of the indigenous forest and creating the much needed new technology, of forest finger firebreaks and woodlots. These heart communities will also plan new strategies to deal with invasive trees after a fire and assist local forest communities to implement strategies to prevent overgrowth of invasive species after a fire by properly nurturing the newly burnt land until local species have taken hold.

The global awareness of ‘the necessity to plant trees’ has reached the highest numbers ever. It’s time to plant trees and find fun ways to do it.

Please consider making a contribution to this project and we will plant a tree for you. Click here to go to the Funding page.

 

Reforestation Project Pachamama

The Pachamama Forest Retreat has taken on the custodianship and regeneration of this land, which is currently dominated by invasive trees which drain the soil of water and nutrients, preventing the growth and propagation of native indigenous trees and forest; whilst also adversely affecting the natural climate and rain cycles within the Knysna Area.

In reaction to the problems described above. The Pachamama Forest Retreat sees it as highly important to regenerate the indigenous forest and control the alien tree species. This will bring the benefits of:

  • Enhancing water supply
  • Reduce fire hazard, not only for the land of Pachamama Forest Retreat but also for the safety of the region
  • Increase biological diversity
  • Modify erosion impacts
  • Job creation for the local community

In response to the recent fire, we will heighten our focus on ensuring that our firebreaks are in perfect condition: allowing for 6 meters of fire break on every border of the Pachamama Forrest Retreat. In the future, these fire breaks will be planted with indigenous trees. Because, due to their high water content, these trees don’t burn. Therefore, they function perfectly as a firebreak, whilst simultaneously enhancing indigenous plant and animal species to thrive.

We are currently working hard to establish a co-operative campaign to work together closely with the Tree Planting Companies that run the Tree Plantations in the region such as “The Precious Tree Project”. The mission is to convince them to utilise patches of indigenous forest as fire breaks. Thereby increasing the fire safety of the region, allowing for connected veins/patches of indigenous forest to growth throughout the region and regenerating 10% of the indigenous forest. 

The fire has affected more than one third of the Pachamama land. This land mostly contained invasive trees such as Wattle, Eucalyptus and various species of Pine. Now that the ground has been burned, the ground is highly fertile. Recent rainfall and the Wattle seeds from all around will cause an exponential growth of invasive trees all around the land. This is contrary to the agenda of our project.

The mission at Pachamama is to use manpower over the next months to pull up the seedlings using no sprays or poisons, to gain the best result of managing invasive tree species. We will physically pull out as many of the sprouts of the non-native trees as possible and transform the land which has been affected by the fire, to be used for the growth of indigenous trees. Saplings of indigenous trees will be planted next year summer (Tree planting festival, Dec 2019). However, the fire has severely damaged our funding for the project here.  We need to ask for the support and trust of our friends and followers to establish the goals of this project. Therefore, we kindly and humbly ask for any donation you can spare. This is the last indigenous forest in South Africa, we want to continue to do what we can to assist in the expansion of the Forest, we will make sure your contribution makes a difference.