21 June 2012

South Africa: Top Scientists Develop Fynbos Fire Management Project

Top environmental scientists are applying their minds to develop an integrated fire management programme for the world-famous fynbos biome that will have significant environmental, social and economic benefits.

A group of about 60 people, including scientists, landowners, conservation agencies, disaster management officials and United Nations representatives gathered today at an inaugural workshop in Kirstenbosch to develop the Fynbos Fire Project which will look at how best to implement fire management activities that will assist communities adapt to changing wildfire conditions during the current period of climate change.

The project, made possible through a US$3.5 million grant (approx R30 million) from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Special Climate Change Fund to the Department of Environmental Affairs, comes at a time when there has been an increase in the duration and intensity of unwanted wildfires.

A number of major or catastrophic wildfires have resulted in loss of life, livelihoods and natural resources and come at an enormous cost to the South African economy.

The Fynbos Fire Project will encourage landowners, wildfire fighting specialists, scientists, the conservation community and the insurance industry to work together and implement and integrate fire management activities.

This involves aspects such as controlled burning within the fynbos biome - as fynbos species require occasional burning for seeding and growth renewal - fire prevention, the removal of alien species and proper protection and management of water bodies and water courses.

It's looked at as a pilot project that will inform international science, with its lessons possibly used across the globe.

Dr Christo Marais, manager of DEAF's natural resource management programmes, said the project would assist in protecting ecosystem services that maintained a healthy, functioning natural environment that contributed to life and livelihoods.

The Fynbos Fire Project would also empower communities affected by fire, by "helping them understand prevention and fire management methods".

The management of fire was essential, he said, as it impacted about 60% of South Africa's surface area, and "probably about 90% of the population".

The goals of the programme, he said, "meshes" with existing programmes under the DEAF such as Working for Water and Working on Fire which meant job creation through furtherance of these programmes was also a benefit.

Country Representative for the United Nations Development Programme Maria Mbengashe said the programme integrated environmental, economic and social objectives.

"These three elements interact in a very complex way in the fynbos biome. There is the challenge of climate change and sustainable development and what better place to address this than in the fynbos biome which is a biodiversity hotspot and yet at risk from development?"

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