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August : Draft Genus Exchange Regulations Suspended (and unlikely to be re-introduced)

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2 August, 2016

Draft Genus Exchange Regulations Suspended (and unlikely to be re-introduced)

It gives us great pleasure to announce that after a 16-year long battle with the DWS, they finally agreed on 15 July 2016, to suspend the draft Genus Exchange regulations. As members will know, DWS had intended to use the regulations, to force timber growers to firstly apply for a licence or amendment to a licence, when switching genera and more importantly, insist on a blanket 30% reduction in plantation area, when switching from pine to eucalyptus.

FSA had for many years contested these requirements on a number of grounds as follows:

  • That DWS had agreed with FSA in 2000, to allow genus exchange without a reduction in area
  • That there was no legal mechanism in the NWA to enable DWS to insist on a new authorisation for genera exchanges
  • That the hydrological models being used by DWS appeared to be inaccurate for the level at which DWS intended using them i.e. at the level of a timber compartment
  • That before any reduction could be insisted upon by DWS, they would have to first determine whether any increase in water use through GE would not be offset by any of the following factors:
    • The voluntary withdrawal of 80 000ha by industry
    • The excessive water use estimates which DWS had used for plantations in the post-1972 permit era
    • The over-allocation and under-utilisation of water by other water users in a particular catchment where GE was taking place (as this was the norm where verification and validation of water use has been done by DWS)
  • All of these issues had been agreed with DWS as needing to be addressed before DWS could proceed with the GE regulations

For these reasons, in spite of the ultimatum issued to FSA by the DG of DWS, we refused to withdraw our position paper on genus exchange to our members.

Most importantly however, is that FSA had in the meantime contracted Dr Mark Gush of the CSIR, to analyse the draft GE regulations, as they are based on the hydrological calculations and tables which he produced for DWS many years ago. In the meeting of 15 July, Dr Gush demonstrated that the DWS had made a fatal error in their application of his hydrological models, which they had also published in the draft GE regulations, which FSA has been opposing. Their error overstates the area which would have to be reduced when switching between pine and eucalyptus, by a massive 500-3 000%!

Dr John Scotcher is producing an updated position papers for members explaining the scale of the error but in its simplest form, the error can be demonstrated in the following hypothetical example:

  • A grassland uses a hypothetical 100mm of rainfall per annum
  • It is planted to pine which uses a hypothetical 110mm of rainfall (10% more than the grassland)
  • It is subsequently converted to eucalyptus, which uses 113mm of rainfall i.e. (13% more than the grassland and 30% more than the pine)
  • DWS erroneously concluded that the area would therefore have to be reduced by 30% due to the eucalyptus using 30% more than the pine.
  • They should instead have required only a 3% reduction in area, as this would bring the water use back to 10% more than the grassland and the same level as the pine which it replaced  

The acting Deputy Director-General in DWS who chaired the meeting and Dr Preston from DEA who was also in attendance, immediately understood the magnitude of the error and DWS summarily undertook to suspend the regulations. Sadly her officials, Mr Radebe and Ms Fourie who had continued to fight FSA on this issue for so many years, were still unable to grasp the error they had made but this was of no consequence.

DWS furthermore agreed that there may be no need for the regulations at all, if the report by Dr Gush substantiates his preliminary findings (which it does). FSA undertook to send Dr Gush's report to DWS once it is finalised and we will be seeking formal commitment from DWS to abandon the GE regulations at that time.

Our continued advice our members therefore, that they can continue to switch genera on at least a 1:1 area basis, stands and we will be sending out a revised position paper on this in due course.

Dr Scotcher is to be highly commended for his continued diligence in pursuing this matter as well as those of the water use licence conditions, in which we have also succeeded and the alien and invasive species regulations, which are also being amended by DEA, to address our concerns as I write this.

The support of DAFF to FSA on the issue of genus exchange over a great many years, must also be acknowledged and we will be sending them a letter of acknowledgement to this effect. The DAFF official who attended the meeting on the 15th was equally delighted with the outcome.

Kind regards,
Michael Peter
Executive Director
Forestry South Africa