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Environmental Law 6 - Applying for a Timber Permit

  • How do I go about getting a permit to plant timber?
  • Where on my property may I plant timber?
  • What laws apply to the commercial forestry industry?
  • What are my responsibilities as a timber producer?

Applying for a timber permit is a rigorous process that requires the input from various government departments. This is because trees use up a lot of water, may species are invasive and planting is often on virgin soil or on steep slopes. Herewith a breakdown of the application processes required:

  • The National Water Act (Act No. 36 of 1998) has specified permissible water uses for which licenses are not required. These include inter alia reasonable domestic use, small gardening not for commercial purposes, and recreational activities. Of course one may only use water provided one has lawful access to that water resource. Of interest to paddlers is that one may portage any boat or canoe on any land adjacent to a watercourse in order to continue boating on that watercourse. The planting of timber for commercial or industrial purposes is not a permissible water use and one must apply for a Stream Flow Reduction Activity (SFRA) Water Use License from the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry.
  • The Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act (Act No. 43 of 1983) stipulates that one needs a permit to cultivate land that has a slope of more than 20 percent (12 percent if wishing to plant on specific soil types in the Eshowe Magisterial District!) and land that is considered virgin soil. One also requires a ‘Demarcation Permit’ from the National Department of Agriculture in terms of the planting of a declared invader.
  • The National Environmental Management Act (Act 107 of 1998) and the regulations pertaining to this Act in terms of the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations (2006) stipulate that inter alia one requires environmental authorization if water abstraction by the trees will exceed any general authorization in terms of the National Water Act (Act No. 36 of 1998) and if cultivation will require the transformation or removal of indigenous vegetation of 3 hectares or more. These are three separate applications. However the lead authorities (Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs) have agreed to a cooperative governance strategy whereby decision-making is facilitated through a forum called the License Application Advisory Committee (LAAC).

Before applying for the necessary permits it is important to know where one may plant trees and where not. In line with the protection of our country’s water resources, streams, rivers and wetlands have been afforded buffer areas (no planting areas) of a minimum of 20m from the edge of these wet areas.

Furthermore, steep and rocky lands, especially if the soils thereon are highly erosive, are likely to be turned down by the decision-making authorities as the potential environmental damage may be significant. Important biodiversity areas are also unlikely to be granted authorization. One also has to take into account the minimum areas required for the burning of fire breaks. However, most importantly one must ask the question, “Is there sufficient water in this catchment to handle the reduction of water due to the trees?” Establishing this should be the starting point of any application. If the catchment is closed (because too much water is already being abstracted), for example the Umgeni and the Mooi River Catchments, then it is highly improbable that any further licenses will be granted. If permitted to plant timber, one has a responsibility towards the environment. Under the National Environmental Management Act (Act 107 of 1998) one has a ‘Duty of Care’ towards the environment, outlined below:

“Every person who causes, has caused or may cause significant pollution or degradation of the environment must take reasonable measures to prevent such pollution or degradation from occurring, continuing or recurring, or, in so far as such harm to the environment is authorised by law or cannot reasonably be avoided or stopped, to minimise and rectify such pollution or degradation of the environment.”

In this regard, it is the responsibility of all parties involved in the timber industry to ensure that environmental degradation is prevented or remediated, including the control of Invasive Alien Plants, soil erosion and preventing the ‘escape’ of timber trees from the boundaries of plantations (such as the spread of seeds of invader species – ecological pollution). The responsibility of a land owner extends beyond the boundaries of his or her specific property. If your neighbour’s wattle, pine or gum trees spread onto your property you have recourse to that landowner i.e. he should remove these trees.

In the next issue we will look into what is required for agri-industry such as chicken abattoirs.

The author will not be held responsible for misinterpretation of the law, and strongly recommends that readers consult their local DAEA branch for clarification.

  1. Afzelia Environmental Consultants cc
  2. Tel: +27(0) 31 303 2835
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  Tel: +27 (31) 303 2835
  Fax: +27 (86) 692 2547
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  Tel: +27 (31) 303 2835
  Fax: +27 (86) 692 2547
  Map »