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Title:The role of alien trees in South African forestry and conservation: early 20th-century research and debate on climate change, soil erosion and hydrology
Author:Witt, Harald
Year:2014
Periodical:Journal of Southern African Studies (ISSN 1465-3893)
Volume:40
Issue:6
Pages:1193-1214
Language:English
Geographic term:South Africa
Subjects:forestry
nature conservation
environmental history
External link:https://doi.org/10.1080/03057070.2014.964906
Abstract:In the late 19th and early 20th century, many of the positions adopted in South Africa to argue for the conservation of indigenous forests were taken up by the state and various other commercial and industrial tree-growing bodies to legitimise the planting of alien trees in large artificial 'forests'. These included the perceptions of the positive impact that forests may have on climate and ultimately rainfall, the contribution of forestry in combating soil erosion and halting the process of desertification, and the influence of forests on groundwater supplies and streamflow quality. The deeply rooted and lengthy association of scientific forestry with a conservationist ethos has, despite growing contradictions, continued to dominate the contemporary forestry and industrial tree-growing discourse. Today's forestry officials and private tree-growers still maintain that conservation and industrial tree-growing go hand in hand, reiterating the legend that the Department of Forestry is the oldest conservationist body in South Africa. Supporters of the tree-growing sector cite the preservation of indigenous forests, the protection of river catchment areas, the prevention of soil erosion and the combating of coastal driftsands as examples of forestry's conservation successes. Even if the remnants of indigenous forest, which still dot the South African countryside, bear testimony to forestry officials' success in maintaining and conserving a portion of the floral diversity of South Africa, the role of forester as conservationist has not been without its inconsistencies and contradictions. It is also a position that became increasingly contested in the 20th century, as a variety of political, economic and ecological interests became more entrenched in the new order which emerged in the Union period. Notes, ref., sum. [Journal abstract]
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