After 39 square miles burn, the landscape rehabilitation continues

Article by Lucian Deaton 

After a wildfire has made the headlines, the often unreported risks of soil erosion and flooding remains.  The difficult work of landscape restoration begins.

In early June, wildfires burned over 39 square miles along the “Garden Route” region of coastal South Africa, east of Cape Town. The wildfires forced the evacuation of at least 10,000 residents in the hardest-hit town of Knysna and its surrounding suburbs, with thousands more fleeing elsewhere as various fires spread.

In its aftermath, the Garden Route Rebuild Initiative was developed to assess the loss and guide redevelopment efforts across the region. They released a progress report in early August focusing on necessary landscape restoration efforts from the June and previous wildfires.

Their current work includes:

  • Over 50 erosion control projects along exposed slopes by moving dead brush into stack lines; installing “bio-sausages”; and utilizing “bio-blankets” to retain top-soil, especially in catchment areas.  
  • Monitoring large-scale invasive alien plant re-growth, while completing plans to employ a hydro-seeder for native plant development.
  • Hiring and training efforts to spread the erosion control projects.

Val Charlton, Managing Director of the South Africa “Land Works Non-Profit Company” and its FireWiseSA Program, that serves on the initiative, shared with me her reflections on the current work.

“The Knysna and Plettenberg Bay fires were some of the most devastating ever experienced in South Africa. Declared as a Provincial Disaster, it has been really heartening to see how people and organizations pull together – or “inspan” as we say in South Africa – to address the many post -fire challenges.”

Val explained that, “the Garden Route Rebuild Initiative has been formed as a multi-disciplinary, intergovernmental and civil society platform to do just that – rebuild, be innovative in approach and build back better. It will be a long haul, but folks are committed.”

Noting some of the challenges faced by the initiative, Val shared that, “in addition to more than 1000 homes damaged or destroyed, this area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – outstanding natural areas and rare biodiversity.”

The landscape restoration focus is of great importance right now to the initiative. Val explained that, “as winter rains [southern hemisphere in August] are expected, addressing mudslides, slippage and erosion control on the steep slopes have been some of the first actions. Stabilization of the burn scar will remain a priority in the near future in order to keep roads open and avoid risk to homeowners adjoining and on the slopes.”