New regulations ensure that firewood sold in the Kruger National Park is environmentally sound. Wild finds out how the certification process came about and what you can do to keep your campfire ‘green’.

The next time you’re in Kruger and you light your campfire with wood obtained in the park, you can rest assured that it’s specially certified as being eco-friendly. SANParks’ Nick Zambatis sheds light on the reasons for the certification process.

What are the requirements for firewood sold in the park?

Firewood sold in the Kruger National Park (KNP) must come from a specific area: the savanna biome of the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces, and specifically from approximately 800m contour level and lower. This is to reduce the possibility of introducing insect species alien to the park and diseases that could affect the plant life.

It is equally important that the firewood must be obtained legitimately. Uncontrolled or unregulated harvesting is unsustainable and in the long term results in environmental degradation and destruction.

Why has the certification process been introduced?

Primarily to ensure that firewood which enters the KNP has been obtained according to legitimate, environmentally-friendly and sustainable processes. We do not want to support or encourage environmental degradation anywhere outside the KNP.

Some species, for example leadwood, are protected by law and may not be harvested for whatever reason. In spite of this, we have had pieces entering the KNP in bundles of firewood brought in for sale. Whether this was done intentionally by the persons collecting and selling the wood, in full knowledge that it is a protected species, we do not know. But we cannot support or turn a blind eye to an illegal activity.

The Forestry Stewardship Council has in fact commended the KNP for taking this step and for setting an example for other conservation areas in the country. Charcoal and briquettes being sold in the KNP must also be certified for similar reasons.

The certification process creates an opportunity for local community members to become certified suppliers of firewood to the KNP, to shops in the KNP, and to private concessions.

Why are certain tree species not permitted to be used as firewood?

The growth rate of practically all Lowveld/Bushveld hardwood species is extremely slow, making it an unsustainable source of firewood, at least where large quantities are required. Leadwood (Combretum imberbe), for example, has an average growth rate of 0,3 mm per year in diameter, the best being 3 mm under optimal conditions! So how old then, is an ‘average-sized’ leadwood tree of say 50 cm in diameter, let alone the very large ones of about 1 m or more?

Kruger Braai wood-Arnold Ras (1)

Picture by Arnold Ras

What about the collection of deadwood?

Harvesting hardwood pieces lying on the ground also has a negative impact on the ecology of an area. For example, a relatively rare lizard, Jone’s girdled lizard, has a very strong association with dead and hollow trunks or branches of red bush-willow (rooibos), also a Combretum species and also an excellent firewood. Dead logs also provide a refuge or habitat for many other organisms.

Is it true that indigenous wood has been replaced with exotic wood?

Yes and no. To the degree that uncontrolled or unregulated harvesting of indigenous hardwoods outside the KNP is concerned, then yes, the intention is not to support this practice or to turn a blind eye to it.

Where indigenous wood is legitimately harvested in accordance with the laws of the country, it may be utilised as firewood. For example, indigenous vegetation may be cleared to prepare land for agricultural activities or to install power lines. Encroacher species such as sickle-bush can also be removed.

The sale of the firewood remains conditional to it being certified by an independent certification body as having been obtained in accordance with the country’s environmental laws and our own (KNP) stipulations. Where appropriate, permits from the Department of Agriculture or provincial conservation authorities must also be produced as proof that the clearing was approved.

But since some exotic tree species make very good firewood, why not use them and protect indigenous vegetation by doing so?

Did you know?

• Some species prized as firewood are on the protected tree list. It is illegal to harvest leadwood (hardekool) and camel thorn in South Africa.

• A study by the University of Stellenbosch showed that the alien species rooikrans (Acacia cyclops) has a high energy output (burns well). Experts estimate that alien plants like rooikrans consume 7% of our available water supply, so using it as firewood actually frees up precious water.

• Certain tree species are not suitable as firewood. Tamboti exudes a latex that is toxic to humans. If added to the campfire, it will cause a headache or upset stomach, especially if you braai meat over the coals.