The SA National Defence Force (SANDF), faced with ever increasing demands for its services in the face of tight budgets, is not neglecting its environmental responsibilities.
As one of the largest land users in South Africa, the SANDF has custodianship over about 420 000 ha, the majority of it for training purposes, such as the SA Army Combat Training Centre at Lohathla in the Northern Cape and the SA Air Force bombing range at Roodewal in Limpopo. These and other training areas are home to many species of fauna and flora as well as, in some instances, buildings and other structures of historical and cultural value.
The Environmental Services sub-department in the SANDF Logistics Division has the overall task of ensuring proper environmental practices are in place not only on training grounds but also at bases.
Integrated Training Area Management (ITAM) aims to enhance the SANDF’s ability to sustain long term, cost effective training by implementing sound management practices for land, maritime and aerial ranges to ensure their continued use and minimise environmental damage.
“To ensure this balance is met, the negative impacts of military activities are managed by way of ecological management measures including wildlife and veld management, effective zoning of training areas and land rehabilitation,” SANDF head of communications, Siphiwe Dlamini, said.
With wildlife common on many training grounds and ranges, including Roodewal; AFB Overberg in the Western Cape; Wallmannsthal north of Pretoria and the Hoedspruit and Makhado air force bases in Limpopo, the SANDF’s conservation corps’ officers and enlisted personnel have no shortage of work.
While wildlife is not listed as an asset on the SANDF register, it is utilised to perform tasks which would otherwise further deplete an already tight budget. As an example antelope and buck assist in keeping vegetation growth to acceptable levels without having to resort to veld management including controlled burning. This cuts down fire danger which is exacerbated by the use of live ammunition and flares during exercises.
When wildlife populations grow and exceed the carrying capacity of specific areas, scientific surveys are undertaken and extraneous animals removed to ensure harmony of growth, both as far as vegetation and wildlife is concerned.
“Overall, when it comes to conservation we do more than our bit,” said Captain (SAN) Adri Liebenberg, SANDF Environmental Services senior staff officer.
The SANDF’s Base Environmental Management (BEM) system aims to sustainably manage military resources needed to provide cost effective support and equipment. This entails proper management of buildings, responsible water and energy use, integrated waste management as well as ensuring cultural and historical resources are properly maintained.
One example of this is Operation Vuselela, a joint venture with the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs’ Working for Water programme. It provides work for military veterans on military properties where they remove alien and invasive vegetation.
The military has also collaborated with the SA National Biodiversity Institute in localised programmes to remove the South American pom-pom weed from military bases and roads entering them in Gauteng, North West, Free State and KwaZulu-Natal.
Environment for Operations (ECOps) aims to ensure adverse effects of military activities on the general environment are avoided or mitigated throughout any specific operations. This has seen an Environmental Services conservation officer deployed on certain continental and in-country operations to ensure environmental concerns are addressed from the earliest stages of planning.
“By doing this the environmental management concept becomes fundamental to decision making in both exercises and operations,” Dlamini said.
The 35-strong corps of environment and conservation officers allocated to Environmental Services is also very much hands-on when it comes to environmental education and awareness. Regular workshops are staged on bases to stress the importance of saving particularly water and energy as well as cutting down on waste, from household and barracks level through to offices.
This has seen spin-offs involving communities adjacent to military bases where the recycle and re-use mantra has gone further than those in uniform.
Environmental Services has also worked with a US Army team to compile a management manual for live firing areas. Liebenberg sees this as a compliment to the SANDF’s environmental expertise.
“We are only a small cog in the overall military machine but that we are still operational is tribute to those in overall command who recognise the need for effective environmental management,” she said.
Picture: An adult sable antelope on the SA Air Force’s Ditholo training area.