Under the guidance of JUFA, Johannesburg has been proactive in raising awareness about the reality of the PSHB beetle infesting some of our trees. Its work has inspired some individuals to share what they have learnt and what interventions they have used to deal with infested trees. I have not been one of them for I have no infested trees on my property. Indeed, I have but one tree on my small property. This means I have a vested interest in preserving trees in public spaces.

Amongst the stakeholders are active citizens who are concerned for trees on their own private sites as well as for trees on public pavements. The question many ask is: When a tree is infested and you want to do your best to save it, what does best practice involve?

It usually involves the organs of state invested with responsibility for the environment and environmental health to assess the situation and to provide guidelines and protocols. And the means to apply these. This has happened; Johannesburg City appears not to have the resources or the will to apply its own protocols. If true, its officials have no choice but to follow a conservative approach which essentially states that if we allow nature to take its course it will find its balance naturally.

Defense Mechanism in English Plane Tree in Parkview
Defense Mechanism in English Plane Tree in Parkview

This is true; left to itself nature does find its own balance. I think that there is no need to argue about facts. If nature, in this case trees, did not have the ability to adapt to changes in the environment no intervention could possibly change the ultimate outcome.

However, what is also true is that in the process of doing so, many trees that could otherwise be saved through positive human intervention will die prematurely. These deaths do have consequences for environmental well-being. Delaying tree death provides us with a time gap in which to plant more trees with greater awareness and respect for their needs. And appreciation for our need of them?

What is also true is that an infested tree is also a structurally weakened tree. Such a tree poses a danger to people and property regardless of tree stewardship/ownership. The larger the tree the greater the potential negative impact. Of course, in a natural forest this is perfectly in order. In a built environment, this is considered irresponsible, for human lives might be negatively affected.

Given its resource limitations the least Johannesburg City can do is designate a dump site within the infested areas. The refusal to do so exacerbates the long-term effects of the PSHB infestation. And spreads it to other areas through the movement of infested firewood. Civil society can sue the City for such neglect.

Hollowed Out Tree
Hollowed Out Tree

Another consequence of lack of guidance and protocols from the City is that some people feel that it has opened up the market for unscrupulous people to take advantage of the situation. Products and services that are not full-proof, sometimes at costs that seem excessive, have the potential to demoralise people. These too could do with oversight and possibly regulation.

Yet all we have for now is the goodwill of concerned citizens doing the best they can under the circumstances. And some are using it as an opportunity to grow their livelihoods. Or start new income streams. And provide much needed employment.

Am I one of them?

I see the PSHB infestation as an opportunity to appreciate what we have in the many trees that shade us from the heat of the sun, that sequester carbon and that provide habitat for many creatures… An opportunity to wake up to the impact of deforestation…

I love trees; I love forests. Promoting forest planting is one of the reasons why I was born.

And there are livelihoods, large and small, to be made from interacting with nature. Labour intensive work at that. And if you cannot see the PSHB infestation as an invitation from the Universe to choose life, abundant life for this City of ours, do not hesitate to contact me. I will do my best to help you see how this can be part of your pie too. I will do my best to help you transform how you see the economy, the green economy. So many fruits it has for the picking!

For those like me, for whom the fourth industrial revolution seems like another pie in the sky for someone else, going green locally enables me to turn a blind eye to the national and global one.

However, please be aware that I am a sangoma, a traditional healer. What I have to offer is by way of bone readings, conversations, forest retreats…And through writing.

How you make your living always comes up for discussion, as does how to better align it with sustainability of life on earth. In order to do this work I have had to let go of the idea that I am an eco-social entrepreneur. I am an eco-social something; I haven’t the right word for it yet. I am sort of an activist, yet more like a personal motivator  (eco-social guide/coach?) to do your best to transition from work that makes you ill, or the world around you unhealthy, to work that helps you thrive. Without pushing some else off the edge.

PSHB Infested English Plane Tree in Parkview
PSHB Infested English Plane Tree in Parkview

I was just about to start my nursery when the PSHB beetle made its way into my consciousness. And side-tracked me. Threw all my plans into the air. Eventually had my ancestors whisper in my ear, “There are some who think you are in this for the moola. We think you’d be more useful to the world doing what you do without charging. The important thing is that you get out there and do your thing. In a people and earth friendly fashion. To the best of your ability. Not more. Nor less. And dress nicely!”

So here I am, at your service.

Or I will be soon; I have to improve my wardrobe first. Or do I?


Response from SANBI

On a different note, I have heard back from Andrew Hankey from SANBI. They are unable to provide us with a list of trees to plant because “the absence of a species on this list (https://www.fabinet.up.ac.za/index.php/research/7) doesn’t mean it is resistant, it simply means it hasn’t yet been recorded so far in South Africa as having been affected.” In addition, “it is simply too early in our experience with this species (PSHB) to know which trees are best to be planted. Hopefully in a couple of years’ time it may become more apparent which species (if any) are resistant to PSHB.”

Palm Trees in Doornfontein in need of PSHB verification
Palm Trees in Doornfontein in need of PSHB verification

(I think this is true, for just this week I saw some palm trees outside Cathedral Place that looked different. Is it PSHB? Don’t know. Will ask an arborist to have a look. Hope someone is paying them to do this verifying work. Yet, perhaps not; I am not the only one in this city who loves trees.)

This is the truth of the matter. Best accept it. Best start from here. And keep going, one step at a time. Doing what we can with what we know. And observing. Watching for feedback as we go. And adjusting, self-correcting, adapting. At least this is how I face challenges that threaten to overwhelm me.

The same is true regarding treating trees PSHB infested: Cure Unknown. Just symptomatic treatments thus far. Or keeping the critter out, which an option for me remains.

What to do? What to do?

Take responsibility for what I can. And personal intuition or preference continue following. Perhaps September will bring some results hopeful. Perhaps. And if it doesn’t just pause. Assess the situation anew. And do something different. Something new. Something untested?

Before the PSHB, like the Z/Guptas, knock a chunk out of the tax base?

Photographs of Parkview English Plane Tree taken by Nici Richter (Sustainable Permaculture Solutions)


JUFA: http://www.jufa.org.za/pshb.html

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