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Ban 4x4s in protected areas?

Ban 4x4s in protected areas?

Apr 16, 2014

Based on findings from his doctoral research in wildlife management, undertaken through the University of Pretoria’s Centre for Wildlife Management, Dr Gerhard Nortjé says soil damage caused by 4×4 vehicles is underestimated, long term – between five and 1000 years – and is “mostly irreversible”.

Dr Nortjé, who received his PhD degree on 15 April, believes strict legal measures should be applied to regulate 4×4 use in protected areas, while very sensitive areas such as wetland areas should be classified as “absolute no-go” areas.

“While it may not seem that off-road driving has negative impacts on the environment, especially on the soil and vegetation, the risk of damage is real. It is not an ecologically sustainable practice and should therefore not be allowed.” Dr Nortjé says damage to vegetation, destruction of habitat and increased soil erosion are just some of the visible negative impacts of 4×4 activity.

With his research focused on the Makuleke Contractual Park in the northern Pafuri section of the Kruger National Park, Dr Nortjé suggests SANParks reconsider its management strategies for off-road driving in protected areas altogether.

While SANPark’s best practice guidelines acknowledge the potential of negative impact of off-road driving on natural resources, they do not include soil damage. Where one guideline, for example, says vehicles may not drive in each other’s tracks when going off-road, this research indicates that that up to 90% of damage is caused the very first time a vehicle passes over the soil.

Among Dr Nortjé’s findings is that off-road driving causes three types of soil degradation: Dense compacting of the subsurface layer due to wheel traffic; formation of a dense, thin soil crust under the tracks; and soil erosion caused by increased runoff from the hardened soil crust. These effects are not only confined to the soil beneath a vehicle’s tyres, but affect both sides of the tyre tracks too.

He also noted that some game reserves allow off-road driving on virgin soil – where animals gather to enjoy the most nutritious vegetation. “Tourists’ ignorance and lack of consideration for the environment – or the soil, for that matter – combined with operators’ and land owners’ need to make money is normally the reason for allowing off-road driving,” says Dr Nortjé.

It appears that educating tourists and game park managers on all aspects of the impact of off-road driving is key to reducing potentially irreversible damage to soil – and everything that may have grown in it. The big question, then, is: Will banning 4x4s in certain areas ever be brought into law?

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