Illegal forest activities creeping back — Tuiya

13.5 tonnes of sandalwood burnt worth Sh54m was seized from Samburu East, Wamba area.

In Summary

• KFS is recruiting 2,000 rangers and a further 300 forest officers. Already, Sh500 million has been set aside to safeguard forests.

• Some officials conniving with criminals.

Environment CS Soipan Tuiya during a meeting with Conservation Alliance of Kenya at Serena Hotel March 1
LOSING FOREST: Environment CS Soipan Tuiya during a meeting with Conservation Alliance of Kenya at Serena Hotel March 1

The government has raised the alarm over a spike in illegal forest activities and destruction of trees. 

Environment CS Soipan Tuiya said the illegal activities include illegal logging, charcoal burning, cultivation and forest fires. 

The logging ban has not been lifted but may be lifted where trees are over-mature and rotting on state plantations.

“There is wanton destruction of our environment as there is too much illegal logging happening and encroachments. We are upping our  enforcement to make sure we do not have people leaving us behind when we want to increase our tree cover to 30 percent,” Tuiya said.

Without giving details, Tuiya said some officials were conniving with criminals.

Tuya commented on Wednesday at Serena Hotel when she engaged conservation NGOs led by the Conservation Alliance of Kenya.

She said her ministry is relooking at laws aimed at conserving nature to make them too harsh for offenders.

Some of the agencies being engaged include the offices of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Director of Criminal Investigations, the Judiciary and others.

Tuiya said wetlands have also been invaded.

“Kenyans will be sensitised to know that destroying our environment is life and death. We will also make sure that our enforcement is watertight,” she said.

Tuiya said one of the challenges they are faced with is low staffing.

KFS manages 6.4 million acres of forests and helps counties manage another 4.2 million acres.

Today, one ranger cares for about 1,000 hectares and yet internationally, a ranger should be taking care of about 400 hectares.

They are therefore working more than twice the work they should be doing.

KFS is  in the process of recruiting 2,000 rangers and a further 300 forest officers.

Already, Sh500 million has been set aside for that purpose.

Tuiya at the same time linked bushfires to illegal activities.

The CS said forest fires have affected several landscapes such as the Aberdares and Mau forest conservancy which is the most affected.

Shesaid the state is engaging emergency support to combat the raging flames that she said have caused a dire situation.

The CS said a multi-stakeholder approach has been applied to forest fires.

Some of the agencies that are tackling fires include NYS, KFS, and KWS, among others.

“Kenyans should be responsible in the way we handle our ecosystems, our environment,” she said.

Tuiya said once rangers have been recruited and trained, they will help complement those already in service.

She said the state will not allow a few individuals to water down efforts aimed at increasing the tree cover to 30 per cent by 2032.

The 15 billion national tree-growing and restoration campaign was launched in December 2022.

Ecosystem restoration cannot be done by one person; it has to be a collaborative effort.

Tuiya said the ministry hosted heads of conservancies a few days ago from across the country. They agreed on the partnership and how to enhance environmental protection and conservation.

On February 28, Tuiya presided over sandalwood burning at DCI headquarters.

The sandalwood burning was ordered by senior principal magistrate Boaz Ombewa of Kahawa law courts.

The 13.5 tonnes of sandalwood burned worth Sh54 million was seized from Samburu East, Wamba area.

Tuiya said the move was symbolic and demonstrated the commitment and teamwork aimed at breaking illicit networks that benefit from the growing illicit trade in sandalwood trees and its product.

She reiterated the need to enhance surveillance, information sharing and collaboration with forest-adjacent communities on stemming the tide of sandalwood trafficking in Kenya and the region.

Acting chief conservator of forests Alex Lemarkoko commended and called for further collaboration among state, non-state agencies and local communities in the fight to protect forest resources.

He said sandalwood trafficking is an extractive environmental crime that must be stemmed completely, reassuring of KFS's commitment to protecting forest resources, including endangered species like sandalwood.

This is not the first time illegal activities are being highlighted.

In 2018, a task force that had been formed to enquire into illegal forest activities showed the harvesting of trees in plantation areas was riddled with corrupt practices.

The task force said illegal logging of indigenous trees was a major threat to forests and was rampant in key forest areas.

Cedar, according to the report, was the most targeted species.

The report recommended immediate investigations and possible prosecution of all criminal-related findings of the task force touching on former board members and KFS staff.

The task force was formed to help the country restore its depleted forest cover after a public outcry.

The task force unearthed serious malpractices in the sector and made recommendations.

(Edited by V. Graham)

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