• Lemarkoko toured Mbooni forest blocks after reports circulated in social media with photos of felled trees.
• Government officers and licensed saw millers denied that the trees were from the public forest saying they were from private farms
Kenya Forest Service has vowed to arrest residents caught felling trees in South-Mbooni forest block in Makueni.
Speaking yesterday to reporters in Kivale forest yesterday after a two-day survey, KFS commandant in charge of enforcement and compliance Alex Lomarkoko confirmed there was illegal logging in the forests.
Lomarkoko, who was accompanied by Makueni County Ecosystem Conservator Joseph Wakiaga and a team of forest rangers, said they had discovered marked trees by unknown people in the forest as if they were getting prepared for felling.
A section of the saw millers had denied that there has been illegal logging in the forest and called on the government to investigate. They said the matter had been propagated in the social media to portray them as criminals.
Lemarkoko said KFS has no plans of felling trees in the forest since the moratorium which was imposed 24 February 2018was still in place.
“I have confirmed that during my tour in the forest, it is true that trees have been felled illegally and we are working with other security urgencies to ensure the criminals are arrested and prosecuted,” said Lemarkoko.
He went on: “Nobody is allowed to cut, fell, harvest remove or transport forests products from public and community forests until when the ban will be lifted,” he said.
He however said the illegality was not alarming as was portrayed in the media.
A sport check by the Star in most of the forests in Mbooni indicates that loggers permitted to harvest trees in their farms extend the harvest in public forests making it tricky for rangers to spot them.
Speaking to the Star, community members neighbouring the forest said the trees are felled at night with an axe then transported to private farms for timber cutting.
“It makes it very difficult for rangers to suspect that trees have been harvested from the forest when the saw miller is cutting timber within a private farm,” said a community member who sought anonymity.
The members also confided in this writer that some of the rangers tasked with protecting the forests are involved in the trade.
“We believe they are involved because we have always volunteered information on the illegal logging but we never see the suspects arrested,” another member of the community told the Star.
Residents also want all senior national government officers in Mbooni subcounty investigated over the illegal logging.
Lomarkoko said those harvesting trees from their farms should get permits from the county government. He said an evaluation will be done by officers with technical background from forestry and agriculture to ensure openness in the process.