A senior forestry department official has dismissed the task force formed by DP William Ruto to study challenges in the forest sector.
The official, who asked not be named for fear of reprisal, says the team unveiled last Monday will not be of help in dealing with the wanton destruction of trees.
The source termed members of the task force “idlers not versed with forest matters.”
“Most of them are activists and have no knowledge on forests issues. They will end up misadvising the CS. Many have also questioned why Ruto has of late been vocal on matters environment,” he said on Sunday.
Green Belt Movement chairperson Marion Wakanyi will head the task force.
Members of the team include Environment Institute of Kenya vice chairperson Linda Munyao, Rhino Ark executive director Christian Lambrechts, KAM CEO Phyllis Wakiaga and Kenya Water Towers Agency chairperson Isaac Kalua.
The rest are KCB director Adil Khawaja, Kepsa environment, water and natural resource sector board chairperson Duncan Kimani, Cotu official Ernest Nadome and lawyer Faith Waigwa and Gideon Kilakoi.
The team has two weeks to hand a preliminary report on what ails the forest sector.
Speaking exclusively to The Star, the official noted that more than 100,000 hectares of forests all over the country are already in the hands of individuals.
“Challenges facing forests all over the country go beyond Kenya Forest Service,” the official said.
Regarding funds for proper forest conservation, the official said KFS needs more than Sh20 billion.
The source further said the ongoing conflict in Mt Elgon is as a result of the contested Chebyuk settlement scheme.
“Indigenous forest have been illegally encroached, with residents hoping that a fourth settlement scheme will be hived off,” he said, adding more than 11,000 hectares have been grabbed in Mount Elgon.
Chebyuk has three settlement schemes hived off from the Mt Elgon forest so Kenya Forest Service is opposed to plans to hive off the forest.
The official also claimed that some of those who engage in illegal activities in Mt Elgon sneak to Uganda, leaving the understaffed KFS helpless.
“Illegal logging is generally aligned to the settlement. If the government wants to help KFS, all illegal settlements must be removed,” he said.
Currently, the source said, the government has embargoed hiring by the service leaving it with a lean workforce.
The source said KFS receives about Sh4 billion for its operations but he blamed for its challenges, saying it has failed to crack the whip on those who have invaded Mt Elgon National Reserve (Chepkitale) and Mt Elgon National Park.
“These people need to be removed … it is also the mandate of the Kenya Wildlife Service.”
The official further said that in the Mau Forest complex, half of the Maasai Mau, which is under Narok County, is gone.
The Mau Forest Complex covers 400,000ha in total and one of the largest water towers.
However, 40,000ha in the Maasai Mau is gone, complicating plans plans to increase the country’s forest cover from 7.24 per cent to 10 per cent.
There are 2,651,864.03 ha of gazetted forest areas in the country.
ILLEGAL LOGGERS HAVING FIELD DAY
The source noted the need for people to understand that plantation harvesting is not illegal.
“Loggers in plantation forests are supervised to ensure they do not encroach on indigenous trees.”
On Nyakweri Forest in Narok County, the source said illegal loggers are having a field day carting away over 1,000 bags of charcoal every day.
Nearly 50 per cent of the forest has been burnt down so there are fears that the water tower could be wiped out in five years.
Nyakweri is a critical catchment of the Mara River and offers a breeding ground for elephants.
It also serves as a migratory corridor for elephants moving from the Masai Mara Game Reserve to Ngurumani in Tanzania.
The source added that the forest is private and that they have no mandate on it.
Regarding Embobut Forest, he said the problems stem “purely” from politics.