Kenya Forest Service (KFS) and conservationists have criticised an amendment Bill seeking to repeal the Forest Conservation and Management Act 2016.
The Act gives KFS the authority over boundaries and excisions in state forests.
The Forest Conservation and Management Amendment Bill 2021 seeks to repeal Section 34 of the Act that protects forests from activities that may endanger any rare, threatened or endangered species.
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The new Bill now proposes to allow any person to petition the National Assembly for variations of boundaries and revocation of registration of a State forest or a portion of a public forest.
The Bill also seeks to delete Section 34(2) that compel those seeking variation of boundaries or excision of State forest to get the agreement of the KFS, a move that has attracted criticism from conservationists.
In a statement, KFS Board chairman Peter Kinyua reacted to the proposed deletion of Section 34(2) of the forest conservation and Management Act 2016, saying the section enabled KFS to protect existing State forests for provisions of water conservation and of biodiversity and supply of other forest goods.
“The Forest Act of 2016 and in particular Section 34(2) was carefully drafted to respond to the wanton destruction of forests experienced in Kenya in the 1990s and the 2000s, largely due to excisions of public forests,” Kinyua said.
He added that removing the section would reverse the gains made over the past 15 years in restoring public forest and water catchment areas, compromising the protection of forests. He said the move would also deny Kenyans access to forest goods and services which are critical to their survival.
National Environmental Complaints Committee Secretary John Chumo said the amendment Bill is ill-advised and will not be good for forests. “This will open Pandora’s box. The forests will be politically abused and many more will be petitioning for excisions and boundary reviews. It will be injurious,” Dr Chumo said.
He said complaints on logging, charcoal burning and theft of forest resources declined from 2018 since the ban on logging in State forests was imposed.
“Initially before the ban, there were serious complaints across the country. The complaints have drastically reduced and the general conservation of these forests has improved,” Chumo said.
Nature Kenya Director Paul Matiku said while the amendment Bill will pose a setback to gains achieved over the past few years, it goes against what President Uhuru Kenyatta agreed with world leaders during CoP 26. “Making it very easy to change forest boundaries despite the gains made. This is not only about Kenya but the decision also has a global impact. Countries across the world are strengthening their conservation agenda to help protect, conserve and increase tropical forests in order to reduce climate change and it makes no sense that Kenya is going against her promise,” Matiku said.
The current law requires KFS to make technical recommendations to Parliament on the effects of any proposed forest boundary variation or excision on endangered, rare and threatened species as well as ecologically sensitive areas.
The current law further requires any proposed variation of the forest boundary approved by the local forest conservation committees and that it undergoes Independent Environment Impact Assessment and full public participation.
History of Excisions
But while the debate rages, it is undoubted that Kenyan forests have over the years borne the brunt of excisions to pave way for settlements and agricultural expansions, a situation that has seen some forests only existing in papers.
Between the 1960s and 1999, indigenous forest cover declined by a third from 53,281 hectares (49 percent of the protected area) to 35,140 hectares (33 per cent of the protected area). Between 1985 and 2009, the country lost about 20 per cent of its mangrove cover, translating to about 450 hectares of mangrove area per year.
In 2018, a task force report on forests revealed that encroachment and destruction of State and community forests have totally depleted some forests that currently exist only on paper.
The report titled, Forest resources Management and Logging Activities in Kenya cited that forests including Kitalale, Manzoni and Matuma blocks of Turbo forests are entirely settled upon while they remain as gazetted forests. While Olpusimoru forest reserve totalled more than 20,000 hectares, it has since been sub-divided, settled upon and tittles issued to owners while Enoosopukia forest has lost 98 per cent of its original forest cover of 7,941 hectares in the 1980s to the 183 hectares.