How loggers and Kenya Forest Service officials collude to deplete forests

A resident of Kiamuriuki section of Mt Kenya forest examines some of the timber worth millions of shillings loggers abandoned after they flushed them out of the area for failing to include the community to share harvesting benefits of mature exotic trees estmated at Sh 100 million on a 35-acre block. (PHOTO: MUNENE KAMAU/ STANDARD)

Illegal loggers have compromised forest rangers to deplete large sections of forests in Mt Kenya region.

The schemes to deplete the natural resources are plotted by some Kenya Forest Service (KFS) officials who drop the guard to allow commercial saw millers to harvest more mature trees than they are allowed.

In some instances the commercial saw millers fell double or triple the amount of trees they are licensed to cut.

A spot check in Mt Kenya and Aberdare forests revealed that illegal logging has left parts of the forests bare.

Our team encountered freshly cut tree stumps deep inside the forest, a complete different picture when you view the forest from the fringes.

Communities that border the forests in Kirinyaga County say they are not allowed to access the woodland to cut fodder for their animals yet saw millers have always had a field day in their illegal business.

At Kamweti, Kangaita and Kamwana sections of the Mt Kenya forest, the communities say illegal feeling of trees has intensified and if not checked would lead to the depletion of the forest.

Forester speaks

Contacted to comment on the extent of destruction, the newly posted Kirinyaga County Ecosystem Conservator Monica Masibo confirmed there was hue and cry from neighbouring communities.

"I was posted here the other day and have regrettably learnt of the ill-treatment these communities are subjected to by the forest harvesters but I have organised a series of meetings where their concerns will be addressed," she said.

She also conceded that the saw milers end up harvesting more than what is contained in their letters of allotments, which are issued by Director of the Kenya Forest Service Emilio Mugo.

One such letter seen by The Standard dated July 27, 2016, and issued to one of the saw millers clearly authorised the harvesting of only 140 over-mature trees at Njukiini forest but the miller harvested 890 trees with the full knowledge of the area forester.

This was confirmed by a site manager of one of the saw millers who narrated to The Standard how they fell excess trees, including the indigenous ones, at night.

The communities accused KFS officials of abetting corruption.

A senior official who worked in the region for over 15 years but has since been transferred is reported to have built a modern estate, courtesy of this illegal tree business.

The Njukiini community is also saddened by the manner in which the shamba system was re-introduced in the area, claiming it only benefits the well connected.

"Unless there is a clear cut criteria on how these shambas are allocated, then we feel short-changed as a community and will from now henceforth sit on the fence even as the forest get destroyed," said a local resident only identified as Muthoni.

Njukiini forest extends to the Embu County across Rupingazi River but interestingly, only the Kirinyaga side has been left bare.

In the Meru and Nyeri sections of the Mt Kenya forest, loggers told The Standard that after acquiring licences and the trees purchased are stamped, the loggers approach KFS officials who allow them to cut more trees, which they cart away alongside the paid-up logs.

A source who sought anonymity and who is hired by saw millers intimated that the illegal business is not usually known by senior KFS officials.

"We approach the junior officers whom we pay directly, and they give us protection within the forest reserve. If you are arrested outside their jurisdiction, it is up to you to defend yourself since they do not want their senior to know about the deals," said a logger.

He said in most cases, they cut the approved trees and then carefully peel off a KFS stamp on the marked trees and place them on the trees they acquire corruptly.

"This works as a cover to confuse any police or KFS officers in case we are stopped along the way," he said.

In Embu, a resident of Kwambogo near Mt Kenya forest said the licenced millers target mature plantations and buy them from KFS and later extend the area illegally and fell trees not earmarked for logging.

He claimed the loggers pick the trees at night and transport them to local sawmills.

Contacted, Head of Eastern conservancy Samuel Ihure said they would investigate claims.

But he said illegal cutting of trees was not on large-scale as KFS officials were alert and had arrested several illegals loggers who have been arraigned in court and prosecuted.

Presented with photos of sections of forest where trees had been cut, Ihure said that was plantation harvesting and those areas had been earmarked for planting at onset of rains.

In Murang'a, destruction of Gatare and Kimakia forest blocks within Aberdare Ranges is intensive with officials entrusted to guard working in cahoots with licensed loggers.

Set up base

In the past one month, Aberdare Ranges have been a hive of activity with more than 10 licensed saw millers setting up their base their.

Pilots overflying the renowned water tower catchment have expressed their displeasure over existence of a cartel logging indigenous trees, a trend that could plunge the nation into a water crisis.

Sasumua and Ndaka ini dams located on the western and eastern sides respectively of Aberdare Ranges are the major sources of water supplied to Nairobi.

Environmentalists in Kigumo led by James Gathara and Samuel Ndumbi said there was need to vet those applying to harvest trees as well as forest guards.

And residents who live near the Chuka forest in Tharaka Nithi County are worried that indigenous cover will be depleted under the guise of licensed logging.


Stories by Munene Kamau, Joseph Muchiri Job Weru and Boniface Gikandi