Saving forests: Experts decry, praise lifting of logging ban as regulations are rolled out

Mindililwo residents arrest night loggers with 9 logs on board at Kapchemutwo forest,Keiyo North in Elgeyo Marakwet County on December 19, 2022. [Christopher Kipsang,Standard]

The lifting of a six-year logging ban has sparked reactions from experts as the Kenya Forest Service rolls out regulations to guide the harvesting of mature trees.

While a section of forestry experts express concern that the move might be devastating as it may affect efforts to manage climate change, others say the lifting was long overdue.

Some experts say the lifting is an avenue to forest degradation while others believe that logging in plantation forests cushions natural forests that help fight climate change.

"A prolonged ban is disastrous to the forest sector," says Rudolf Makhanu, a natural resources management expert and project coordinator at Nature Kenya.

"There is a reason why there are plantation forests and natural indigenous forests."

He says they work hand in hand - While plantation forests help provide timber and wood to the growing construction industry, they ease the pressure on the natural forests whose primary role is to fight against climate change.

Detrimental effects

But the Kenya Forest Working Group and the East African Wildlife Society, in a statement, said lifting of the ban might have detrimental effects on indigenous forests.

"The President's announcement on the lifting of the logging ban has created considerable confusion among stakeholders. Without clarification, this confusion could result in misuse and misinterpretation of our indigenous forests," the civil societies said in a statement.

The groups called on the government to release an official statement detailing forests in which logging will be allowed, the rationale behind the lifting of the ban, and measures to ensure compliance with the Forest Conservation and Management Act of 2016.

The ban was enforced following a 2018 taskforce report that revealed the mismanagement of Kenya's forests, a situation that had resulted in a high rate of deforestation in public forests.

Through a gazette notice dated February 26, 2018, a taskforce was appointed to look into the Forest Resources Management and Logging Activities in the country.

The taskforce was launched on March 5, 2018, by President William Ruto, who was then the Deputy President.

The 2018 tas force report on forests revealed that encroachment and destruction of state and community forests have depleted some forests that currently exist only on paper.

The report titled Forest Resources Management and Logging Activities in Kenya cited Mau Forest, Kitalale and Matuma blocks of Turbo which have been decimated while they remain as gazetted forests.

New regulations

In a recent statement following the announcement, the Kenya Forest Service said the lifting of the ban on logging in gazetted forests was informed by an inventory of forest plantations which was undertaken by a Multi-Agency Taskforce commissioned by the former Minister for Environment and Forestry to confirm available stocks.

KFS said the inventory undertaken from 2020 to 2022 revealed a large number of mature and over-mature forest plantations.

The service noted that it had automated the process of issuance of plantation harvesting licences which will now be done through the County Forest Conservators.

KFS said payment of taxes has also been automated to ensure compliance with government tax regulations and a detailed harvesting security plan on access, control, and supervision of actual harvesting and reporting has been put in place.

"As part of the plan, entry certificates are presented to Forest Station Managers before removal of any forest produce. Upon completion of the felling and withdrawal of materials, Exit Certificates are issued as evidence of compliance with all requirements," KFS said.

Cushion for natural forests?

A plantation forest provides wood and cushions natural forests from degradation. However, a prolonged ban on logging can have an effect on the natural forests whose role is to regulate climate, experts say.

"Forestry is driven by incentives and without them, the sector collapses," Rudolf Makhanu says. "To meet the demand for timber, plantation forest is critical and only requires regulation and sustainable management to strike this balance," Makhanu said.

To balance incentives in the forest sector and conservation, he said there is a need to put in place proper structures to allow regulation, management, and sustainable harvesting of forest products.

"Forest plantations are like maize farms where the farmer has a target at the end of a cycle. Maize is planted for harvesting just as plantation forests are meant to support the timber industry. However, serious regulations need to be put in place to avoid encroachment into indigenous forests," Makhanu says.

Kenya's deforestation statistics, according to data from Global Forest Watch, are that the country had 3.18 million hectares of natural forest in 2010, extending over 5.7 per cent of its land area. In 2022 Kenya lost 6.29 million hectares of natural forest.

Although the ban on logging is said to have reduced forest degradation, cases have been reported in several parts of the country.

According to data from Global Forest Watch, a forest monitor that offers the latest data on global forests, a total of 1,504 deforestation alerts were reported in the country between June 13, 2023 and June 20, 2023.

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