Conservationists, saw millers in row over logging in Mt Kenya

Tuesday January 23 2018

Mt Kenya Forest

A man cuts a tree inside Mt Kenya Forest on January 16, 2018 in the ongoing commercial logging. Saw millers have threatened to sue conservationists for defamation insisting their actions of logging are fully legal. PHOTO | NICHOLAS KOMU | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By NICHOLAS KOMU
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Saw millers have threatened to sue conservationists as the row over commercial logging by the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) in Mt Kenya deepened.

The Timber Manufacturers Association in a briefing in Nyeri Town Tuesday threatened to sue conservationists for defamation insisting their actions of logging are fully legal. 

TMA’s national chairman Bernard Gitau said that the conservationists are maligning their business by terming it as illegal logging yet they had authorisation from KFS to harvest trees for timber.

“Our business is fully legal and, in fact, we will sue these conservationists accusing us of illegal logging. We have all the necessary documentation to harvest the trees,” Mr Gitau said.

WOOD SUPPLY

Albeit legal, the programme that allows logging by the government to keep a constant supply of wood and timber in the country has elicited concern and protests from environmentalist who feel it does more harm than good.

In recent months, an increased number trucks ferrying logs from Mt Kenya and Aberdare forests has been witnessed in Nyeri, raising fears of destruction of forests.

Similarly, changes in weather and prolonged dry seasons have caused water levels in most rivers in the mountain region to drop.

But it is the drying up of rivers in Mt Kenya and Aberdare forests that is worrying many people.

This, conservationists have argued, has come as a result of the logging and reduction of forest cover.

CAMPAIGN AGAINST LOGGING

Environmentalists have in turn started campaigns against the logging, accusing KFS of complacency in carrying out their mandate of protecting forests.

A recent assessment by Nation in Mt Kenya Forest revealed that most rivers deep in the woods have dried up.

In most tributaries that feed River Sagana and Tana River, little water is flowing downstream.

Logging has been going on in the forest for the last six months and it has been established that the felling of trees which are d up to 56 years old was actually sanctioned by KFS.

Most of the logging has been happening in Kabaru section of Mt Kenya Forest where the forester insisted the trees affected were over-mature and had been legally scheduled for felling. 

EARNINGS

In the last one year KFS has earned over Sh37 million from the sale of trees.

KFS has admitted authorising the felling of trees in the forests but defended itself saying that the programme is fully legal and done in accordance with the law.

“The only trees being harvested are those that have been authorised from our headquarters. Those harvesting are the licensed saw millers who ensure a consistent supply of timber for the nation,” Mr Cosmas Ikiugu, the central KFS boss said.

Countrywide, about 135,000 hectares are under the forest plantations targeted for commercial logging.

This is eight percent of the country’s forests cover.

ANNUAL HARVESTING

The harvesting, according to KFS officials, is done annually but on select portions and only pine, eucalyptus and cypress trees can be cut.

The trees should be of above 25 years old to be sanctioned for harvesting. 

For the portions selected for harvesting, licensed saw millers are invited to competitively bid for trees and the license to cut them is issued to the highest bidder.

Once authorised, saw millers are given up to 45 days to cut the trees under the watch of KFS officers where each tree is marked with an authorisation seal before leaving the forest.

In turn KFS says it replants the trees in the harvested areas to keep a balance and also reclaim forests that have been damaged.

It says this is done through the system that allows human activities in the forest simultaneous with planting of trees by communities adjacent to the forests.

The system known as Plantation Establishment for Livelihood Improvement Scheme (Pelis) was established as a forest management programme by KFS.