More than 5,000 people, who had encroached on and illegally settled in Kirisia Forest in Samburu County, have voluntarily moved out.
The Kenya Forest Service (KFS) and the Community Forest Association (CFA) have been sensitising the squatters and adjacent communities on the importance of conserving the forest, which covers about 91,000 hectares.
The squatters encroached on Kirisia Forest about 30 years ago due to constant conflicts with neighbouring communities over grazing fields and water.
Samburu County Ecosystem Conservator Charles Ochieng, who witnessed the exodus of the squatters, lauded their decision to voluntarily vacate the forest terming it a historic move.
“We did not use force here. It is people who felt the need to move out of the forest and conserve it for their future benefit,” he said.
About 1,000 hectares of land which was illegally occupied is set to be recovered by December 30.
The government provided transport for residents who volunteered to leave the forest.
A spot check by the Nation revealed that mass departure is still ongoing with hired trucks still ferrying people and their belongings.
The forest, which was initially surrounded by manyattas, is now open for rehabilitation.
Mr Ochieng reiterated that Kirisia Forest, which is also one of the largest forest covers in the North Rift, was gazetted in 1936.
He said the government will develop a management plan which will aid in zoning of the forest.
“We are going to select a zone where pastoralists will be allowed to access and graze their livestock. That constitutes one of our measures to conserve the forest,” he added.
Community Forest Association Chairman Douglas Leboiyare said that those vacating the forest will be resettled by KFS along its boundaries.
He said that CFA held several meetings with Samburu elders together with KFS and other stakeholders to sensitise them on the need to conserve the forest. The meetings, he said, led to voluntary vacation.
“Nobody has been forced out of the forest. We have held about 54 meetings since May to sensitise the community and they have responded positively,” said Mr Leboiyare.