Mau Forest logging

A section of Mau Forest that has been destroyed by logging. 

| File | George Sayagie | Nation Media Group

Illegal logging thriving in Mau despite ban

Illegal logging and charcoal business targeting  =indigenous trees in sections of the Mau Forest complex continues to thrive, despite government efforts to conserve the key water tower.

The Nation has established that timber merchants, corrupt Kenya Forest Service (KFS) officers are part of a well-networked syndicate that has been plundering the Mau Forest  despite government efforts to protect the forest.

The Kenya forest service (KFS) has now warned of fresh encroachment into the Maasai Mau forest with unlicensed timber felling and illegal charcoal production taking its toll,two years after eviction of illegal settlers.

According to the KFS Commandant Alex Lemarkoko, an aerial view of the forest has revealed existence of human activities thriving in the forest, warning it might derail the gains achieved in the last two years in restoration of the water tower.

Speaking in Narok North sub county,after an aerial survey of the Maasai Mau on Saturday, Mr Lemarkoko said despite the ban in logging, there are cartels in Narok, Nakuru and Nyanza that are still aiding harvesting of olive, Red cedar and Podo trees which are indigenous and endangered species.

“Today we flew over the Maasai Mau Forest and we found out that there are illegal human activities inside the forest at Oloonamuka, Olmariko area and along the border of Olenguruone in Nakuru county indicating there is a fresh threat to the water tower,”said Lemarkoko.
“Indigenous trees such as cedar and olive trees are at higher risk of being depleted due to their high quality charcoal, timber and poles,” he warned.

Mr Lemarkoko, who was concluding two days’ tour of the northern side of the forest along the border, reiterated how government efforts has seen over 4,500 hectares of the forest reclaimed in the first phase of the illegal settler’s evictions since the ban on charcoal burning and logging was issued three years ago.

“The recovered land in Kosia, Nkoben and parts of Nkareta in 2018 has been regenerating especially after the first phase of Mau evictions that saw over 10,000 illegal settlers flushed out,” he said.

“In the second phase over 17,101 hectares were recovered after operations that have seen settlers voluntarily move out of the Water Tower and 3,500 hectares using aircrafts by Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) and a total of 300,000 seedlings planted during the launch in November 2019,” said Mr Lemarkoko warning the government is not ready to let the effort go down the drain.

Accompanied by other stakeholder among them the Mara elephant project and the Mau forest Joint Enforcement Unit (JEU) commandant David Mutoro, he said that the KFS will establish more outposts to reinforce daily security patrols inside the forest.

Mr Lemarkoko toured the Olokurto area bordering the forest in the northern side to urge the people to work closely with the security officers to protect the forest through volunteering of information on forest intrusion and illegal activities.

“Many of you here have been allowed to graze your livestock inside the forest and you are the ones who should be on the lookout for these perpetrators, some are even are hiding in caves in the forest and trying to beat the law and depleting the forest,” Mr Lemarkoko told residents.

He called on the community to join Community forests associations CFAs to make use of government systems like Nyumba Kumi or government policing to help in restoration of the forest.

“I also urge the communities at the periphery of the forest to take advantage of tourism activities like Nature walks and also wildlife viewing now that herds of elephants have returned into the forest following its restoration,” said Mr Lemarkoko.

However, the Mau forest Joint Enforcement Unit (JEU) says they have seized hundreds of posts hewn from endangered tree species whose logging is banned in the last two months.

Mr Mutoro said, officers have seized over 1, 000 cedar posts and 100 pieces of white podo, where a tractor ferrying part of the loot was also impounded at Olokurto, Narok County.

In the  ground-and-air operation made possible by the use of the Mara elephant project chopper, another 1,500 cedar posts and 71 podo beams were seized and set ablaze in Enesonkoyo in Olokurto division.

The official further revealed that KFS and the police have now increased patrols along major highways and in sections of the Mau Forest Complex in Nakuru, Baringo, Bomet, Narok, Cherengany among others, as they seek to combat the illegal logging and charcoal business that has been taking place undetected.

Mr Mutoro said despite being the most protected of all water towers, Mau Forest was under threat as locals were colluding with timber merchants to plunder the natural resource.

The Mau forest security team comprises 242 officers from Kenya Forest Service, Kenya Wildlife Service and administration police officers.

According to Rapid Response Forest Inspection Unit commander Zablon Ndiema, more than 100 tonnes of timber and 12,000 cedar posts are lying in KFS yards in Narok town, which have been seized from the time JEU started the Mau forest operation two years ago.

However, after the government flushed out over 30,000 families who had allegedly encroached into the Maasai Mau Forest and recovered over 22,000 hectares of the dilapidated forest more efforts have been put in place to fully restore the vital water tower including fencing its off.

So far, the-30-kilometers fence in Narok south Sub county, erected by the Kenya Water Towers Agency (KWTA) at a cost of Sh80 million which is supposed to keep off illegal settlers evicted from the forest one year ago is complete.

The fencing begins at Amolo River and runs through Kebeneti, Kaliet, Zaire, Emitik, Chebitet, Katama, Kamwengoi, Triangle areas along the forest boundary and ends in Masaita area in Narok South Sub County.

The Mau Forest Complex, that straddles across Nakuru, Kericho, Baringo, Narok and Bomet counties is the country’s largest remaining indigenous forest and also the largest of the country’s five water towers as well as the largest closed-canopy forest ecosystem.

In the Eastern Mau section, in Nakuru, the Nation established that the most affected areas include Marioshoni, Kiptunga, Logoman,Sigoin and Tiritagoi  at the fringes of the forest.

A recent visit  of the sections of the Mau Forest Complex  by the Nation revealed that destruction had continued despite government tough talk.

Stumps dot the expansive open stretches of the forest evident that illegal logging has been taking place under the soft underbelly of the KFS officials.

Locals say business is ‘vibrant’ with donkeys and lorries transporting charcoal at the dead of night.

Interestingly, those interviewed accuse KFS of “simply watching” as the forest was destroyed. However, KFS on their part say, they were determined to end the destruction.

The Eastern Mau Forest neighbors Elburgon town which was once a citadel of timber business.