Kibaale — AT least 3,500 encroachers have vacated forest reserves in the district, the Manager of the district National Forest Authority, Mr Godet Aryatwihayo, has said.
"Out of the estimated 6,000 encroachers in the central forest reserves, 3, 500 have voluntarily vacated the reserves," Aryatwihayo said on March 23.
Addressing journalists in Kibaale, he said people, who had encroached on Ruzaire, Kyamurangi, Nyakarongo, and Kangombe forest reserves, had vacated voluntarily.
Aryatwihayo said the encroachers' withdrawal from the reserves was as a result of a series of consultative meetings of the district security committee with officials from the district environment department who persuaded them to leave.
"We sensitised them on the value of forests and how their continued stay in the reserves contributed to environmental degradation," he said.
"They finally appreciated our concerns and accepted to spontaneously vacate," he said.
"We appeal to the remaining encroachers to emulate their colleagues and vacate."
Aryatwihayo said many encroachers cut down trees for timber, firewood and for construction purposes and some poach wild animals.
"Poaching reduces the number of wild animals. The biggest challenge is in Gurama Forest Reserve in Nkooko sub-county where encroachers are adamant. They have vowed not to leave voluntarily," he said.
In January, President Yoweri Museveni stopped the eviction of the over 180,000 forest and wetland encroachers countrywide, until the government has met all stakeholders.
The President directed the Ministry of Environment to implement the order immediately.
"I am directing the Minister of Lands, Water and Environment to immediately stop all the evictions in the forest reserves, the wetlands and the operations of the National Forestry Authority (NFA) against legal timber sellers until the government has met all stakeholders," said Museveni.
Museveni's directive came at a time when NFA officials were warning that the country's habitats for endangered species risked being destroyed by encroachers.
According to NFA, the encroachers staying in government forest reserves are destroying the catchment areas for water and habitats for endangered species.