Kalangala — A section of councillors in Kalangala Town Council have opposed the planned de-gazettement of Lutoboka Forest Reserve located in the town. The councillors argue that the forest is one of the few remaining forests in the island district and they cannot let it go.
Led by Grace Bayiga, who represents Kalangala A Ward, and Douglas Kizito, who represents PWDs at the district, the councillors directed the Kalangala Town Council chairperson, Mr Stephen Kizza, and town clerk Jude Mark Bukenya to officially communicate their position to the Ministry of Water and Environment and that of Local Government so as to block the proposed de-gazettement of the forest .
"Our position is that the forest should be left intact. The town is not going to benefit us in any way. All that land has already been allocated to individuals yet we already gave out 193 hectares of land in Bunyama Island to National Forestry Authority(NFA) in exchange for the same land,"one of the councillors said.
This was during a special council sitting on Wednesday. According to the councilor, some of those who already own plots in the forest reserve include different civil servants, politicians and some Kampala-based tycoons whom he declined to name.
The Lutoboka Forest Reserve, which Kalangala District authorities want to de-gazette, measures 246 hectares and is located along the Lutoboka Bay. Those pushing for the de-gazettement of the forest reserve claim they want to create space for the expansion of the town.
This comes days after the State minister for Environment, Ms Mary Kimono, told MPs on the parliamentary committee of Natural Resources that Cabinet was in final stages of approving a proposal to de-gazette eight forest reserves in different town councils in the country, among which is Lutoboka Central Forest Reserve.
Lutoboka Forest Reserve, according to different tour operators, is a source of revenue for Kalangala District as tourists, who love to walk in the wild, visit the place to watch different species of monkeys and birds. "The forest is a tourist site and a symbol of Kalangala Town's beauty. Its destruction means Kalangala Town will be short of tourism development sites, thus missing out on revenue," said Ms Joyce Kikomeko, the chairperson of Ssese Islands Tourism Development Association.
Different environmentalists have also criticised the planned de-gazattement of the forest reserve, citing environmental concerns. However, the Kalangala District leaders, including the district chairperson, Mr Willy Lugoloobi, are backing the proposal, saying it would enable them expand and develop Kalangala Town. "Our town is surrounded by a forest and oil palm plantations, which have hindered its development.
The limited space we have isn't enough to accommodate all the development projects we want," he said.
Mr Lugoloobi said Kalangala Town currently lacks land for the extension of the district prison and creation of a mortuary and public cemetery and, all this cannot be implemented without de-gazetting the forest.
Large chunks of forests have in the past been cut down in Kalangala to pave way for oil palm production.
Buggala Island, which is the largest island out of the 84 islands, covers 29,000 hectares out of which 10,000 have already been allocated for oil palm trees.
By 2008, Kalangala's forest cover stood at 13,471 hectares ,of which 621 were given out to grow palm oil , while an unknown number has been encroached on by local residents.