A high-level team from the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), headed by the deputy managing director for operations, Joseph J. Tally and collaborating partners working around the Sapo National Park have successfully ended three weeks of intensive consultative meetings with 30 communities around the Sapo National Park.
These meetings, according to a release, aimed at harmonizing the extended boundary lines of the Park following its extension by an Act of the Legislature in 2003, but has not been demarcated.
The extension, the release said was done in areas with rich biodiversity, far from communities, which are constantly threatened by illegal activities. The meetings were held in Chebioh Town, Jalay's Town, Gbalawein Town, Putu Jarwodee (all in Sinoe and Grand Gedeh) and lastly Seaboken (River Gee).
There has been intermittent habitation in the Park and voluntary repatriations since 2003 by both Liberians and non-Liberians, which bred misunderstanding and misinformation over the years and triggered controversy, which led to the death one FDA Forest Ranger in the area.
Cllr. Nagbele Warner of the Heritage Partners and Associates (HPA) law firm, served as a lead facilitator during the consultations and provided legal opinion on the creation of the park in 1983 by the government and subsequently its extension in 2003 by an Act of the Legislature.
Warner told the communities to be in compliance with the law as a way of inducing peaceful atmosphere in the area to allow government and partners provide them basic services.
He said the best way to solve problems is through negotiations and urged the inhabitants not to stay away from the process but to participate and put forward their grievances. The team succeeded in breaking the barriers of negative thoughts and calculations being harbored by majority of the inhabitants based on misunderstandings and miscalculations.
For instance, there have been the feelings that FDA and its Partners have done nothing to improve their lives but bent on dispossessing them of what they call "our God-given land and treasure."
However, at the end of the meetings the communities agreed to cooperate with the process so that the boundary line as expressed on the map can be physically drawn on the ground.
"We cannot stand in the way of the government; we want the FDA and the government to provide benefits that will improve our lives," they said in a passionate appeal to government, FDA and the partners, asking them to make room for tangible benefits such as schools, health care facilities, roads, and job opportunities.
FDA Protected Areas Manager, Madam Evangeline Swope, described the outcome of the meetings as very fruitful since the overall desired objective of the meetings was achieved.
Swope extended her thanks and appreciation to the government of Norway, who made the funding available through the World Bank to the Liberian government, thereby making the exercise successful.
She said FDA and collaborating partners will spare no time in making sure that the expectations of the forest dependents in terms livelihood alternatives are met. Madam Swope said the protection and conservation of what nature has endowed mankind remains the best way of life anywhere of which Liberia is no exception.
Earlier, the team met with the county leaderships of Grand Gedeh, River Gee and Sinoe counties, briefed them on the purpose and objective of the meeting and sought their cooperation in the interest of fulfilling government's dream to protect, conserve and preserve, not only the Sapo National park, but all other national parks and protected areas set aside by law.
FDA Deputy Managing Director for Operations, Joseph Tally, extolled the three counties on behalf of the government, the FDA and partners. He reiterated the non-reversible tradition of the government to protect and keep the nation's natural heritage from being destroyed by illegal hunters and poachers to the disadvantage of posterity.
In their separate welcome remarks during the visitations, the Superintendents of Grand Gedeh, River Gee and Sinoe Counties, Kai Fally, Paul S. F. Brooks and Lee Nagbe Chea, Sr. promised to encourage their citizens on the importance the government, FDA and the partners attach to boosting conservation program in the country to benefit future generation.
They hoped the FDA will design suitable and workable mechanism that will address the livelihood needs of the forest dependents. Since the creation of its extension by an Act of the Legislature in 2003, the Sapo National park has often experienced the issue of boundary dispute in addition to unremitting acts of illegal mining and poaching which have and continue to undermine the purpose and intent for which the park was established.