The Kenya Forest Service (KFS) has unearthed illegal logging business involving saw millers and transporters and dozens of suspects arrested, impounded timber materials worth millions in an operation against destruction of forest.
Suspects were arrested in Turkana, West Pokot, Trans-Nzoia, Elgeyo Marakwet and Uasin Gishu counties while transporting timber and charcoal to various markets in the Western Kenya region.
The KFS head of conservancy in the North Rift region Benjamin Kinyili Wednesday said the illegal saw millers and charcoal dealers conclude with transporters to flout the government ban on logging activities in public forests.
The traders evade police roadblocks in various parts of the region through porous routes to access markets where the products are fetching high prices due to increased demands.
Mr Kinyili said KFS personnel on Monday seized 77 bags of charcoal which were being transported to Kisumu. He said two suspects were arrested in Eldoret.
"We fail to understand how illegal dealers manage to evade roadblocks from Kakuma in Turkana County to Eldoret where they were arrested," said Mr Kinyili.
Mr Kinyili said two other suspects were nabbed with timber valued over Sh300,000 harvested from Cherang'any Forest in Trans-Nzoia county.
"The dealers covered charcoal and timber with broom and mats, banana leaves and sometimes vegetables sch as cabbages and sukuma wiki," said Mr Kinyili.
He said two more suspects were arraigned in Elgeyo Marakwet over destruction of public forests.
A spot check by Nation recently revealed massive illegal logging and wood harvesting in the heart of Sabor and Kaptagat forest in Elgeyo-Marakwet.
Residents however said that the flogging happen at night and wee hours despite the national moratorium.
They claim that the business is thriving as a result in the felling of indigenous trees, mostly the cypress and red cedar which are common in the border of the two forests.
"Illegal felling of the trees is very rampant at the border of Sabor and Kaptagat forests, these people do this unlawful act at night and wee hours. They aim at cypress and Red Cedar because of their value in the market," said Timothy Cheplong, a resident of Sabor.
The residents added that they discovered that a syndicate was working with a network of loggers in selling logs in Iten and other towns in the region in collaboration with some rogue KFS officials.
"KFS and Community Forest Association (CFA) are aware of this deal and we have seen very minimal action from them," Mr Cheplong added.
"The government through the Cabinet Secretary of Environment banned logging in all the public forests, unfortunately in Sabor bordering Kaptagat forest it is still happening and several trees have been cut, we believe that there is something fishy between custodians of the forest and well-connected cartels because we have reported this matter to KFS many times but nothing has been done," said Moses Bulut, who is the chief of Kaptagat location.
A senior government official who sought not to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter confirmed that their recent survey established that massive illegal logging has become rampant in almost all the North Rift forests including the Embobut.
"There is massive destruction of forests in the North Rift including Embobut and we have to act swiftly if we have to save our forests," said the official.
But Mr Kinyili disclosed that KFS was faced with acute shortage of rangers and vehicles to crack-down on suspects behind wanton destruction of forest covers.
"The government should consider hiring more rangers and provide vehicles to ease operations on illegal logging activities," Mr Kinyili said.
According to Deputy Chief Conservator of Forests Patrick Kariuki, the agency has 2,500 rangers and 4,800 staff which is inadequate to safeguard the country's forest cover.
"We are experiencing a national problem in terms of staffing to protect our forests and it is our appeal to all Kenyans to participate in environmental conservation efforts," appealed Mr Kariuki.
The KFS requires at least 4,500 rangers for effective management of the forests from illegal loggers.
The agency is reaching out to Community Forest Association, saw millers and farmers to invest in commercial farm forestry to increase the country's forest cover from the current 7.2 per cent to recommended international standard of 10 per cent.
"Illegal settlement, encroachment of forests for agricultural purposes and destruction of tree seedlings are some of the factors contributing to decline forest cover," explained Mr Kariuki in a past interview.
According to KFS, more than 25,000 hectares of public forest in the North Rift region is under illegal settlement including several learning institutions.