NAIROBI, Jan 24 (Swara) – Conservation organisations in Kenya on Monday demanded that parliament withdraw a proposed amendment to the country’s forest protection law, saying that the intended changes would result in deforestation and the erosion of gains made in forest conservation.

The Rules Committee of the Kenyan parliament has initiated a move to amend section 34 of the Forest Conservation and Management Act (2016) that was inserted into the law to stop arbitrary excisions that led to wanton destruction of the country’s forests in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Elizabeth Gitari-Mitaru, chairperson, East African Wild Life Society, reads a joint statement by conservation groups in Kenya.

“The proposed amendment seeks to vest the power to determine the fate of any such petitions on the Clerk of the National Assembly and the House Rules Committee without consultation with the Kenya Forest Service, which is the government’s lead expert agency on forestry,” the organisations said in joint statement read at a news conference by Elizabeth Gitari-Mitaru, the chairperson of the East African Wild Life Society.

The conservation organisations said they were strongly opposed to the intended changes in the forest conservation law and demanded that the amendment be withdrawn for the sake of the conservation of forests.

“Any changes [to the law] goes against gains made over the years,” said Joram Kagombe, the chairman of the Kenya Forests Working Group, an umbrella organisation. “We should not lose the momentum,” he added.

Nancy Ogonje, Executive Director, East African Wild Life Society, speaks at the news conference.

They noted that forest cover only 7.4 per cent of Kenya’s land area, but they host large amounts of the country’s fauna and flora species, hence the need to ensure that they are legally protected.

The proposed amendments would cause the Kenya Forest Service to lose its power to review and sanction any proposed public forest boundary alteration before being submitted to the National Assembly, the organisations said. Such an outcome would greatly weaken the governance mechanisms of public forests and deal a serious blow to conservation.

“We are fearful that the passing of the proposed amendment will take us back to the days before the enactment of the Forest Act of 2005 when forest loss through unwarranted excisions was the order of the day,” they said.

“The proposed repeal of Section 34(2A) will open avenues for the grabbing of public forest land.  It will inevitably lead to the loss of forests. This will spell doom to our forestry sector and many other sectors that depend on the ecological services provided by forests.  It will also set a bad legal precedent to other natural resource-related policies and legislation,” they added.

Dr. Joram Kagombe, chairman, Kenya Forests Working Group, addresses reporters at the news conference to call for the withdrawal of an amendment to the law that critics say would weaken forest conservation in Kenya.

Nancy Ogonje, Executive Director, East African Wild Life Society, said the proposed amendment would “compromise the protection of our forests” and that the changes to the law appeared to have been introduced “in bad faith.”

Much of the destruction to Kenya’s forest happened when the powers to alter forest boundaries was vested in one person, the cabinet minister in charge of the environment, according to Christian Lambrechts, Executive Director, Rhino Ark Charitable Trust. He stressed the need for wide consultations among key stakeholders before any changes can be made to the law on forests.