With Madiba Singhateh

Welcome to another edition of the Environment Column, where we look at issues about the environment and the concerns raised by people. In today’s edition of the Column, we bring you some of the concerns raised regarding the rapidly depleting situation of the natural forest to poachers, bush fires and encroachment.

The spate of forest or bush fires, illegal logging and encroachment on forest lands, has increased within forest park areas of the country.

The country’s natural forests is rapidly depleting from illegal logging, bush fires and encroachment.

As bush fires and illegal logging increases, both state and community forest parks have been affected in terms of vegetation and other forest resources. Despite facing legal consequences of damaging the forest, the illegal actions of unscrupulous people who are exploiting the forest resources through whatever means has not minimized. The 1998 Forest Act barred people from committing such offences, and there are penalties attached to anyone who is found wanting, in committing offences that relate to illegal forest activity and exploitation.

This columnist spoke to Seekou Janko, a member of the National Forestry Platform, who said the organization was established in 2012.

“The abuse of the country’s natural resources is a recipe for conflict especially for communities in the provinces,” he said; that such conflict is on the increase particularly among villagers. Janko said the rise in border conflict is another factor that will pose as a potential for conflict in these communities; Janko also said there should be plans to control bush fires that cause enormous damage on the environment; that some of these are cross border incidents and urges the Governments of the Gambia and the sister Republic of Senegal, to make joint efforts in curbing the menace.

“Uncontrolled bush fire destroys the habitat of animals and micro species. It affects trees and this has a direct impact on human life. When insects like bees are gone, how will pollination take place?  Bush fires can lead to the disappearing of everything in the forest and can cause a great disaster for communities,’’ Janko said.

On the issue of illegal logging, Janko lamented that this requires a well-coordinated effort on the side of the Department of Forestry; that there was a time when Government banned logging; that when the ban was lifted, some communities allowed loggers to exploit their forests; that this has some detrimental effects as some of these loggers cut down other tree species they are not required to touch.

“When a tree is cut a tree should be planted,” he said. Janko said illegal forest exploitation has serious environmental repercussions and urged Government to introduce a policy for any tree(s) that is cut, to be replaced or in its place a fine be imposed on defaulters. He spoke of the importance of awareness creation on any matter relating to forest activities prior to its implementation; that the Gambia is a signatory to the international convention on endangered species, and should endeavor to work towards its implementation. Janko said most of the logs arriving from the provinces, comes from the local community forests because they are not aware of the impact and effect of such exploitations. Janko said communities have the legal mandate to sell their forest resources through a notification from the Department of forestry.

ON ENCROACHMENT: Janko said because of the demand for land, people have started selling plots within forest parks and reserved lands; that the lack of effective land management policies and control, communities abuse the traditional land tenure systems, to acquire land that they will sell to estate agents.

Buba Bojang, the Plantation section head at Kabifita, Furuyaa, and Nyambai forest parks, said they are working tirelessly to control illegal encroachment on forest parks; that they are aware of these illegal encroachments. He said on several occasions, some people have been caught logging illegally in the forest. He blamed Estate developers for fueling the land disputes by forceful evictions in the name of the Law.

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