The Deputy Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, in charge of Lands and Forestry, Benito Owusu Bio has announced that henceforth, government through the Ministry will approach the fight against illegal logging and chainsaw operations in the same measure as the fight against galamsey.
Mr. Owusu Bio disclosed this when he led a team on a fact-finding mission on Thursday, to ascertain the veracity of the claims of illegal mining and logging in some forest reserves in Sefwi Wiawso in the Western North Region. The visit extended to other reserves in Tanoso Shen, Asanti Nkae and Kokooso.
On arrival at some three illegal sawmill set ups close to the forest reserves and owned by the operators, the Deputy Minister ordered for the immediate demolishing of the structures and seizure of all movable equipment on the grounds.
Having witnessed the gravity of the illegal logging and chainsaw operations, he bemoaned the situation; indicating that his outfit cannot solve such a canker in just one visit. He therefore indicated that, his outfit and the Board will make arrangements to visit the region again to allay the fears of the forestry officials and send out a stern warning to the operators.
“We are going to put together strategies and we will be back again and this time it will not be only to Sefwi but to Ahafo and all the other places where these illegal loggers hide, we will burn all these if we have to, just to ensure that we bring their operations to the barest minimum”, Mr. Owusu Bio stated.
During the visit, he was accompanied by officers and board members of the Forestry Commission as well as the Omanhene of Sefwi Wiawso. Due to the bloodshed around the reserves, the Omanhene ordered for purification rights to be performed before the team entered the reserve for the inspections.
Speaking to the media, the Member of Parliament for Atwima-Nwabiagya North constituency, Benito Owusu Bio used the opportunity to commend the officials, especially the Youth In Afforestation team for their efforts and support to the Forestry Commission. In this regard, he disclosed that government has given clearance for the employment of more officials to help in the fight and that soon, the Commission will have more forest guards and rangers to join the combat. He also issued a word of advice to forestry officials in the area and farm owners to guard and prevent the reserves from wildfires in the dry season.
“We are in the dry season and therefore we must beware of bush fires. To the farmers, be sure not to set fires whatsoever because they can turn into bigger fires putting our reserves in danger”, the MP admonished.
On his part, the District Manager of the Sefwi Wiawso Forestry Commission, Mr. Raymond Obeng Boamah, disclosed that there are three main illegal activities in the reserves including, “illegal logging, illegal chain-sawing, and illegal farming”. He explained the danger in dealing with the illegal operators.
“These guys who operate in the reserves are armed with all sort of weapons, being guns, machetes and all other means that they use to perpetuate their crime. Anytime our officials confiscate any of their machines, they go to the extent of beating them up and kidnapping them to use as ransom to get back their equipment”, Mr. Boamah explained.
He added that, their activities are degrading the forest reserves and if something is not done immediately, it will soon deplete the entire reserve. He also reiterated their pressing request for safety, and pleaded with the Board and Deputy Minister to bring in the assistance of the police and the military; while beefing up their guards and rangers. The District Manager also narrated a recent struggle among the illegal operators which led to the death of an illegal logger whose identity remains unknown.
The Sefwi Wiawso District forest reserve has an area of 8,442 hectares with a total perimeter of 49.5 kilometres in the Western North Region.