By Alex Baluku
Nowadays, nature faces a lot of different threats especially threats that are caused by humans and one important threat is occurring in a lot of Uganda’s forests is deforestation.
In Bundibugyo district of Rwenzori region in the Western Part of Uganda, Uganda Wildlife Authority-UWA engaged a private company and they are cutting down exotic tree species from Semliki National Park an act that raised a number of questions from the community.
The Park located in Bundibugyo and Ntoroko districts was created in 1932 and upgraded to a national park status in 1993.
In September of 2019, the management of the National Park contracted and allowed Uganda Bata Wood Company Limited to cut down all the exotic trees that have become invasive [tending to spread very quickly and undesirably or harmfully], thereby affecting the ecosystem in national parks.
However, the natives and a section of local and political leaders have since criticized the exercise wondering how the agency charge with wildlife conservation was seriously depleting the park contrary to government programs and presidential directives for the environment to be preserved.
Speaking to this reporter in an exclusive interview, some, locals and politicians at Kirumya trading center in Ntotoro Sub County who preferred not to disclose their names, tasked the national park authorities to explain to them the where about of those exotic trees that were cut from the park.
They allege that there is “someone from above” who they say was behind the cutting down of these trees in a disguise of removing the exotic species since the activity was being executed under alleged protection of the Uganda Peoples Defense Forces-UPDF.
Uganda Bata Wood Company Limited’s contract ended last year in December but with a lot of work left un-attended to, meaning that there is a likelihood of renewing them to continue with the exercise since the drive is aimed at covering the entire part of the national park that is covered with the exotic trees.
It is believed that the exotic species were planted in 1993 when government evicted people and areas that had been occupied were planted with the exotic tree species to cover up the area that was completely depleted then.
Ivan Mukalhu, a resident at Burondo Trading Center in Burondo Sub County, wonders how the authorities at the national park sanctioned the cutting down of trees even when the region was still grappling with the effects of deforestation.
“The national park instead would be concentrating on afforestation and community sensitizations on environmental conservation measures” Mukallhu added.
Bundibugyo in 2019 and 2020 experienced extreme weather conditions especially flooding in the areas of Kirumya, Kisubba, Busaru, Ntotoro and Harugale Sub County.
Godfrey Balyesiima, Warden in-charge of Semliki National Park, says that UWA only allowed the cutting down of exotic trees which were planted by the forestry department in the 1970’s. He adds that the exotic trees were planted during that time to generate revenue for the forestry department.
Balyesiima says that the drive was also aimed at restoring the animal habitats. He says that the exotic trees that were planted in the park in the 1970s, do not contribute so much in terms of providing needs of the wild animals, the reason UWA is cutting them down and planting indigenous trees to improve the quality of habitats for animals, providing cover and food for animals.
“UWA contracted Uganda Bata Wood Company Limited to remove the huge exotic trees in the park, and we engaged the local communities to undertake the removing of young exotic trees,” Balyesiima added.
He further said that the campaign has created job opportunities to the local communities and have also provided them with minor forest produce like poles and firewood.
Why do away with exotic plants, Mr. Balyesiima says Invasive Alien Species (IAS) were a threat to birds and mammals.
He adds that they are a threat to tourism and are one of the main causes of human–wildlife conflict. He further said IAS eats up the pasture for wild animals, forcing the wildlife to community lands. They also close up areas for game viewing, making it difficult for tourists to see the animals.
Balyesiima however, says their objective is to conserve and preserve indigenous trees which were being “eaten up” by the exotic trees especially Terminalia and Cidrella adorata species.
He says the two tree species don’t support the ecosystem in the forest. Balyesiima who didn’t mention the exact number of trees being cut down told this reporter that the trees will not exceed 1% of the total forest cover in Game Park.
Stanley Mugisa, the Bundibugyo District Assistant Forestry Officer, says they tried to closely monitor the exercise and noticed some breaches in what could ideally have been a good move to conserve the indigenous tree species.
Mugisa also says they learnt that the contractor Bata Wood Company Limited was cutting some other trees that are yet to be confirmed and marked exotic.