Hoima. Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) soldiers have been deployed in various forest reserves in Bunyoro sub-region.
A team of UPDF soldiers has already been deployed in Bugoma Central Forest Reserve in Hoima District, Kangombe Forest Reserve in Kibaale District and by press time, another group was due to be deployed in Kanaga and Gurama forests.
Col Allan Kyangugu, the commander of National Vital Assets and Strategic Installations Unit, oversaw the deployments this week.
The UPDF spokesperson, Brig Richard Karemire, described the deployments as normal.
“Forest reserves should be kept as forest reserves. The status quo of wetlands and national parks should remain,” Brig Karemire told this newspaper on Thursday.
A team of officials from the National Forestry Authority (NFA) and police accompanied the soldiers. The NFA prosecutor, Mr Collins Michael Mugisa, was also part of the team.
Mr Stuart Maniraguha, the NFA Budongo system range manager, who supervises forest reserves in Bunyoro sub-region, welcomed the deployments, which he said would complement the work of all stakeholders involved in forestry governance.
Bunyoro sub-region has 43 central forest reserves that cover 187,281 hectares. The encroachers are reportedly cultivating crops, setting up settlements and harvesting timber in the protected forests.
According to NFA, a government agency charged with managing central forest reserves, some encroachers are involved in charcoal burning, while others have gone ahead to process illegal titles covering parts of the reserves.
Mr Maniraguha revealed that encroachers have cleared 650 hectares of Kanaga Forest Reserve.
He said NFA has joined hands with police and the army to ensure that forests are free from any encroachment.
The Midwestern Regional Anti-Corruption Coalition (MIRAC) programme coordinator, Mr Kennedy Mugume, who has been spearheading efforts by civil society activists to advocate for transparency in forestry governance, said government should ensure zero tolerance to illegalities in the forest sector.
He said timber dealers have a wide network of collaborators and can compromise officials in order for them to continue destroying forests.
The country is experiencing a prolonged dry spell, which environmentalists are attributing to climatic changes caused by environmental degradation.
According to the 2009 National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) report, in 1990, Uganda had more than five million hectares of forest cover but by 2005, only 3.5 million hectares (8.6 million acres) remained.
Nema warned that if deforestation continues at the present rate, Uganda will have lost all its forested land by 2050.
Conservationists estimate that Bunyoro sub-region loses about 7,000 hectares of forests annually.