Dubbed ‘Halt 3’, the operation being conducted in the Sefwi Wiawso area in the Western Region, started on September 13, 2018, and will end on October 4, 2018.
Briefing the media on the operation, Mr John Allotey Deputy Chief Executive of the Forestry Commission, said the forest and wildlife resources in the Region were under serious threat through human activities, especially illegal farming, mining, logging, chain sawing and commercial collection of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) as well as poaching.
He said these activities in the forest reserves in the Region were causing serious havoc to the environment and forest resources.
He said during a rapid field assessment of the extent of degradation, it was discovered that 24,398.96 hectares of intact forest had been lost to forest illegalities.
Mr Allotey said a recent multi-stakeholder consultation on the way forward in Sefwi Wiawso unanimously agreed on a military intervention, together with the Rapid Response Team and the forest guards of the Forestry Commission, to stop the illegalities going on in the forest reserves.
He said the Omanhene of Sefwi Wiawso Traditional Area, Okatakyie Kwasi Bumangama and his chiefs and elders also declared their total support for the operation to sanitise the forest reserves.
Mr Allotey said the Forestry Commission would continue to collaborate with the Military to sanitise the illegalities in the forest system in line with its mandate to regulate the utilisation of forest and wildlife resources.
It would also ensure the conservation and management of those resources as well as the co-ordination of policies related to them.
Mr Allotey explained that the military had been engaged because the illegal operators were known to be in possession of modern sophisticated weapons for their self –defence, which the staff of Forestry Commission could not contend favourably with.
He said the Commission’s District Management Teams in collaboration with the Rapid Response Teams would continue to patrol the forest reserves even after the exit of the military teams.
Mr Allotey said the Commission, in collaboration with the Ghana Armed Forces, had trained the Commission’s frontline staff to enable them fight illegalities in the forest.
The frontline staff would also be given modern logistics to enable them carry out their forest protection roles effectively.
In addition, the Commission will strengthen its community collaborations to ensure the sustainable management of the country’s forest reserves will continue to be one of the Commission’s key strategies.
“Building strong structures, which include awareness creation and sensitisation programmes, provision of alternative sources of livelihoods for the communities will help in the conservation of the forests,” he said.
The joint field operations between the Forestry Commission and the military has in the past been used to address Illegal farming in forest reserves, poaching in protected areas and forest reserves, Illegal chain sawing and logging in forest reserves and Illegal mining operations in forest reserves.
He said so far, the Team had seized illegal timber in the Krokosua, Sui, Bia North and Moro Forest Reserves, as well as from Sefwi Buako and Juaboso.
About 30 trucks loaded with illegally sourced timber were arrested and they carried over 2,000 pieces of doors and uncountable number of beams.
He said the Operation Halt 3 Team realised that, the modus operandi of the illegal operators had changed as they convert harvested timber into beams, then they are manufactured into doors, door and window frames and other furniture on the fringes of the forest.
The” manufacturers” therefore, are illegal sawmill operators but not carpenters. So the task force seized illegal sawmill machines but not carpentry tools,” he said.
Illegal sawmill machines and the illegal lumber and other wood products which were seized by the task force have been kept in safe locations.
He said the operation was being closely monitored by the Chief Executive, the Deputy Chief Executive and the Executive Management Team of the Forestry Commission, adding that reports reaching the Head office indicate that so far, there have been no brutalities.
Mr Allotey said four people were arrested and sent to Sefwi Wiawso Police Station but were released on bail.