Forestry officials in Sefwi Wiawso and Juaboso Districts are vowing to sustain their operation to clamp down on chainsaw operators and other encroachers of forest reserves despite threats on their lives.
District Forestry Manager, Nana Opoku Bosompim, says nothing will deter them from ridding forest reserves of plunders.
A joint military and forestry taskforce with the aid of two helicopters have launched air and ground onslaught on Sui, Tano Suhyen, Murro, Krokosua reserves at Wiawso and Juaboso, where 37 illegal sawmills have been dismantled and equipment used are impounded.
The about 140 military personnel, deployed in Wiawso Municipal, Bia East, Juaboso, Akontobra and Bodi districts have seized equipment, including vehicles, as well as huge quantity of lumber.
The exercise, code-named "Operation Halt" became possible following the wanton destruction of the forest through illegal activities such as farming, lumbering, among others which reached unbearable level.
Chainsaw operators, numbering about 40 are said to have armed themselves with machetes, guns and other offensive weapons with which they attack forestry officials and the military with impunity.
The dreaded groups have over time succeeded in opening fire and inflicting machete wounds on military and forestry officers deployed into the forests in a manner akin to a Hollywood movie.
"They come on their motor bicycles, about 40-50 in number; to some extent 60 and they outnumber us entirely. They come with other lethal weapons-you see them with machetes, clubs, guns; locally manufactured pistols and they come to confront us," says Sefwi Wiawso District Forest Manager, Nana Opoku Bosompim.
The group believed to be hiding in Sankore in the Brong Ahafo Region recently rescued some of its members arrested and handcuffed by the forestry-military team.
"Operation Halt", the first of its kind is a reinforcement to supplement work of forest guards in the area.
It is the brainchild of Chief Executive of the Forestry Commission, Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie, who has vowed to protect Ghana's forest cover and plant more trees to replace depleted forest.
"In most cases, we have attempted to deal with forest infractions but always we end up been attacked. The operation is so widespread. When we realized the scope of destruction of the forest, we realized that something needed to be done," Nana Bosompim said.
A man said to be the ringleader, known only as Horror has been arrested with others identified as Vaxinger, Body and Bakus who are on the run are being sought.
Mahogany, Odum, Red Wood, Asamfra, Mansonia and other rare tree species are the target of the encroachers..
Nana Bosompim is yet to report the threat to police, but he says he is more ready to risk his life than to see the forest reserves destroyed.
"Political party executives threatening war; confronting forestry officers. I have once been threatened. They say they've declared war on me. I would not be left loose. But this is a national exercise. It is an operation to protect a vital national asset," he said.
Over 150,000 wood beams, translating into over 10 articulator loads have been seized. It is estimated to have a street value of about 700, 000 Ghana cedis.
Nana Bosompim says the waste and loss caused by recalcitrant encroachers cannot be quantified.
"We have much-priced woods like Mansonia, Asamfena and the likes. There are also some endangered species that even if a timber company is dully registered, the permit can never be issued to harvest those trees. I am talking about Kokurodua, what we refer to as Afromosia [African teak]. These chainsaw operators have cut about 10 of those species. You don't find them anywhere in the world and they are even going extinct."
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