By Ezekiel Geeplay, contributing writer
Concerted efforts to evict illegal miners from the Sapo National Park have begun following years of encroachment.
The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) is leading the efforts through consultations with local authorities and surrounding forest dependents within River Gee, Grand Gedeh and Sinoe Counties.
The ongoing consultation exercise, held on a county by county basis, is intended to raise awareness among the local people ahead of the removal exercise. Over 5,000 illegal miners, including farmers and aliens, are said to be residing in the Park, authorities of the FDA have disclosed.
Established in 1983 as a protected area, the Sapo National Park is globally known for as a home to important plants, animals and other valuable resources.
Located in Sinoe County, Liberia, it is the country's largest protected area of rainforest, was the first national park established in the country,and contains the second-largest area of primary tropical rainforest in West Africa after Taï National Park in neighboring Côte d'Ivoire.
The is a biodiversity hotspot that has "the highest mammal species diversity of any region in the world,”according to Conservation International.
But throughout its history, the Park has been threatened by illegal farming, hunting, logging, and mining, "all exacerbated by the country's grinding poverty" and social and past political instability.
The FDA that is charged with the responsibility to manage the Park has proven less capable of doing so.
The Authority has, however, attributed its incapacitation to lack of adequate financial and logistical support to monitor the forest sector.
But FDA Technical Manager for Conservation, Jerry Yonmah noted that initial efforts to raid the park of illegal miners were hampered by the outbreak of COVID-19, which rendered the FDA’s rangers inactive at the time.
He however noted that the FDA is doing everything this time around to evict the Sapo National Park illegal occupants, saying the park can boast the Southeast in terms of tourism and research.
“Having people who are anti to the government's policy doesn't speak good for the country and that such anti behavior needs to be prohibited,” Yonmah told the consultations gathering in Maryland County. "When you are a citizen of a country, you must protect what you have and obey the laws of the country, but our citizens are the ones leading illegal miners in the Park for little or nothing.”
He warned of severe consequences for those illegally extracting the country’s natural resources under the canopy of Liberian citizens, terming the act as an abuse and gross violation of government's policy.
The illegal influx of aliens from neighboring countries into Liberia for business purposes, especially the extraction of natural resources is on the increase. The foreign nationals are aided and abetted by their Liberian counterparts.
The FDA Technical Manager believes that until Liberian citizens around the country’s rich natural reserves can join forces with the government, illegal operations in protected areas will continue to undermine revenue generation and render the Sapo Park vulnerable to degradation.
While the government contemplates on several options to remove illegal miners from the Park, a civil approach through broader community consultations will be the first approach, Yonmah noted.
“But if a civil approach fails, the government will use force to remove the illegal miners from the Park, and confiscate their equipment and tools."