Inside the Forest, by Joel Larson

LarsonJ 1- with caption.JPGBeing in the midst of my internship with the Kakamega Environmental Education Programme (KEEP), I am settling into the rhythm of life in Western Kenya. Located just inside the forest, KEEP shares a plot of cleared land with the Kenyan Forest Service, a handful of monkey researchers, and several other community-based organizations. KEEP was founded by a group of forest guides, who recognized a growing need to educate the local community about conservation and sustainable use of the forest and its products. Since its beginning, the organization has expanded to include several income-generating projects, including a tree nursery, butterfly farm, and bandas for ecotourism.

Walking into the forest from the surrounding homesteads, you pass through a buffer of tea plants designed to prevent further encroachment into the forest. Once you get under the canopy itself, the temperature drops almost 10 degrees and the humidity climbs to the point where you could probably swim as easily as walk. The air is filled with bird and monkey calls, along with the occasional crow from a rooster.

LarsonJ 2- with caption.JPGOne recent change within forest communities in Kenya was the adoption of a new Forest Act in 2005. Through conversation with KEEP members and local community members, it became apparent that additional education and training on the act was necessary to communicate the rights and responsibilities outlined by the new law. Before the 2005 Forest Act, the most recent law was developed in 1968 and ignored many of the needs and knowledge of local communities. The new act attempts to correct these problems, and integrate local residents into forest management.

The need for education about the new forest laws (even among the rangers) was illustrated one recent morning. Kakamega Forest is home to several primate species, among them the Blue Monkey, Black and White Colobus Monkey, and the Red-tailed Monkey. Several weeks ago, a young boy was walking along the road leading from the highway to KEEP, when he spotted a blue monkey and decided to spend some time looking at it and following it through the forest. Within a few minutes, several forest guards came along and tried to arrest the boy for walking through the forest and observing the monkey. Thankfully, other community members were around and convinced the guards of their error. When even the rangers are not completely aware of the new regulations, there is certainly a demand for additional trainings!