The ministry of environment is to engage local communities in conservation decision making in its latest efforts to save some small natural forests from human encroachment. According to government figures, at least 7,000 hectares of small natural forests in different parts of the country are under threats related to human activities—agriculture, poaching, settlement, wood pilfering and fires. “We chose participatory forest management in those natural small forestry resources so that the people with a direct stake be part of all decision making in their management,” Beatrice Cyiza, the Director General for Environment and Climate Change at the Ministry of Environment told The New Times. She said this would ensure sustainable exploitation of these small forests. These are small natural resources which cannot attract the interest of big investors, she said, adding that 80 per cent of big state forests will have been allocated to private operators by 2024. Government is also mobilising resources for restoration of critical ecosystems including natural forests. Some 30.4 per cent or 724,695 hectares of Rwandas land is now covered by forest. Of these 130,850 hectares is natural forests, 161,843 wooded savannah and 43,963 hectares is shrubs. Jean Claude Dusabimana, the Executive Director of Nature Rwanda, a non-governmental organisation, said that failing to save natural forests puts the lives of many species in danger. The organisation is working to save the six threatened vulture species found in Rwanda. Currently the vulture population at 15 sites is being monitored across the country. “We counted a good number of them and active nests at Busaga forest. The forest must be protected for the sake of its biodiversity and the well-being of the local communities because all hooded vultures across the country reproduce from this forest and before spreading to other parts,” he said. Located in Rongi Sector of Muhanga District, Busaga natural forest used to sit on 300 hectares of land but has been reduced to less than 150 hectares due to agriculture, wood exploitation and human settlement. Other activities that have led to the near extinction of this forest include illegal hunting, clay mining and logging, which have also decimated wildlife. “If the forest is degraded, it could lead to total extinction of vultures in Rwanda,” Dusabimana said. Human activity has also triggered huge losses in biodiversity richness in Kibirizi-Muyira Natural Forest located in Nyanza District. According to Isaac Ngango, who lives near this natural forest, it used to be home to different types of animals such as antelopes, gazelle, duiker, leopard, and panther among many others. However, due to hunting, he said these animal species have faced total extinction. The few surviving creatures in the forest include birds, monkeys, and rabbits, according to residents. Rwanda has committed to restore two million hectares of degraded and deforested landscapes by 2030. Currently, 900,000 hectares are being restored. The country has invested $652 million in forest landscape restoration programmes, according to the ministry of environment.