Members of Parliament have adopted the draft law to turn Gishwati-Mukura forest into a national park.
The forest reserve is located in Ngororero and Rutsiro districts in the Western Province.
Under the draft law, about 130 hectares of land on the outskirts of the forest would be expropriated to allow free movement of animals within the park.
According to MP Agnès Mukazibera, the chairperson of the parliamentary Standing committee on education, technology, culture and youth - the committee which examined the bill, all pending issues including expropriation would be fast-tracked.
“Now that Parliament has passed the bill, we hope it will be assented to soon so that other pending issues can as well be addressed,” she said.
“In that regard, the Ministry of Natural Resources accepted to relocate the people who fall within the established range of the buffer zone,” she added.
Turning Gishwati-Mukura forest into a national park is part of the country’s broader plan to expand the total forest cover to 30 per cent of the country’s total surface area.
The new national park will cover a total surface area of 3,427.46 hectares – Gishwati forest (1,439.72 hectares) and Mukura forest (1,987.74 hectares).
The Government has also dedicated an area covering 992.48 hectares to a subsequent buffer zone to deter human encroachment.
More than 150 households face expropriation from the planned buffer zone.
The natural forests were originally earmarked as forest conservation zones in 1933.
However, over the past decades, the forest area was nearly depleted largely due to resettlement and farming in the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Subsequently, soil erosion, landslides and floods would later take their toll on the natural habitat.
Initially, the reserve was estimated to cover 250,000 hectares but had reduced to 28,000 hectares in 1980s.
The idea to transform the reserve into a national park was first mooted in 2007.
Commenting on the law yesterday, the Minister for Natural Resources, Dr Vincent Biruta, expressed hope that the draft law could be operational very soon, while the Rwanda Development Board’s chief tourism officer, Amb Yamina Karitanyi, said government would move fast to ensure all necessary infrastructure is in place.
MP Jean Marie Vianney Gatabazi said the issues of expropriation should come first.
“Citizens affected by the expropriation should be looked into first so that we have a smooth exercise,” said Gatabazi.
In a our previous interview, Adria Mukashema, the deputy director-general in charge of forestry at the Natural Resources Authority, said that, “We have an entire year after enactment of the law governing Gishwati-Mukura national park to solve any outstanding issues about the park. We will deal with the issues gradually.”
Most of the people to be expropriated are Rwandans who returned to the country after the 1994 Genocide.
The new national park will give tourists a chance to see a wide range of fauna and flora found in the forest.
The tourist attractions in the area include four species of primates; the eastern chimpanzee, the golden monkey, the blue monkey, and the mountain monkey, more than a dozen species of East African chimpanzees, mammals such as red river hog, the black-fronted duiker and the southern tree hyrax.
The forest reserve has over 60 species of trees, including indigenous hardwoods and bamboo.
For the local population living in the surrounding areas, turning Gishwati-Mukura forest into a national park will benefit them through creating off-farm jobs such as tourist guides and business opportunities in crafts, entertainment and hotels.