Consistent negative messaging is undermining Ireland’s forestry sector, according to Minister of State for Land Use and Biodiversity Pippa Hackett.
In a rebuttal of criticism from forestry stakeholders, the minister said the Department of Agriculture is issuing forestry licences at three times the rate it is receiving applications at present.
Minister Hackett told the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee on Wednesday that by the end of the second quarter of 2022, no licence application predating 2021 will remain to be processed, an achievement she described as “something significant”.
The minister described how her department has recruited external ecologists to expediate the granting of afforestation licences and clear the backlog. She said that while “there is no silver bullet” to fixing Ireland’s forestry licensing issues and “better communication between forest owners and the Department is needed”, Ireland will look back at its reduced rate of planting in recent years as a “blip we will have moved on from” in 20 years’ time.
Department ‘remaining incapable’
Prior to Minister Hackett addressing the committee, Paddy Bruton of the Social, Economic, Environmental Forestry Association (SEEFA) told TDs and senators 2021 saw the lowest level of private forestry planted in Ireland since 1946. He warned only 2,000ha was planted in 2021, a decrease from 15,000ha per annum 20 years ago and 8,000ha a year 10 years ago.
The SEEFA spokesperson said a “forestry scandal” is down to the Department of Agriculture management team which is responsible for licensing “proving inept and remaining incapable”.
He said that the “rot continues” within the sector and that private forest owners have been “left on the side line and largely ignored”.
Bruton criticised the difference between the Department’s processing of licences for Coillte, with a balance sheet of €1.36bn, and those of private forest owners.
He said at the end of the first quarter of 2022, 457 felling licences had been issued to Coillte, 97 more than the target, while private forest owners had been issued with 355, 65 less than the Department’s target.
Minister Hackett defended the figures which she said “keep coming back as an issue”. She said Coillte licences are not favoured and “as the year progresses, we expect to see a turnaround on private licences”.