Forestry owners were gathering outside the National Convention Centre on Wednesday morning to register their frustration with licensing delays.
Despite initiatives introduced last year, a backlog of 6,000 felling applications still exists. Meanwhile, approvals for new plantings are way behind schedule for 2021.
The protest is being organised by the IFA.
IFA forestry chair Vincent Nally said farmers have been patient, but solutions to the problems paralysing the sector are way overdue.
“Farmers are waiting for two years for approval to thin or harvest their plantations,” he said. “It’s an impossible position to be placed in. Not thinning at the appropriate time reduces the quality, yield and value of the final harvest, leading to significant economic loss.
“There is almost no situation where not thinning leads to a better environmental outcome than thinning.”
Nally explained that the evaluation process involved in approving a thinning of a plantation is similar to the one required for a wind farm.
“This involves the sweep of three-quarters of a million hectares of a radial area.”
Despite the recruitment of extra ecologists, the system is not clearing the backlog of licence approvals.
“We were promised 4,500 would be approved for planting this year. So far there have only been 1,800ha approved, so we’re nowhere near being on track,” Nally said.
“Last week, only one private forestry application was approved.”
He said the 25 ecologists in the Department were grappling with 22 new applications in one week alone.
Nally believes the regulations are overkill and may be unsuitable for the typically small private forestry plantation, pointing out “most private plantings are 6-8ha in size”.
Nally said it’s not just farmers who are affected by the gridlock in the system.
“We will be joined tomorrow by forestry contractors and by hauliers,” he said. “We are seeing timber being shipped in to keep timber yards and merchants in stock, simply because farmers can’t get approval to thin or harvest their crops.”
There are other long-standing issues. Ash dieback has devastated forestry plantations, and the support for growers is inadequate. Roadway approval for thinning and clearing is as affected by the planning and procedural logjams as thinning and harvesting.
We have to have delivery, and it has to happen now
Nally believes that Project Woodland, the Government's blueprint for the sector, has potential, but says farmers have lost faith in the system and are losing hope for the sector. He said urgent action is needed to restore that confidence.
“We are here to send a clear message to Government, that plans and promises no longer are enough. We have to have delivery, and it has to happen now.”