The Social, Economic, Environmental Forestry Association of Ireland (SEEFA) will stage a series of protests at offices of TDs around the country this week to encourage support for issues facing the industry.
SEEFA is an alliance of private industry professionals lobbying for the Government to fulfil its obligations to maintain employment for more than 12,000 people in the sector, which has been devastated by a backlog in the granting of afforestation and felling licenses.
It is seeking direct intervention from the Taoiseach, as all other options have failed.
There are over 1,000 afforestation applications and thousands of felling and road licence applications still awaiting a decision.
The association has stressed that many forest owners cannot plant their land, manage their forests or sell their timber at present.
It has outlined that for many owners, this is their pension or the manner to pay for education for their children and that the implications of this crisis will be felt for many years to come.
Commenting on the issue, Jackie Cahill, TD and chair of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, said: “We are 15,000 behind target on afforestation in the last five years and if those trees had to be planted in their lifetime they would have sequestered 5.4m tonnes of carbon.
“We have really missed an opportunity to benefit the rural economy and in our fight against climate change.
“Our failure to issue licenses and our failure to plant trees for afforestation is haunting us and will continue to haunt us in the years ahead because we can’t reclaim that lost time.”
Teige Ryan of None So Hardy Forestry said: “If the industry cannot get the required amount of licences, nurseries cannot sell their stock, foresters cannot plant or maintain forests, and harvesting companies cannot supply timber to the sawmills.
“The entire supply chain from seed to sawdust is affected. Nurseries are currently exporting seedlings to survive as sawmills are importing logs and timber, instead of felling Irish timber to serve the market.”
Marina Conway, Western Forestry Co-Op commented on the economic impact, saying: “Previous governments have invested over €3bn in this industry over 35 years and over 20,000 farmers have committed their land to forest, these forests are now maturing, and private timber is ready to harvest.”
Paddy Bruton, Forestry Services Limited and Euroforest Ireland said: “Afforestation is clearly the largest opportunity in the land use sector to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
“Government afforestation targets are not being reached and in 2020 only 2,300 hectares were planted of an 8,000 hectare target. In the last five years, afforestation targets have been missed by over 15,000 hectares in total or the equivalent of 40m trees.
“Had this area been afforested, it had the potential to remove 5.4m tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere over the lifetime of those forests.”
Imelda Connolly of Greenbelt, added: “The Department also urgently needs to introduce a viable ash dieback scheme, so landowners can remove the dead and dying ash trees and replant these areas with new forests.
“We believe that a sustainable forestry sector that can achieve commercial, climate and biodiversity goals is ready to flourish and deliver for rural Ireland but in order to achieve it we need to see a reduction in the volume of imported timber, and improvements to the current licensing system which are holding back the potential of the industry.”