The rate of forestry licence issuing by the Department of Agriculture improved last month, according to figures issued by Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue.
There were 110 licences issued in the week ending 3 September, a further 136 in the following week and 147 licences issued in the week ending 17 September, the Minister outlined in response to a parliamentary question this week by Green Party TD Francis Noel Duffy.
However, he acknowledged that, despite the improvement, his Department will not reach its target of 4,500 licences this year.
“The Deputy will be aware that certain High Court decisions have changed the processing of forestry licence applications, resulting in approximately 80% of applications being screened in for a comprehensive ecological assessment, a situation for which the Department was not prepared,” he said.
The Department increased its ecologist numbers to 27 to deal with the backlog, as well as adding an extra 21 forestry inspectors.
However, the Minister said a new legal requirement for an additional 30-day public consultation, introduced mid-year, had affected licence throughput in June and July.
“It is unlikely that our target of 4,500 will be met this year, and it will be closer to 4,000,” the Minister said.
“The Department is currently examining every afforestation application in the system and has deployed 10 ecologists to deal specifically with afforestation.
"I would encourage those with a valid afforestation licence to proceed with planting and I am advised there is 5,700ha with approval to plant,” Minister McConalogue said.
“In the meantime, the Department is working with forestry companies to improve the quality of information provided with licence applications. This has already yielded results for felling licences.
“The same exercise has been completed for forest roads and will shortly be carried out on afforestation licence applications. I expect that licensing output will continue apace for the remainder of the year," he said.