The resilience of the forestry and forest products sector is being tested at the moment due to an unprecedented number of blanket submissions opposing afforestation, felling licences and forest roading. This is negatively affecting Coillte, Irish family-owned sawmills, panel board mills, contractors, forestry companies, foresters and private forest owners – mainly farmers.
While most of these stakeholders have been aware that licencing has virtually ceased since last August, it took the recent Mackinnon review to outline the bleakness of the position. Mackinnon explained how increasing submissions – objections – from individuals and organisations on applications have slowed the approval system down to a standstill. He estimated that if submissions on roads and felling applications are added to afforestation the figure rises to over 1,000.
Work is in harvesting but he provides a wide range of other operations including forest road construction, wood-chipping and tree care.
“I employ 18 people, most of them with mortgages and families to support,” he said. “These are likely to be out of work in the new year unless the licence approval system dramatically improves.”
Like most contractors, he has borrowed heavily in order to purchase machinery. “I am currently paying back €2,700 every month for one harvester alone, which needs to work full time to justify this investment,” he explained. “This is the
first time in 47 years that I and my staff are out of work as a result of a situation that is not of our making.”
Afforestation approvals have now reduced to a trickle. “Every obstacle on planting application including referrals to ecologists and a myriad of public bodies is being placed on afforestation at the moment,” maintained a spokesperson for
one of the forestry companies. “Mackinnon was right when he quoted foresters as being concerned for their future as a result of delays in handling applications and the potential for appeals,” he said.
“These concerns exist throughout the forest chain from nursery owners to contractors and from harvesting to processing. “ A lack of a consistent proforestry approach by the inspectorate is a factor where as Mackinnon said ‘actions by some [and] inaction by others can have a negative impact on the livelihood of individuals’.”
Forest Industries Ireland (FII) met the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Coillte and sawmillers last week and is meeting stakeholders this week on trying to chart a future out of the current impasse.
Forest Service approvals for felling licences, afforestation and roading have virtually ceased since August due to 1,000 blanket submissions, writes Donal Magner.