Backlog in processing felling licences threatens jobs
The Sunday Independent reported in April that at least 2,000 forestry jobs were under direct threat – with many workers at that point already on short time or furloughed – because of a licensing and appeals logjam which threatened to bring the entire sector to a halt.
It’s hard to believe that backlogs in the State’s forestry licensing and appeals system risks plunging the industry into crisis, endangering timber supplies and up to 12,000 jobs.
Open policy leading to frivolous objections
All forestry activity, from planting to tree felling, must be licensed, but a change to the law in 2017 allowed anyone to appeal felling permits issued in the Republic.
The Department of Agriculture issued 4,180 felling licences in 2019 but a more stringent licensing system introduced to authorise work such as planting, felling and thinning has led to major delays and current approval rates suggest total felling licences issued for 2020 will be as low as 1,500.
Afforestation rates, also impacted by the new regulatory and appeals process, have almost halved from 6,500 hectares (ha) per annum in 2016 to 3,550ha in 2019 with estimated rates of afforestation in 2020 to be as low as 2,500ha. Government’s own climate change plan seeks to raise this number to 8,000ha.
Department not staffed to deal with number of objections
The Dept of Agriculture has an open policy with regard to forestry felling licences meaning that anyone can object to a forestry licence. The Dept expected about 12 objections per year but now there are now approximately 300. Apparently many of these objections come from 2 individuals and one group and according to reports 90% of these objections are eventually thrown out but resulting in a clogging up of the system. Allowing this process to continue will result in the felling of trees in Ireland grinding to a halt.
The timber industry employs 12,000 in rural Ireland. It has a turnover of €2 billion, half of which is exported. It has made great strides over the years to implement green and sustainable work practices. Current processes of dealing with appeals will end up with needless damage to jobs and businesses. Timber is a keystone product, it is integral to practically every building, renovation, retrofitting and agri-build project. Many timber companies are struggling to secure supplies and this will have a knock on effect on price pushing the already struggling construction industry back into recession