Key forestry advice as up to 7,000ha blown down by Storm Darwin

It has been estimated that between 5,000 and 7,000 hectares of forestry has been blown down due to recent storms. That is according to the Windblow Taskforce, which was set up by the Department of Agriculture, to examine the of the forest damage caused by recent storms.

It is believed the taskforce is making good progress on gathering information from effected areas. Early indications suggest less than one per cent of the forest area and approx one per cent of the forest volume has blown down mainly concentrated in Munster.

While initial estimates appear low the taskforce note, locally the damage has been severe, with significant volumes of roundwood impacted.

Speaking on the issue recently Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Tom Hayes said: “I fully understand the shock and anguish experienced by forest owners whose forests have been blown over by the recent storm.”

On the role of the sawmills following this damage, the minister commented: “Ireland has an export-focused, world-class sawmill and panel board sector. This sector has ample capacity currently to process the blown material over the next eight to 10 months.”

The taskforce has issued the following guidance to forest owner’s effected:

For forest owners who have experienced windblow the most important advice is not to rush into decisions but to make a step-by-step plan to minimise risk and maximise the salvage value of your plantation. Most forests, despite being blown, can have considerable timber value. The following steps will assist forest owners in planning and harvesting:

1. Think Safety first, a windblown forest is a dangerous place. Only qualified and insured people should be permitted access. All parties have legal obligations when carrying out forestry operations under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1989.

2. If your plantation is insured for windblow, contact your insurance company immediately. Inform them that your plantation is damaged. The insurance company will assign an assessor to assess the damage.

3. Get independent advice from a Teagasc Forestry Adviser (For a one-to-one free advisory session in a Teagasc office, find the local adviser in your County at here or from a qualified forestry professional who will meet you on-the-ground, and also other qualified professionals such as insurance advisors, taxation experts and so on. A qualified forester can assist you in the various steps outlined below. See the Forest Service website for a list of RegisteredForesters here.

4. Assess the area, timber volume and likely value of the windblow in your forest. In addition assess the adjacent area that has not blown. Taking account of factors such as age, area and risk of windblow, a decision will need to be made whether or not it is best to retain the adjoining area and to allow it to grow on to normal clearfell age, or to harvest this area together with the area that has suffered windblow. Most plantations are unlikely to be entirely blown. Where a forest is partially windblown, it is important that a forestry professional assesses the remaining standing trees for stability. Where the forester deems that such trees are unstable, these should be included in the felling licence application.

5. Apply for a Felling Licence from Forest Service to fell/harvest the windblown timber and potentially any adjacent trees that may be at risk of windblow after the felling/removal of the windblown trees. Mark your application ‘Storm Damage’ to allow it to be prioritised by the Forest Service. If there is an existing licence for the land, please specify the licence number in your new felling licence application. The existing licence has to be cancelled before a new licence can issue as the same land cannot have two licences. Please ensure that the felling licence is signed by the land owner and where clearfelling is proposed, that details of the species being replanted are provided. See the Forest Service website for further information here.

6. Consider access to the forest and specifically the windblown area and if necessary apply for a roading grant from the Forest Service, DAFM. Applications should be submitted before the end of March 2014 and can be made through a forester on the approved list.

7. Under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 1989 there is an obligation on landowners to gather information about site hazards and to produce a site risk assessment together with a site hazards map.

8. Market the windblown timber and get professional advice on current prices. Joining with a group of forest owners to sell timber will provide you with scale and efficiency. It may also reduce costs thereby maximising salvage value. Larger timber lots are more attractive to buyers.

9. Have a strong Timber Sales Contract in place to protect the interests of all parties and to ensure compliance withenvironmental requirements, Felling Licence, Health and Safety, indemnity, insurance, agreed harvesting procedures, timber prices, duration of contract, arbitration provisions, relevant maps and schedules and other requirements. A forestry professional should be able to provide you with such a contract or the Template Master Tree Sales Agreement produced by the Irish Timber Growers Association should be consulted.

10. Control the movement of timber from your site using a strong Timber Sales Dispatch System for security and accountability in timber sales. Again a forestry professional will provide this or see the ITGA Model Timber Sales Dispatch System here.

11. Supervision and monitoring of the sale and harvesting operations will ensure you are complying with best practice and the provisions of the Felling Licence.

12. Close off the sale and record keeping – This is important for accounting and tax, Health and Safety, various environmental and other obligations. Make sure all timber is accounted for, paid for and that proper records are maintained.

13. Replanting plan – Plan your harvest in conjunction with subsequent replanting, which is a legal obligation after felling. A badly planned and implemented harvesting operation will potentially increase the replanting cost, ground damage and the ability of your forest to recover quickly.

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