The reaction to the regulatory review report among most of the forestry stakeholders involved with Project Woodland is one of despair and disappointment, according to Irish Forest Owners (IFO).

‘Project Woodland: Regulatory Review Report’, was published by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in June.

The report addresses challenges in implementing EU law in the Irish sector, as forestry is a key part of the EU Climate Policy and the Climate Action Plan in Ireland

Chair of IFO, Nicholas Sweetman, said that the IFO considers the review a missed opportunity.

Sweetman said:

“It was widely hoped that the review would provide some innovative and pragmatic solutions to the current bureaucratic quagmire that the Forest Service has mired itself and the forest industry in.”

He claimed that, while dramatic change is required in response to government climate and forestry policy, “all the review offers is caution and a little tweaking of the status quo”.

He added: “The review clearly involved a great deal of study of the current law at national and European level but the focus appears to have been on the justification of current approaches and practices, rather than a search for a way forward and practical solutions to the present problem.”

The IFO chair pointed out that some of the recommendations appear to be at variance with the data as researched.

Sweetman continued: “As an example, the review points out that in other EU countries ‘projects may also be filtered by project type, calibrated to reflect the anticipated level of technical assessment, public and prescribed body engagement, and complexity or risk involved’.

“There is clear evidence that this method is used effectively in other EU jurisdictions but there is no clear recommendation in the review that it be adopted here. Indeed, there appears to be a clear recommendation that ‘thinning’ should continue to require a licence.

“As a second confusing example, the review recommends statutory time periods for each stage of the licensing process but then illogically recommends no overall default time period, which clearly mirrors the current problematic system,” he added.

IFO has said that without a default position, there is effectively no time limit.

“Even if a default position has to involve a refusal under environmental law, it is preferable to no decision,” Sweetman stated.

“Another strange outcome of the review is that while concluding that there is no legal basis for the 15km Appropriate Assessment [AA] screening radius, it bizarrely recommends the retention of that radius on the basis that it does not involve much extra processing time.”

Sweetman acknowledged that there are recommendations in the review, which, if implemented, will improve matters somewhat.

However, he concluded that “the overriding impression among IFO members is that the ‘precautionary principle’ has been taken to an extreme and a “chance for radical reform of a failed system has been lost”.

“There remains a clear mismatch between policy ambition and regulatory overreach,” he concluded.