Issuing of felling licences ‘shows improved rate’ in March

Licences for tree felling and forest roads issued in the month of March continue to show an improved rate on the previous months, according to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

A department spokesperson outlined that 188 felling licencees were issued last month – up 13 on February and an increase of 107 on January – while 40 licences for forest roads were granted, which is also up substantially on previous months.

The afforestation figure is consistent in terms of number of licences but down in terms of number of hectares approved, the spokesperson said, adding: “We would expect to see an improvement in this figure for April.”

It was also noted that the figures do not include positive decisions from the Forestry Appeals Committee (FAC) in the last month.

The felling figure brings the volume licensed to 1.06 million m³ for the first three months of the year. Department estimates suggest that Coillte has 60% of this in volume terms, with 40% to private companies.

The department has an existing priority list of sites based on input from stakeholders on which it will continue to liaise, the representative said.

Applications with an NIS (Natura impact statement) continue to receive priority and NIS templates and guidance has already been circulated to the trade.

Significant extra resources

In order to deal with the number of files on hand the Department of Agriculture has committed to significant extra resources for forestry licensing, the authority’s spokesperson said.

This week the management board of the department sanctioned the recruitment of four additional permanent ecologists and 13 additional permanent forestry inspectors.

This recruitment will start immediately. The new ecologists will complement the two permanent ecologists who have also been recruited.

In addition:
  • An ecology tender, to the value of €1.6 million, for ecological expertise closed on March 13, and we expect to award the contract immediately;
  • MKO environmental consultants have been contracted to work on older files with NISs and regionally based screened in files;
  • Four private contract ecologists are currently assisting on a temporary basis with screened in files.

Forestry Appeals Committee

The department representative noted that the FAC continues to schedule hearings each week with around 85 licences scheduled to be dealt from now until mid-June.

“We have contracted in three new specialist planners to FAC,” the spokesperson said.

The department urged forestry stakeholders to reflect on engagement with the committee amid concerns over applicants and their companies not attending FAC hearings.

Our figures are showing that some 10 positive FAC decisions on afforestation licences have not been used by the company concerned.

“It is of course a matter for the applicant and their forester as to whether they wish to proceed with a licence but in the interests of fairness to all this should be notified to the FAC in order for genuine appeals to be prioritised,” the spokesperson concluded.