Less than half of private forestry licence targets met after ecology referral

Less than half of the targeted figures for private forestry license application approval that were submitted to ecologists in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s Forestry Service were met in the last five months of last year.

Of the targeted figure for approval of applications that were referred to department ecologists in August, September, October, November and December, only 46%, or 339, were approved from the target of 735.

The monthly figures for applications referred to ecologists break down as follows:

  • August – 75 licences targeted for approval, 56 actually approved;
  • September – 120 licences targeted for approval, 60 actually approved;
  • October – 140 licences targeted for approval, 79 actually approved;
  • November – 200 licences targeted for approval, 84 actually approved;
  • December – 200 licences targeted for approval, 60 actually approved.

These figures pertain to private licence applications, and do not include Coillte forestry. They include licences for afforestation, felling and forest roads construction.

As of the end of 2020, there were 1,988 outstanding licence applications that were referred to ecologists.

The figures were revealed by forestry officials at the department, who addressed a meeting today (Friday, January 29) of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Responding to these figures, committee member senator Tim Lombard noted that the shortfall in targeted approvals stood in contrast to the fact that the department took on more inspectors and ecologists in the latter part of the year.

The fact that there is a backlog of 1,988 licences at the end of 2020 is a major concern. At the rate the Forestry Service is dealing with these it would be almost three years before this backlog is cleared.

“The reality is much worse, as there are new licences being added to this list all the time. Each one of these licences represent a farmer who wants to plant, build a road or harvest some trees. In many cases they are waiting up to three years for a license,” Lombard added.

The Forestry Service officials who spoke at the meeting today argued that there has been an improvement in the rate of all licences (regardless of whether they were referred to ecologists) being approved. They also noted that new applications will continue to be submitted as licences on-hand are approved.

A key point of concern for the committee members, reiterated by committee chairperson Jackie Cahill, was that approvals for licences relating to Coillte forestry was much higher than for private licence applications.

Cahill remarked that the ratio of Coillte-related approvals versus private approvals was “four-to-one”, something he said would “need to be re-examined”.

Some of the key figures the forestry officials outlined today were:

  • On felling:
    • Volume licenced in 2020 was just over 5 million metres³. This is down from the 6.5 million metres³ in 2019;
    • 40% of the 2020 licence approvals were approved between October and December;
    • 2,670 felling applications are on-hand at present, versus 3,230 on October 1;
    • Since October 1, 29 felling licence have been appealed.
  • On afforestation:
    • Licences were issued for 4,300ha of afforestation in 2020;
    • There were 960 afforestation licences on-hand on October 1, and 1,090 as of now;
    • Broadleaf trees made up 34% of these licences in 2020, exceeding the 30% target of broadleaf planting for the first time;
    • Since October, 23 afforestation licences were appealed.
  • On forest roads:
    • 129km of forest roads were licenced in 2020, down from 195km in 2019;
    • Since October 1, 10 road licences were appealed;
    • There were 642 forest road applications on hand on October 1. There are around 700 on hand at present.