A Green Party senator has told a debate that it is important to look at forestry as an industry and dispel the myth that all Sitka spruce is bad.

The comments were made as members of the Seanad discussed a report prepared by the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine examining the ongoing issues in the forestry sector.

Chair of the committee Jackie Cahill said that “while broadleaf trees are very welcome and have a role to play in making the countryside attractive and in carbon sequestration, the harsh reality of life is that without Sitka spruce, there will not be a forestry industry”.

The Tipperary representative claimed that politicians will be criticised in 25 or 30 years for not planting sufficient levels of Sitka spruce “to keep forestry for our mills”.

The Fianna Fáil TD noted that timber will be needed for building houses in the future adding that “people will ask why we were reluctant to plant Sitka spruce?”

Sitka spruce

Green Party senator Róisín Garvey outlined that in the past too many Sitka spruce trees and not enough native woodland had been planted.

Garvey, who is the party’s spokesperson for rural development, enterprise, trade and employment, agreed that it was important to look at forestry as an industry.

“There is a myth that all Sitka spruce is bad and that if somebody is planting Sitka spruce and not native woodland it means the person does not care,” the Clare representative said.

“There is also the huge industry of housing construction and the materials needed for housing. Now, more than ever, timber-framed housing is being considered as a much better model than the concrete blocks of old,” Garvey added.

“That is why it is great that we plant Sitka spruce and it is managed properly so it becomes the wood we need to build the houses and therefore bring down the price of housing and the price of materials.

“It is much more nuanced than saying all Sitka spruce is evil and all native woodland is good. Let us be realistic and have an intelligent debate about it, because sometimes we get lost in over-simplifying the debate on forestry,” the senator continued.

However, Garvey concluded that native woodlands “are just the best thing on the planet” due to the environmental benefits and for people’s mental and physical well-being.