The forestry report released today (Tuesday, March 2) by the Joint Committee on Agriculture and the Marine, which identifies solving the licensing backlog as its first priority, has been welcomed by Forest Industries Ireland (FII).

FII said that it “clearly demonstrates need for urgent action” under Minister Pippa Hackett’s Project Woodland.

The report comes after weeks of meetings between the committee and various stakeholders and officials on the key issues.

The report makes recommendations on several problems in the sector, including the Mackinnon Report; the Programme for Government; licensing issues; ash dieback; and planning for the future.

FII said that the current timber shortage in Ireland, which is a result of the licensing backlog, is forcing sawmillers to import timber and FII has already advised the committee that the current system needs to be revised.

‘It is in crisis’

FII director Mark McAuley said: “We suggest that Ireland should move away from a licensing model to a regulatory model that does not require a fresh licence for every activity.

“Stakeholders need to come together and agree the way forward, rather than have different groups pulling in different directions. Forestry and timber can make a great positive impact on climate change. If we get it right, it will work for everyone.

It is a challenging time in the forestry sector, indeed it is in crisis. Ireland has a native forestry industry and this backlog has effectively curtailed domestic activity leading to a reliance on imports.

“This situation needs to be rectified as importing resources which are native to Ireland has both an economic and environmental impact.”

‘At risk of farmers disengaging’

McAuley said that the current mechanism requires not just the implementation of the Mackinnon Report, but also additional management expertise “who will look at the system, make the necessary changes and deliver the licences”.

“Farmers are facing delays of up to two years, and in some instances significantly longer, to get licences to manage their forests,” he continued.

The sector is at risk of farmers disengaging from forestry as a viable land use. A set timeframe is needed to help build confidence and trust in the process.

“The system must ensure that no farmer has to wait longer than four months for a forestry licence as set out in the Forestry Act 2014 Section 18(1), irrespective of the application size, and bring certainty to all applicants.

“We are urging the minister to commit additional resources be allocated as soon as it practicable to deal with the backlog of licensing applications and appeals.”