Bacon report says forest fund cut was a big mistake

ONLY 12,000 hectares of new forests will be planted this year, according to an independent report carried out by Peter Bacon and Associates Economic Consultants.

There were forestry planting applications for more than 23,000 hectares in 2003 but just over half will be approved, due to the lack of Government funding, said the economic consultants.

They concluded that the reduction in Government funding cannot be justified on economic grounds, because the economy earns €1.59 for every euro invested in forestry. However, the Government decided to ignore its 1996 commitment to fund the development of 20,000 hectares of new forests per year, and reduced funding in 2003 by 27%, in comparison to 2002 figures.

This is far in excess of reductions in many unproductive sectors, according to the report, commissioned by IFIC (the Irish Forest Industry Chain, IFA, and the Forestry Self Assessment Companies.

IFA Farm Forestry Chairman, Pat Lehane said the report would open the Government’s eyes to the existing and potential roles that forestry has to play in rural development and climate change.

The report highlighted the vast environmental benefit from forests, by taking the carbon dioxide “greenhouse gas” from the air and producing oxygen. If the Government’s tree planting targets were implemented, this would play a significant role in meeting Ireland’s “greenhouse gas” emissions targets. In terms of its ability to sequester about four tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, one hectare of forest could have a value of between €160 and €400, said the Bacon report.

The report commended the performance of the forest sector in delivering the forest programme, which came up against the underestimated difficulty of convincing farmers to enter into a permanent land change use.

But their efforts have now been deflated by the Government funding reduction.

The report said, “Policy must avoid a ‘stop go’ approach: continuity of scale within the many segments of the forest industry is vital. The long-term nature of the industry development outlined in the Government’s forest strategy necessitates continuity, protection from the vagaries of the annual budgetary process and regulatory stability”.

George McCarthy, Chairman of IFIC (Irish Forest Industry Chain) said, “It is in the national interest for Ireland to encourage the continued growth of the €500 million per year forest products sector”.

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