Taskforce tackles 7,000 ha of wind-felled forest

Between 5,000 and 7,000 hectares of forest, mainly in Munster, were blown down by recent storms, according to early estimates.
Taskforce tackles 7,000 ha of wind-felled forest

A Windblow Taskforce has been formed, chaired by Tom Hayes, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, with representatives from the Irish Forest and Forest Products’ Association, Irish Timber Growers’ Association, Coillte, Irish Farmers’ Association, and the De par tment of Agriculture’s Forest Service.

Minister Hayes said “Teagasc forestry advisers will meet any forest owner, in the Teagasc offices, for a one-to-one meeting to discuss this and any other forestry matter. I would also strongly urge forest owners to get professional advice from qualified foresters to guide them through this process”.

About 1% of forests have been damaged, but the Minister said the sawmill and board sectors have ample capacity to process the wind-blown material over the next 8 to 10 months.

The Windblow Taskforce will assess the damage, identify issues arising from the severe Storm Darwin windblow of February 12, and agree a course of action.

While estimates put the damaged forest area at less than 1% of the total, locally the damage has been severe, with significant volumes of roundwood impacted. For forest owners, the most important advice is not to rush into decisions, but to make a step-by-step plan to minimise risk and maximise the salvage value of plantations. Most forests, despite being wind-blown, can have considerable timber value. ¦ Think safety first: a windblown forest is a dangerous place. Only qualified and insured people should be permitted access. All parties have legal obligations when carrying out forestry operations, under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1989.

¦ If the plantation is insured for windblow, inform the insurance company immediately. The company will assign a damage assessor.

¦ Get independent advice from a Teagasc forestry adviser (find the local adviser at www.teagasc.ie/ forestry/advice/index.asp), or from a qualified forestry professional, who will meet you on the ground, and from other qualified professionals, such as insurance advisors and taxation experts.

See the Forest Service website (www.agriculture.gov.ie/forestser-vice/) for a list of registered foresters.

¦ Assess the area, timber volume and likely value of windblown trees in your forest. In addition, assess the adjacent non-windblown area. Taking account of factors such as age, area and risk of windblow, a decision will need to be made whether or not it is best to retain the adjoining area and allow it to grow on to normal clear-fell age, or to harvest this area together with the area that has suffered windblow. Most plantations are unlikely to be entirely wind-blown. Where a forest is partially windblown, it is important that a forestry professional assesses the remaining standing trees for stability. Where the forester deems that such trees are unstable, these should be included in the fellinglicence application.

¦ Apply for a felling licence from the Forest Service to fell/harvest the windblown timber and, potentially, any adjacent trees that may be at risk of windblow after the felling/ removal of the windblown trees. Mark your application ‘Storm Damage’ to allow it to be prioritised by the Forest Service. If there is an existing licence for the land, specify the licence number in your new felling-licence application. The existing licence has to be cancelled before a new licence can issue, as the same land cannot have two licences. Please ensure that the felling licence is signed by the landowner and, where clear-felling is proposed, that details of the species being replanted are provided. See the Forest Service website for further information.

¦ Consider access to the forest and, specifically, the windblown area and, if necessary, apply for a roading grant from the Forest Service. Applications should be submitted before the end of March, 2014, and can be made through a forester from the approved list.

¦ Under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 1989, there is an obligation on landowners to gather information about site hazards and to produce a site risk assessment, together with a site-hazards map.

¦ Market the windblown timber and get professional advice on current prices. Joining with a group of forest owners to sell timber will provide you with scale and efficiency. It may also reduce costs, thereby maximising salvage value. Larger timber lots are more attractive to buyers.

¦ Have a strong timber-sales contract to protect the interests of all parties and to ensure compliance with environmental requirements, felling licence, health and safety, indemnity insurance, agreed harvesting procedures, timber prices, duration of contract, arbitration provisions, relevant maps and schedules and other requirements. A forestry professional should be able to provide you with such a contract, or the Template Master Tree Sales Agreement produced by the Irish Timber Growers’ Association should be consulted.

¦ Control the movement of timber from your site, using a strong timber-sales dispatch system for security and accountability in timber sales. Again, a forestry professional will provide this (or see the ITGA Model Timber Sales Dispatch System).

¦ Supervision and monitoring of the sale and harvesting operations will ensure you are complying with best practice and the provisions of the felling licence.

¦ Close off the sale and record-keeping. This is important for accounting and tax, health and safety, various environmental and other obligations. Make sure all timber is accounted for, paid for, and that proper records are maintained.

¦ Plan your harvest in conjunction with subsequent replanting, which is a legal obligation after felling. A badly planned and implemented harvesting operation will increase the replanting cost, ground damage and the ability of your forest to recover.

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