IFA says EU licence amnesty needed to save forest sector

Coillte says timber supply is at critically low levels
IFA says EU licence amnesty needed to save forest sector

Coillte CEO Imelda Hurley says only 16% of

IFA has asked the Government to seek an amnesty on forestry activity licensing from the EU Commission, in order to save the timber industry and forestry planting programme.

With the country’s biggest timber company warning that supply is at critically low levels, IFA President Tim Cullinan said the EU amnesty is one of the six emergency measures put forward by IFA to allow farmers manage their forests, and to ensure the survival of the indigenous timber industry,

At a meeting with Ministers McConalogue and Hackett, IFA said nearly 2,000 licence applications were caught up in the Department of Agriculture.

Despite the additional resources that have been allocated, the backlog will not be cleared for two years, said IFA.

Mr Cullinan stressed IFA’s willingness to work with the Ministers, but said that the length of the timeframe proposed to deal with the crisis was unacceptable.

“These are exceptional circumstances and demand exceptional actions,” he said.

IFA Farm Forestry Chairman Vincent Nally said the system is not working for farmers, and the costs and red tape associated with planting and managing a forest are a disincentive to planting.

“The system needs to be streamlined through the amendment of the Forestry Act 2014 to remove the requirement of a licence for forest roads and thinning operations.

“The submission of a management plan that describes how the forest will be sustainably managed over a ten to twenty-year period, should replace the licence requirement,” he said.

Last week, Coillte chief executive officer Imelda Hurley said timber supply is at critically low levels, so low that jobs have already been lost, with many more still under threat.

Coillte normally supplies 75% of Ireland’s timber output.

It normally sells half the timber it supplies to sawmills at a series of timber auctions, and an annual contract event every October, but had to cancel the October 2020 event.

Coillte is unable to schedule any timber auctions.

Coillte’s annual harvest programme for 2021 must be fully licensed by the end of 2020, but only 16% was licensed up to last week, with a further 2.3 million cubic metres of additional material in 750 applications needing to be licensed by the Department of Agriculture.

With 311 road permit applications being processed, which account for 760,000 cubic metres of timber, about one-quarter of the 2021 harvest programme depends on road permits, but the rate of issue of these permits is also inadequate, said Ms Hurley.

About 700,000 cubic metres in 200 Coillte forestry licences are currently under appeal to the Forestry Appeals Committee, following objections against the licences.

The hearing rate for appeals, though recently increased, is not sufficient to clear the backlog in what Coillte considers to be the required timeframe for the industry to function normally.

Ms Hurley predicted the supply crisis continuing throughout 2021 unless all appeals are determined by the end of January, and within a two-month turnaround, going forward, along with a three-fold increase in the current forestry licensing rate.

“We have very little timber remaining for this year,” she warned.

“We have 54 appeals listed for the month of November and 24 for the month of December.

“We have 223 appeals overall that need to work through the system, at the moment.

“Ideally, we need those appeals to be heard in this quarter, to enable us to maintain volumes for our customers and work for our contractors.

“That needs to be done by the end of January, which will require a very significant uplift, almost tripling what we are currently experiencing. Coillte managing director Mark Carlin said there is good-quality Natura Impact Statement (NIS) with its licence applications, so they should be capable of being processed very quickly by the Department of Agriculture, but there is a need to significantly improve the run rate.

“We will not be able to import our way out of this problem,” said Mr Carlin, explaining that the demand in Europe and the UK is very high, so it is very difficult to import from Scotland.

“Unfortunately, we have to look at importing, in terms of some pulpwood for our medium density fibreboard and SmartPly oriented strand board plants, but it is a very hot market out there for us and our customers for the sawmills to be able to import, so it will be very difficult to do that.”

Ms Hurley also warned of the Brexit threat.

About 60% of Irish forestry products are exported to the UK and any disruption to supply chains would likely have a severe employment impact, particularly for panel products, which would face UK import tariffs of 6%, making them significantly less competitive compared to domestic UK supplies.

  •  Meanwhile, Minister of State Pippa Hackett has announced the appointment of Ms Jo O’Hara to advise her on implementation of the MacKinnon Report commissioned by the Department to review processes and procedures for licensing of afforestation and felling in Ireland.

Minister of State Hackett said, “We have set Jo O’Hara an ambitious target of reporting back by end-February with her advice on actions for the successful delivery of the ways forward identified in MacKinnon.

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