The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s forestry licensing objectives are a “step in the right direction” — but they will “not be enough” to clear the backlog, industry representatives have warned.
This week, minister of state Pippa Hackett published the department’s Forestry Licensing Plan for 2022, which sets a target of 5,200 new licences to be issued this year.
This would be a 30% increase in licences compared to last year.
Ms Hackett said that while in 2021, there were “significant increases” in the numbers of felling and road licences issued, in 2022, a higher priority is being given to issuing planting licences.
“Our plan is to achieve a 100% increase in output,” Ms Hackett said.
However, Mark McAuley, director of Forest Industries Ireland told the Irish Examiner that the forest sector is “still suffering from lengthy delays to licences”.
“What we need is a system that is capable of delivering every licence to every applicant within four months,” Mr McAuley said.
“Currently there are hundreds of applications that have been waiting for a licence for more than a year; this has to stop.”
He said that while the licensing projections for 2022 are a “step in the right direction”, they will not be enough.
“Everyone in the industry hopes that the target figures can be achieved and more,” Mr McAuley added.
“We need to put these licensing discussions behind us and move forward with a really positive future for forestry.”
In 2021, just over 500 afforestation licences were issued.
Those licences would have facilitated the planting of over 4,200 hectares, but only 2,000 hectares have been planted to date.
This is a conversion rate from licensing to planting of about only 64%.
“This means that at present, a disproportionate amount of processing effort both by the department and forestry companies is wasted. We need to change that,” Ms Hackett said.
Regarding the reasons for the low conversion rate, Mr McAuley said that a “long delay to a licence reduces the chance of a project going ahead”.
“Everyone across the industry works extremely hard to ensure each licence issued results in trees being planted,” he added.
“Forestry companies across Ireland are working daily to increase interest in forestry and create more woodlands.”
Speaking at the recent meeting of the Oireachtas select committee on agriculture, food and the marine, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue said that there has always been a gap between the number of afforestation licences issued and the number that then proceed to plantation, but “it is important that is looked at” and conversion rate maximised.
He confirmed that the department makes direct contact with the applicants.
As of January 21, the DAFM had 3,597 licences on hand for more than 120 days, a reduction of 1,400 since last August.