Q&A: Windblow scheme
High winds damaged 8,000 hectares of forest.
A windblow reconstitution scheme has been announced for landowners whose forest plantations were damaged by storm winds between December 5, 2013, and February 12, 2014, including Storm Darwin on February 12.
“The State will make a financial contribution towards the cost of replanting these sites as a once-off measure for this specific weather event,” said Agriculture Minister Michael Creed.
At the launch of the scheme, he took the opportunity to remind forest owners of the importance of insuring their forests, in order to protect their valuable resource.
“While insurance is not compulsory, the financial interest of the forest owner is best served through a comprehensive insurance package, and I encourage forest owners to safeguard their investment in their forests.”
How much damage was done to forests?
According to the department, the storm events, compounded by waterlogged soils on many sites, led to extensive forest damage, affecting 8,000 hectares, of which 75% is owned by Coillte Teoranta. This equates to about 2m cubic metres of timber, which is 65% of the total volume of roundwood harvested in 2014.
Mr Creed said many private forest owners suffered significant financial loss both in terms of the value of timber lost and the cost in re-establishing the sites affected.
While the damage was estimated to be less than 1% nationally, damage was extensive at a local level.
The South and parts of the Midlands, in particular, experienced significant damage, with substantial quantities of timber blown over, and some entire forests completely levelled.
The risk of windblow is influenced by soil type, height of the trees, and altitude.
Most forests are thinned to provide early income to forest owners, and to redistribute the growth potential of the site to fewer, better-quality trees.
Thinning can, however, increase the likelihood of windblow.
On certain more vulnerable soil types such as those in exposed high-altitude sites, thinning may increase the risk of windblow by up to 80%.
It is accepted practice in some locations not to thin forests at all. Plantations are at risk of becoming unstable after thinning, as removing some of the crop removes the wind-firm edge of the forest, making the plantation more vulnerable to being blown over.
Who will be eligible to apply for a financial contribution towards replanting?
Forest owners of conifer forests planted after December 1, 1989, will be eligible to apply, and those with broadleaves planted after December 1, 1983, can apply.
How much financial aid is available?
A maximum grant of €1,700 per hectare up to a total of 10 hectares will be made available under the scheme to private forest owners meeting the eligibility criteria.
The budget allocated to the scheme can provide funding for 2,000 hectares.
If applications received exceed that amount, a selection process will be undertaken after the closing date for receipt of applications, to ensure that funding is allocated on an equitable basis to favour those who suffered the greatest forest losses.
The level of support under the reconstitution scheme for windblow depends on whether the forest was insured for the costs of reconstitution or uninsured for the costs of reconstitution at the time of the storms.
For sites that were not insured for the costs of reconstitution, a maximum grant of €1,700/ha will be available for conifers and broadleaves.
The maximum grant payable for sites that were insured for the costs of reconstitution will be limited to the excess applying to the policy, or less where over-compensation may occur.
How can I apply for the grant?
Scheme details along with the application form will be made available from the department’s website at www.agriculture.gov.ie/forestservice/grantsandpremiumschemes2015-2016 this week.
The closing date for receipt of applications will be February 24, 2017.
Why has it taken so long to introduce the scheme?
Mr Creed said negotiations in relation to a scheme to assist in reconstitution of the forests affected has been ongoing for some time with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
What will it mean for forest owners?
IFA farm forestry chairman Pat Collins said the scheme is much needed and long overdue, after storms forced many farmers to clear-fell their plantations before they had reached commercial maturity.
He said the grant would go some way toward the cost of replanting, but most farmers would still be at a significant loss, as windblown sites are typically more expensive to harvest, and there was over-supply of timber in the months following the storms.
As a result, said Mr Collins, prices were lower, particularly in the pulpwood market, with some farmers getting as little as €1 per tonne for pulpwood delivered.
“This scheme is enormously important to farmers whose plantations were not insured and who only recouped a small amount of the potential value of the timber crop in sales,” said Mr Collins.
He said farmers who have already replanted are eligible to apply for the scheme retrospectively if they satisfy the qualifying criteria.
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