Addressing the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture this afternoon (Tues), IFA Forestry Chairman Michael Fleming said he was concerned that the Forestry Bill creates a restrictive legislative framework that would be extremely detrimental to the expansion of the sector unless amendments are made.
He said, “The expansion of the sector is dependent on farmer involvement and the Bill should create a legislative framework that supports farm level timber production, as well as satisfying the multi-functional aspects of today’s forests”.
Nearly 17,000 farmers have invested in forestry. The age distribution of these forests is young; most of the forests were established over the past two decades, with approximately 20% entering production stage. The forest and forest products sector contribute €2.2bn to the Irish economy and provides 16,000 jobs.
In 2013, only 6,200 hectares of new forest were established, which well below the sustainable level of 15,000 hectares per annum required to achieve the strategic plan. In the last three years, we have consistently failed to plant the 7,000 hectares budgetary allocation for the afforestation programme. A combination of policy and funding measures have undermined farmer confidence in the forestry programme in recent years and contributed to the decline.
Michael Fleming said private forest owners must have the right to manage their forest in accordance with their own management objectives, as long the management is consistent with the principles of sustainable forest management.
“The requirement to submit a management plan, which may be approved, rejected, revoked or revised at any stage is an unnecessary barrier to afforestation and the mobilisation of the timber resource. It increases the administrative burden, the management costs associated with an operation and creates huge uncertainty for private forest owners.”
The IFA Forestry Chairman said, “The Bill proposes to confer wide-ranging powers that permit the Minister to attach unspecified conditions to, or vary the conditions of, a felling licence including the power to dictate the type of trees to be replanted or to refuse a felling licence outright without any consideration for the potential financial loss to the forest owner”.
Michael Fleming said, “Forest owners must be compensated for any financial loss incurred if the conditions attached to management plans or felling licences reduce the economic return on investment. To confer such broad functions on the Minister, without regard for the management objectives of the forest owner, creates uncertainty and is a major disincentive to farmers considering forestry as a land use option”.