CLARE forestry owners with mature trees are waiting more than 12 months in some cases to secure a tree felling licence due to red tape, a local deputy has claimed.
Deputy Michael McNamara recently asked the new Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue the measures he will take to address the backlog in applications for planting permits and felling licences in the forestry section in a Dáil question.
Deputy McNamara said it is legitimate that people want to plant trees but it is also legitimate that nobody wants a monoculture sitka spruce plantation surrounding their house.
The Independent Deputy said there is no point in pretending that planting sitka spruce will help the environment as it is a short term cash product.
In addition to requesting more ecologists in the Department of Agriculture, Deputy McNamara stressed the Department of Agriculture had to adequately deal with a variety of issues concerning tree felling and planting.
“We need timber but it is all a matter of balance and proportion. Some areas are more environmentally sensitive than others and some areas are more suited to growing certain types of timber than others but there seems to be no capability to determine this in the Department of Agriculture.
“Most of the delays in tree felling licences are not caused by objections or appeals but bureaucracy and inadequate processes in the Department of Agriculture to deal with applicants.”
He said the department should be providing new financial incentives for forestry land owners to plant broadleaves with their second plantation, if the ground is suitable, as there is only a grant for the first plantation, apart from a few rare exceptions.
During a discussion of the new Forestry Miscellaneous Bill in the Dáil on Tuesday, Deputy Cathal Crowe outlined there are 55,000 acres of forestry in Clare.
Welcoming this Bill, he said it will make the appeals system more efficient and will reduce the backlog of appeals at the forestry appeals committee.
“It will also align forestry licensing with the planning process and its appeals system. County Clare is hugely impacted by all of this. Many constituents have contacted my office whose forestry applications have been in the system for inordinate and unacceptably long periods of time.
“They are extremely frustrated. At the same time, the building sector is running out of timber to build homes. There is a real urgency to removing the backlog which, as things stand, would take approximately two years to clear. A total of 382 objections were lodged this year and approximately 500 cases are awaiting a decision.
“Serial and in some instances vexatious objectors have been throwing in objections to forestry licence applications. Some of these objectors are the same ones that crop up in the planning process.
“I hope that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine will encourage more of a mix of broadleaf trees. There has been a 2% increase in the planting of such trees in the past year but we need to see far more,” he stated.
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Deputy Senator Pippa Hackett confirmed the department have completely overhauled our assessment process, which is now robust and responsive to the environment in which we operate.
“The Department has had to revise procedures, increase resources, develop training and guidance, and strengthen its ecology team. We now have a sustainable system and we are tackling the backlog through a dedicated project plan, which operates to key performance indicators.
“A project manager is in place and a project management board is overseeing and monitoring delivery weekly. This plan is already yielding progress, with the number of felling licences issued in August being the highest in the previous 13 months in both volume and area.
“The main provisions set out in the Bill include increasing the capacity of the forestry appeals committee to determine appeals by enabling it to sit in divisions of itself; enabling the committee to determine appeals without an oral hearing where it is possible to properly dispose of an appeal in that manner; providing the Minister with the regulation making power to specify, among other things, the procedures to apply in relation to appeals and for related forestry appeals committee matters generally; and introducing reasonable fees for appeals,” she stated.