Warnings of jobs losses in forestry and higher timber prices

Appeals to forestry licence applications stalling supply of 1.1m cubic feet of logs

Fears of job losses in forestry are growing as industry figures say that enough timber to build up to 50,000 homes is caught in a two-year planning logjam.

Irish law requires that the Department of Agriculture must license all forestry activity, including felling and planting trees, and building roads to transport logs.

However, the industry says the department’s failure to hire enough staff to deal with the volume of appeals against applications for these licences threatens to freeze supplies.

Brian Murphy, chairman of Forestry Industry Ireland, calculated at the weekend that a backlog of appeals stretching back over two years has stalled the supply of 1.1 million cubic feet of logs.

He estimated that this would be enough wood to build 50,000 average homes and about half that number of timber-framed houses.

Recently it emerged that appeals lodged in one week had held up the felling of enough timber to build 5,000 dwellings.

Mr Murphy warned that businesses involved in harvesting trees were close to letting workers go, and predicted that the shortage could quickly have a knock-on impact on the entire industry, which employs about 12,000 people.

“Those are the messages that are coming through to us,” he said. “The jobs in the sawmills are the next thing that are under threat.” He added that most of those workers were in rural Ireland.

Like others in the business, Mr Murphy's company, Co Fermanagh-based Balcas Timber Ltd, which supplies timber and wood pellets, buys much of its raw material from State company Coillte, which owns about 75 per cent of the Republic's commercial forest.

It is understood that Coillte could potentially cancel an autumn auction from which the sawmilling industry would normally draw half its supplies for the coming year.

Price rises

Meanwhile, the Irish Hardware Association, which represents builders' suppliers including Chadwick, Brooks and TJ O'Mahony, says the shortage has sparked a rise in timber prices.

Martin Markey, the organisation's chief executive, said the price was poised to increase 6-8 per cent in September. "And that's only the beginning," he added.

He noted that the shortage threatened an industry that exported €1 billion worth of timber a year while forcing the Republic to import a commodity in which it is actually self-sufficient.

Mr Markey predicted that suppliers would have to pass the on the extra expense of buying timber from abroad, adding to house-building costs.

Since 2017, anyone in the Republic has been able to appeal any forestry licence issued by the Department of Agriculture.

However, the industry says department's Forestry Appeals Committee does not have enough resources to cope with the number of challenges, which now tops 400.

The department did not comment but has said the appeals committee plans to hire more staff to speed up the rate at which it deals with challenges.

Meanwhile, the department has published draft legislation narrowing the basis for forestry licence appeals. The public has until August 28th to make submissions on this proposed new law.

The department hopes that the Oireachtas can begin debating the new legislation in the autumn.

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