Forestry jobs lost and more at risk due to ‘crisis’ in sector - Coillte

TDs and Senators to be told timber supply at ‘critically low levels’ due to licence appeal backlog

A "crisis" in the forestry sector has cost jobs and more are at risk, semi-State company Coillte will warn TDs and Senators on Tuesday.

In her opening statement at the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee, Coillte chief executive Imelda Hurley will warn that a backlog in appeals for felling licences has "seriously challenged the sector through this year".

“Right now, timber supply is at critically low levels, so low that jobs have already been lost, with many more still under threat,” she will tell the committee.

While she will say that new legislation designed to improve the situation is “important”, it is not sufficient by itself to solve the issue.

The Department of Agriculture's Forestry Appeals Committee was reported to have a backlog of more than 400 cases earlier this year, but it is only working through them at a rate of around 20 per month.

Coillte will also tell the committee the rate at which new licences are being issues, and forestry roads permitted, is also an issue.

Auctions cancelled

Ms Hurley will tell the committee that Coillte has had to cancel timber auctions throughout the year, as well as its “annual contract” which accounts for half the timber it sells to sawmills in a given year.

Coillte is “doing everything we can” to keep timber supply chains functioning, but the committee will hear that “we are doing this with very significant difficulty and are operating on a very short term basis”.

She will say Coillte only has 16 per cent of its timber licenced for next year, a process which must be fully completed by the end of this year.

“In order to achieve this, the current licencing rate needs to almost triple,” she will say.

The hearing rate for the appeals, which affect approximately 700,000 cubic metres of Coillte forestry licences, “is still currently not sufficient to clear the backlog… within what we consider to be the required timeframe for our industry to function normally”.

Ms Hurley will also call for a “complete root and branch review of forestry regulation”, and will tell the committee “it is critical that the building blocks are put in place to restore confidence in Irish Forestry”.