Timber shortages threaten thousands of forestry jobs, Coillte warns

The semi-State company has concerns about a backlog in the appeals process for felling licences

Coillte said  its timber supply for the remainder of 2020 and 2021 is “under severe threat due to the delays in processing of appeals, which has led to a significant backlog”.  Photograph: Getty Images

Coillte said its timber supply for the remainder of 2020 and 2021 is “under severe threat due to the delays in processing of appeals, which has led to a significant backlog”. Photograph: Getty Images

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Coillte has warned the Government that it could run out of timber to sell off before the end of the year, leading to thousands of job losses across the forestry sector.

The warning was made in a letter sent during August to Taoiseach Micheál Martin in his role as acting Minister for Agriculture.

The semi-State forestry company made contact to flag concerns about the impact on its business of a backlog in the appeals process for felling licences, it is understood. The forestry body warned the Taoiseach that if it runs out of timber the State’s sawmills will face drastic shortages of raw materials.

The backlog has led to the cancellation of multiple auctions of timber by the semi-State already this year, Coillte said in a statement.

The Taoiseach met officials last week to discuss the situation following the letter, Government sources said.

Coillte told The Irish Times that its timber supply for the remainder of 2020 and 2021 is “under severe threat due to the delays in processing of appeals, which has led to a significant backlog”.

“The licensing and appeals process is currently not working in a manner which allows Coillte to meet the timber needs of the sector,” a statement from the semi-State said.

The forestry industry has said appeals to tree-felling licences are not being dealt with quickly enough by the Department’s Forestry Appeals Committee, with the number of appeals currently before the body reported to be about 400, and the committee working through them at a rate of around 20 a month.

“The underlying issues need to be resolved as a matter of urgency,” a spokesman for Coillte said, calling for amendments to the agricultural appeals Act and proper resourcing for the committee “so that appeals can be dealt with in a timely manner”.

A spokesman for the Department of Agriculture said a draft Bill to “align the forestry licensing and appeals system with other similar planning process” was published on the department’s website inviting public comment on proposals in July.

The department said this Bill would aim to change the operation of the Forestry Appeals Committee “to make the appeals process more efficient”.

New legislation

Sources said the Government intends to address the issue by new legislation early in the new Dáil term, with legislation already being worked on by the Department of Agriculture and the Attorney General’s office.

Coillte said new procedures on licensing for harvesting of trees “have had a serious impact on the issuing of felling licences to Coillte and also the wider forest sector”.

Availability of material for sale by the body has been constrained, it said, arguing that “the issue has become very critical”, and Coillte has had to cancel six of its monthly auctions.

The Department of Agriculture said the Minister was “fully aware” of issues in the sector, and said a “detailed project plan” was being implemented to increase licensing output, including hiring new resources in the department.