Forestry Bill fails to solve the sector’s problems

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IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The current Forestry Bill set to go before the Dáil today fails to solve the multi-faceted problems the sector faces, Ireland’s largest coalition of environmental groups has warned. 

The Environmental Pillar has stressed that the Bill is being rushed through and will limit the public’s capacity to appeal forestry decisions. It proposes permanent actions that will not fix the fundamental flaws in the system that impact jobs, communities, nature and our climate. [1] 

Based on data circulated by Minister Pippa Hackett to members of the Oireachtas, it is clear that the high volume of successful appeals against forestry applications are indicative of a flawed model, one which facilitates poor decision making. 

The problem does not lie with the appeals themselves, but rather with the system that generates the need to take them in such numbers. 

By having to lodge numerous appeals, the burden becomes even greater for impacted communities in order to avoid the consequences of the Department’s flawed decisions.  

Additionally, the rushed nature of this legislation has not allowed for proper debate and oversight by both houses of the Oireachtas, which is a fundamental component of their democratic role. 

By failing to fix the issues that are at the heart of our forestry sector, the Bill will make matters worse for everyone involved. 

The Bill could lead to legal challenges that will further slow down the system and threaten jobs, it will not give communities their basic human right to input on decisions that affect them, and it will bolster bad environmental practices that compromise our soil, water and climate commitments.

The dominant species of tree planted for industrial forest purposes is sitka spruce, a non-native conifer, and it is known to have a detrimental impact on our environment. 

This is particularly so given the way it is sprayed, managed, felled and harvested with impacts on wildlife and water quality. The towering dark sitka forests are of huge concern for the communities who live beside them  and who then have to witness the apocalyptic landscape when they are felled, living with the threat of landslides and water pollution. 

Both the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency have found that our current industrial forestry model has a negative impact on both habitats and species protected under European law, and threatens our most pristine water bodies. [2]

Additionally, by propping up our industrial forestry model through this Bill, we are furthering the transition of managed forest land from carbon sinks into carbon sources. 

An international study showed that such areas were no longer absorbing carbon, but rather had become sources of the warming greenhouse gas. [3] 

Large-scale industrial plantations also harm the well-being of our local communities. They are known to enclose areas due to their height and anecdotal reports indicate they are having a negative impact on the mental health of some in the locality. [4] 

The industrial forestry model is over-reliant on cheap labour for planting and spraying and if we fail to change course, we will be no closer to guaranteeing sustainable employment in the sector. 

Rather than rush through legislation that will perpetuate ongoing issues in our forestry sector, we urge Minister Hackett to reconsider her approach. 

Attracta Uí Broin, Environmental Law Officer of the Irish Environmental Network, said: 

“This Bill is truly shocking. The Minister has failed to set out what the legal basis will be for the decision-making process within the Forestry Appeals Committee and how they will conduct assessments required by law. 

It puts many obstacles in the way of people living in affected communities who find they have to appeal. It’s trying to cover-up the problems with licensing decisions by making it harder to appeal them. 

This Bill is likely to result in more bad decisions, to make matters worse for those affected, and it will undermine the good work that the appeals system has already been doing.” 

Dr. Elaine McGoff, An Taisce and Environmental Pillar spokesperson, said: 

“The industrial forestry model we currently operate under has been a longstanding failure across the board. It fails those employed in the sector, it fails the communities it operates in, it fails climate commitments and it fails to protect biodiversity and water quality. 

Thousands of people rely on this sector for their livelihoods, and they deserve a close-to-nature model focused on native tree species that sustains them and the environment they work and live in. 

This Bill will fail to secure these necessary conditions, and it will be a major obstacle for us in adhering to our legally-binding climate and biodiversity commitments.” 

Andrew St Ledger, CELT and Environmental Pillar spokesperson, said: 

“Last year our afforestation levels were the lowest they’ve been in 60 years, and when we combine them with higher harvesting rates, we are staring down the barrel of a deforestation scenario. 

We need to significantly increase our tree cover, but we need to do it the right way. We need to ensure that forestry supports social, environmental and economic objectives and should look to the UN Sustainable Forestry Management Principles for a truly sustainable model.

The bedrock of sustainable forest management is public consultation and participation, which this bill is eroding rather than strengthening.”

ENDS

Notes

[1] The Heads of Bill were originally named the Draft Agriculture Appeals (Amendment) Bill 2020, but the published bill is now entitled the Forestry( Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2020 and can be found at https://bit.ly/3kKH9Xp 

[1] The full list of appeals and their verdict can be found at https://bit.ly/2FZZalM 

[2] Birds Directive Article 12 reporting from the NPWS: https://bit.ly/32WIaFM 

The Status of EU Protected Habitats and Species in Ireland 2019 report from the NPWS: https://bit.ly/2RS2K44 

Water Quality in Ireland 2013 – 2018 Report from the EPA: https://bit.ly/2S9xMVf  

[3] “Key Forest-Rich Countries Fail to Acknowledge Climate Impact of Increased Logging, Says EU Export Group”: https://bit.ly/3cs6SB4 

[4] “Sitka spruce plantation ‘affects your mental health’ – Leitrim farmer”, The Irish Times, 23 September 2020: https://bit.ly/363wRO5 

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