23 September 2020
The Forestry Bill approved by Cabinet today fails to take account of “social factors”, Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) has said.
The environmental body wrote to the Minister for State Pippa Hackett today about the current Bill which is set to go before the Oireachtas by the end of next week.
The proposed legislation, they noted, requires the Minister to only consider economic and environmental factors in policy directives to ensure “sustainable yields”. Societal considerations are entirely left out of the process.
The Bill must enshrine the United Nations definition of sustainable development, which requires that “environmental, societal and economic considerations are balanced”, FIE stressed.
“The failure to ensure that a Minister be required when issuing a general policy directive to take into account the communities most affected by conifer afforestation is to eliminate the most important stakeholders,” The FIE letter reads.
“There is widespread social discontent with the current afforestation policy because of its impact on rural communities and their way of life.
The legislation must ensure that the United Nations definition of sustainable development is fully incorporated and that social and cultural values are properly considered in future land use decisions,” they concluded.
Background to the Bill
The consultation process to the Bill, officially known as the Draft Agriculture Appeals (Amendment) Bill 2020, opened in August and at the time environmental NGOs raised alarm around its terms.
The Environmental Pillar, a coalition of 28 environmental groups, warned that the time period prevents “effective engagement” of the public and limits the ability to engage with elected representatives on the matter.
The Draft Bill, they argued, would restrict who has the right to appeal such decisions and it gives the relevant Minister the power to impose fees for appeals and limits environmental NGOs rights to appeal.
Additionally, they warned, the document listed restrictive criteria for qualifying as an environmental NGO.
In a journal.ie op-ed published yesterday, Minister Hackett wrote that submissions during the consultation were considered and that amendments were then made to the Bill itself.
“A key change we made was to remove limitations on who can object to a licencing decision. I fully support this concept of a third-party right of appeal,” the Minister wrote.
Forestry in Ireland
At just 11 per cent (770,000 hectares), Ireland has one of the lowest levels of forest cover in Europe, yet also has one of the highest rates of plantation forestry across the bloc. Only around two per cent of the country is covered by what is termed native or semi-natural woodland.
In 2017, Sitka Spruce made up 51 per cent of all trees planted in Ireland – a total of 343,310 hectares.
Between 2004 and 2018, the total area of grant-aided afforestation for Sitka and lodgepole pine increased from 48 per cent to 74 per cent.
A Department of Agriculture report showed that managed forest land moved from a carbon sink to a source in 2017 largely due to an increase in harvesting rates, a declining age class of forest areas and an increase in emissions from organic soils due to drainage at plantations.
The NPWS has found that the current forestry model is a significant threat and pressure on habitats and species protected under European law and the EPA said that afforestation and harvesting can impact water quality through acidification and nutrient run-off.