A Save Leitrim banner at a recent public meeting in the Lough Allen Hotel, Drumshanbo
Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed stated last week before Dáil Eireann broke for the Summer holidays that forestry has the potential to create employment in Leitrim.
The statement almost adds fuel to the fire on a critical issue in Leitrim which is calling on the Government to draft a new policy and long term national plan to stop forestry engulfing townlands and parishes around the country, but especially in Leitrim.
While Save Leitrim ramps up it's campaign to halt the increase of private planting in areas already covered in a blanket of trees, the Government seems to have no plans to curb their target to increase forestry nationwide.
Minister Creed was responding to a question about forestry plans from Green Party TD Eamon Ryan last Thursday, July 12.
He stated, “There is no doubt that there is significant potential to create further employment in the forestry sector across the country including in County Leitrim.
“The key to doing so is the mobilisation of the existing timber resource, expanding and creating new markets for Irish timber and supporting innovation in product development.”
The Government has a plan to raise Ireland's forest cover from 10.5% to 18% by 2046, under the Strategic Plan for the Development of Forestry.
Increase in Leitrim
It was revealed last week in this paper the amount of forest cover in Co Leitrim has increased by 2.2% in the last five years. Leitrim is now the county with the highest percentage of forest cover (18.9%).
Minister Creed said there is “no county by county or regional targets for forestry planting in Ireland. The grants and premiums offered by my Department’s afforestation scheme are available to all landowners regardless of which county they are located. My Department has funded afforestation in every county in Ireland.”
Deputy Ryan queried if the Department of Agriculture is developing any alternative forestry strategies to assist rural communities with isolation and jobs especially in Leitrim.
The Minister spoke about the importance of improving farmers incomes with forestry and supporting jobs in the timber industry.
“According to the All Ireland Roundwood Forecast 2016 – 2035 output from Irish forests is expected to double over the coming decades to 8 million cubic metres.
“Most of this increased production will come from private forest owners. The key to creating additional forestry jobs in rural communities is the mobilisation of this timber in the years to come.
“This will allow the sector to grow existing markets and establish new markets; most importantly with the proper support in terms of research and development new products can be developed adding value to this indigenous raw material.
“There are, however, several barriers to getting this timber to market and the Department has been particularly active in this area. These barriers include the need to build more forest roads and a lack of forest management knowledge amongst many private forest owners.
“To address these barriers, the midterm review increased the level of support for building forest roads and improved the grant scheme that encourages forest owners to thin their broadleaf forests.
“A new scheme establishing a network of knowledge transfer groups for forestry, is due to be launched shortly following a successful pilot. The aim of this initiative is to empower forest owners with the knowledge to actively manage their forests.”
Minister Creed said they are also developing markets at home and abroad for wood products.
Leitrim TD Martin Kenny has joined calls for introducing a bill to oblige planning permission on plantations over five hectares.