Senator Pippa Hackett, Minister of State with responsibility for Forestry, has chaired the inaugural meeting of a new Forestry Policy Group, to develop a new forestry strategy for Ireland.
It is comprised of representatives from industry, environmental NGOs, community, farmers, and state agencies.
Leitrim's Dr Bláithín Gallagher - Constituency Spokesperson and National Coordinator of the Green Party/An Comhaontas Glas said: “The people of the Sligo, Leitrim, North Roscommon and South Donegal constituency have suffered more than most from the absence of any clear plan for Ireland’s forests and woodlands. The continuous focus on the fast buck has led to industrial plantations of non-native species of mainly Sitka Spruce, with little or no regard for the impact on communities, water quality, climate or biodiversity.
"We strongly welcome that the establishment of the new Forestry Policy Group, and see real signs of hope in the way in which Minister Hackett has populated the group with a good range of stakeholders that can bring their knowledge and experience to the table, speak for the previously ignored, highlight difficulties in relation to the environment as well as other issues of concern.
"The tax-payer also deserves to be rewarded by the recognition that woodlands should offer multiple benefits for rural employment, recreation, health, flood control etc. Woodlands and forests need to be thought of as gifts to future generations as well as providing materials for the necessary move to using timber as the primary building material.
We urge the members of the Forestry Policy Group to work constructively together to deliver a comprehensive plan that includes wide and well-informed public participation for today and for the generations that follow.”
Minister of State for Forestry, Senator Pippa Hackett said: “I’m delighted to have such a variety of representatives, including a large number of environmentalists on this group,” says Minister Hackett. “It’s great to have Irish Rural Link there also to represent the many small community groups around the country who have concerns about forestry in their area.”
“While the crisis in the forestry sector in relation to licencing continues, progress is being made, and I have asked my Department to do everything it can to continue to deal with this urgent situation. We are hiring more ecologists and forestry inspectors, and re-assigning staff to deal with this issue. The Forestry Appeals Committee is now operating in four sub-divisions, compared to just one several weeks ago.
"Mistakes have been made in the past, but I think everyone agrees we need to revise our approach for a more sustainable forestry model, with the right trees grown in the right place. Well-planned, appropriately-sited forests can play a key role in so many areas: creating rural jobs, managing flooding and drought, maintaining water quality, providing habitat for our native fauna, providing amenity spaces for our citizens, facilitating eco-tourism, and sequestering carbon dioxide.
"We have a diverse and varied landscape, and our forestry model must be similarly diverse. I want to see farmers supported to grow a much wider variety of forest types. Agroforestry, for example, can improve agricultural soil health and provide shelter for farm animals, while wilder areas of forest can promote biodiversity in our countryside, and naturally regenerated trees growing close to rivers and streams can slow the movement of water after heavy rains, preventing flooding further downstream.
"The current Forestry Programme (2014-2020) comes to an end this year, and while it will likely be extended for another year or two, this Forestry Policy Group will have significant input into the development of a new programme. I’m especially determined to see us move to a greater share of native broadleaf, Continuous Cover Forestry in the coming years, and to meet the ambitions outlined in the Programme for Government.”