80% of forest permits delayed due to new regulations
A drastically reduced number of forest licenses approved for July has been linked to the recent introduction of a new regulation under the EU Habitats Directive.
This new regulation will delay an application for up to 30 days when it falls under the directive, in order to facilitate public consultation.
It is understood that 80% of license requests currently in the system are delayed due to this extra layer of regulation.
Speaking to the Oireachtas Joint Committee for Agriculture, Food and Marine this week, Minister of State Pippa Hackett said:
“It is undeniable that this adds additional time to the processing of these requests.
“We now need to report all of these cases, and we are currently working to resolve them – 536 cases have been submitted for public consultation through July 23, an average of 178 per week.
“The first of them will come out of this process on August 6. We have not, to date, received any submissions on the cases announced, but if we do, they will have to be taken into account before the case goes through. to the decision, ”she said.
She said this affected recent production as some requests that were ready for a decision were cut short.
But, she said, the forest service of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Marine (DAFM) is committed to filling this area.
“I expect that by mid-August you will see an increase in the number of licenses issued and a return to previous levels. This new requirement means that we will have to redouble our efforts to reach our target of 4,500 licenses this year, but I remain hopeful that we can do so, ”she said.
Forest permits – skepticism on target of 4,500
However, committee members expressed skepticism about DAFM’s target of 4,500 licenses by the end of 2021.
Until July 23 of this year, 1,900 forest permits have been issued, or 42% of the annual target.
Minister Hackett said that while this figure is expected to be higher, DAFM has always intended to ramp up production in the second half of 2021 on the basis of system improvements and streamlining of procedures.
But independent TD MP Michael Collins said there had been a license release implosion and asked what miracle will happen that will see 4,500 forest permits granted by the end of the year?
“Why should anyone on this committee, or someone in the forestry industry believe you, when you say that DAFM is going to achieve that goal this year? Deputy Collins asked the minister.
“In a parliamentary response I received last week, I was informed that this [the number of licences so far this year] is up 25% from the same period last year. This is a regular DAFM line in 2021, but it’s a ludicrous defense considering the implosion in licensing production so far this year. “
He asked the minister and his colleagues from the DAFM to stop comparing 2021 to 2020 in order to “paint a rosy picture” of the improvements made to the yield of forest permits.
He said forest licenses granted could be up from last year, but down 191% from 2019, which is the “last comparable year.”
“You have to be honest about it,” he said.
A “push on” of Coillte licenses?
Independent TD, Michael Fitzmaurice told the minister he had looked at the number of licenses granted in July and that number stood at around 112.
“Minister, you said at a previous committee meeting that we would hit 100 licenses per week – and we did that for June – why have we dropped to 20-30 per week now?”
“I went through the four weeks of July and we have something like 112 licenses. What’s the reason? ”He asked.
Minister Hackett reiterated that the reason for the delay is due to the introduction of a new 30-day public comment period by the Department of Planning, Housing and Local Government.
“This is not just for forestry, but for any planning request that requires proper assessment,” she said.
Deputy Fitzmaurice replied:
“So, are you saying that 80% of these applications are considered because of the European Habitats Directive or because they are near a site of importance? ”
“Yes it is,” said Minister Hackett.
MP Fitzmaurice asked the Minister if there had been a push within DAFM to grant Coillte applications with the aim of increasing the number of licenses granted, despite the fact that enough licenses have already been issued to Coillte for 2021.
“You previously said that Coillte has enough full licenses for 2021, why are we still focusing on Coillte licenses?
“When I speak to your internal department, I hear that Coillte licenses are probably simpler and that one will strive to get enough Coillte licenses to tick the box and reach 4,500 licenses, is that right? correct, is the method now? ”
But Minister Hackett said that in June the most private logging permits – in five years – had been issued.
“So far this year we have issued 633 logging permits for private owners and 593 for Coillte, so in fact more private than Coillte now.”