'Why can't our leaders see that increasing forest cover is vital?'
Government blind to rise in timber demand
Ireland is short of timber supplies and this situation will continue despite all the exhortations to plant more trees. Sawmills are currently importing significant amounts of timber from Scotland but Government supports for further planting are unlikely to increase.
Anyone listening to the speakers at the recent National Forestry Conference would wonder what sort of industry we have when it is clearly in the national interest to increase our tree cover, but despite the willingness of farmers to plant, no one seems capable of making it happen.
Our new Minister of State for Forestry, Sean Connick TD, is reputed to be extremely able and keen to tackle the job at hand but we were told that some of his colleagues in Government feel that his talents will be somehow wasted in forestry. What chance have we got when senior politicians and state officials hold this negative attitude?
Energy requirements for wood fuel alone are set to more than treble over the next decade from 0.8m cubic metres to 2.7m cubic metres; demand will continue to exceed supply and all of this in a country that has the best growing conditions of any in Europe. We heard the usual waffle about planting targets which have never been achieved and at the same time we were told repeatedly how forestry is vital to the national economy.
So why doesn't someone do something?
John Gillespie, our new assistant secretary in the Department of Agriculture, oozed pessimism when delivering a lengthy and unnecessary lesson on the history of Irish forestry. He stated that it is possible that the budget for forestry will actually reduce and we may not have the money to achieve even the current modest planting targets. At least he was honest and maybe that is something that has been missing up to now.
Stuart Goodall, chief executive of the British confederation of forest industries, put it well when he stated the simple and plain facts that planting and harvesting trees and using wood equals carbon reduction, jobs and business growth. It is obvious that we should be growing more trees to reduce imports and replace fossil fuel. The private sector will soon overtake Coillte as the largest source of timber supplies but without the support of Government we will continue to rely on imported fuel and wood.
Support schemes are not a hand out to the forestry sector; rather they are an investment that brings massive benefits to the entire economy.