We are greatly concerned about the lack of realistic thinking in your party’s forestry policy.
The current planting programme is operating in a void whereby the 1996 Planting For the Future, which was based on reaching a ‘critical mass’’, has failed entirely to reach its required minimum planting rate of 20,000 hectares a year.
This high level of planting is required even for a viable replacement of current forestry processing infrastructure, let alone to meet the now clearly unrealistic justification of added value through a pulp paper industry for Ireland. When this policy was reviewed by Peter Bacon in 2004, the minimum planting rate to make the current policy viable was revised downwards to 12,000 hectares a year.
The funding available for forestry in 2011 will only be sufficient for 7,000 hectares of new planting - and planting has never reached the 12,000 since the Bacon Report was published. Since the European Commission withdrew its 75% support because of poor environmental controls in 2007 the entire €120 million cost of this planting must be met through our taxes.
The financial stupidity of the current policy is shown by the fact that firewood in Ireland is currently selling for three times the price of timber suitable for construction - and this gap will continue to widen as fossil fuels increase in price and the supply of suitable timbers for fuel does not increase.
The fast growing soft woods that form the basis of the current planting have half the carbon content of hardwoods and make a poor fuel - and yet the State is paying between €2400 and €3700 per hectare for their planting. And when the crop is taken, the entire cost of replanting must by law be paid by the farmer.
Looking solely at the cost of fossil fuels used in the transport of Ireland's fast growing poor quality conifers, trees planted more that 30 miles for a board manufacture are barely viable now and will never justify the transport costs required in 40 years to the factories.
What is urgently needed is a policy that seeks to direct planting to local communities with a variety of species managed under low impact systems, including coppicing, that will allow for durable fence stakes, building timber and fuel, providing employment locally and addressing the growing issue of fuel poverty.
We would urge your party to examine its polices and commit itself to a forestry policy that addresses the urgent real needs of Ireland - not a planting programme that is based on discredited grandiose plans that continue to damage the environment without providing any return to the local communities.
Instead, Ireland must follow other European countries in planting native species that will generate jobs and vital sustainable energy while playing a critical role in rejuvenating local communities.
On economic grounds alone, we urge you to reconsider your support for current Irish forestry ‘policy'.
Friends of the Irish Environment