The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (currently Mr Brendan Smith TD) is advised on forest policy by the National Council for Forestry Research and Development (COFORD). COFORD's advice is that the ‘primary focus in commercial forests should be on competitive wood production and they [commercial forests] should not be the primary mechanism to deliver a biodiversity service'. And 'Driving industry competitiveness is one of the key facets underpinning COFORD’s funding'.
The Forest Service administers the forest schemes and requires for grant aided forestry that ‘both conifer and broadleaf sites which are proposed for planting must be capable of producing a commercial sawlog crop of wood’. Coillte Teoranta the State forestry board who manages 440 000ha of pubic land has as its primary object to 'carry on the business of forestry and related activities on a commercial basis'. Environmental and social costs including damage to water, soils, roads and amenity are not considered in economic evaluations.
This results in policy that is extremely biased in favour of the economic sector. Current policy allows plantations of exotic (non-native) species destined for clearfell. This 'industrial' plantation forestry has high environmental and social impacts damaging soils and roads, polluting water and reducing biodiversity. Only 1.4% of the States forests are managed using low impact management systems.
Plantations are normally planted on poor land which is often rich in biodiversity. Endangered species are particularly at risk with habitat loss a major cause of extinctions. In Ireland the habitat of the Hen Harrier and the Fresh Water Pearl Mussel are being destroyed by forestry.
Other countries manage their forests sustainably - there are plenty of models to follow. Ireland's Forestry Policy must be reviewed and effective measures established to protect the countries biodiversity and environment.
In 2010 FIE made two submissions to Irelands forest policy review - one covering a number of general issues and a supplementary submission as a response to the practice of burning land reverting to scrub and woodland. 2011 began with a letter to all political party leaders and the Minister for Agriculture pointing out that more than €10,000 a hectare is being given to farmers on the basis of a forestry policy that has no economic future.