One million sapling trees, including 400,000 oaks, are to be destroyed this week because of a crisis in commercial forestry.
And five million trees have been shredded in the past three years by the State’s largest supplier of sapling trees.
Wicklow-based nursery owner Teige Ryan told the Irish Times that licensing delays by the Department of Agriculture meant many farmers decided against planting trees.
He added that Government targets for planting have been missed and that his supply of saplings have a limited lifespan.
A key factor is a March 2018 European Court of Justice decision that found environmental assessments were not sufficiently rigorous in the licensing process.
Activist Peter Sweetman took the case against a windfarm development by Coillte in Co Laois.
The case led to a shake-up in licensing arrangements by the Department of Agriculture, with more ecologists and administrative staff needed to make environmental assessments.
Just over one tenth of Ireland is afforested but the target is to reach 18% by 2050.
“A new planting season begins in November and without political intervention we will face the same situation next year,” Teige Ryan said, describing the situation as an emergency.
A review of the department’s approval process, by consultant James MacKinnon, recommended streamlining of procedures, following a model implemented in Scotland.
The Department of Agriculture has said there have been challenges to implementing assessment changes following the decision from Europe.
“The scope and breadth of these changes has unfortunately meant that delays have occurred and the current backlog has arisen,” the Department said.
It is currently hiring ecologists, forestry inspectors and administrative staff to deal with the matter.
“For the plan to succeed, stakeholders also need to engage with it. This will require a commitment from forestry companies to submit applications that are of the required standard and quality,” the department said,
“The current situation is challenging, but it is a temporary disruption which, when resolved, will make for a better, more sustainable and fit-for-purpose forestry licensing system for many years to come.”