Sustainable Forest Management
Ireland is committed to Sustainable Forest Management, which, under EU guidelines is defined as: "The stewardship and use of forest lands in a way and at a rate that maintains their productivity, biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality and their potential to fulfil now and in the future relevant ecological, economic and social functions at local, national and global levels and that does not cause damage to other ecosystems." Sustainable forest management provides numerous social, environmental and economic benefits, some of which include:
Forests and forest products play an important role in combating the impacts of climate change. Forests help reduce climate change effects by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for growth, convert it to sugars and wood and release oxygen back into the atmosphere. Harvesting trees before they die naturally (and return their carbon to the atmosphere) locks the carbon into the wood. Wood is also a low carbon source of fuel and using wood and wood products for construction and biomass burning releases much less carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere than conventional fossil fuels e.g. coal or oil. The national forest estate is a valuable carbon store, storing 381 million tonnes of carbon in 2012; an increase from 348 million tonnes in 2006 (DAFM, 2016). Forests also provide shade and cooling to waters and soils, and help to control and prevent flooding events by slowing the flow of rainfall to watercourses.
Forests contribute in a very significant way to biodiversity and habitat variety that is important for a healthy landscape, ensuring ecosystem services, such as pollination, supporting agriculture and food production. Across Coillte's forest estates, 20% of lands are managed with biodiversity as the primary objective. Ireland’s forests are home to several rare and protected species and habitats at an international level. Species that are of current conservation concern regarding forests include:
- Freshwater pearl mussel – critically endangered
- Lesser horseshoe bat – near threatened
- Otter – near threatened
- Hen harrier – amber status
- Kerry slug – favourable conservation status but Irish population is important in a global context as the Iberian populations are severely threatened.
- Red squirrel – near threatened
The forest sector is growing in Ireland, providing around 12,000 jobs today, mostly in rural Ireland, and contributing €2.3 billion to the the Irish economy. Forests also play an important role in employment across other sectors of the economy. For example, public forest clearfell peaked between 2001 and 2007, coinciding with a peak in domestic construction activity
Coillte, the semi-state body with responsibility for forestry, has an open forest policy, providing access to their forest for an estimated 18 million visits to State forests annually. Over 6,156 ha were reforested on public lands in 2014, providing additional recreational areas for public use
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