Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Questions (85)

Catherine Connolly


85. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine further to Parliamentary Question No. 60 of 3 October 2017, the overall cost of the fire of Cloosh Valley, County Galway in May 2017; the number of hectares of both forestry and bogland lost; the impact on the flora, fauna and wildlife; the results of investigations carried out by Coillte, his Department or another body; if prosecutions for breach of section 40 of the Wildlife Acts resulted; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28200/19]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The management of the Coillte forest estate is a matter for, and the responsibility of, Coillte as a State Body and they are operationally independent in their remit.

In order to update on the PQ response referred to above, this matter was raised with Coillte. I am advised that the forest fire of May 2017 was fought along three separate fronts - a bog fire, a thicket fire and the most dangerous of all, a tree crown fire.  The fire was tackled for five days by more than 35 Coillte staff and contractors, three helicopters, two fire tenders and as well as 30 army personnel to finally bring it under control.

Cloosh is also home to the Galway Wind Park renewable energy development and contains millions of euro of wind turbines and associated infrastructure.  Through the hard work and dedication of all the firefighters, none of the nationally important wind energy structures were damaged by the fire.

Coillte also advise that subsequent to the fire being brought under control, they completed a detailed and precise inventory of the damage to Cloosh using a combination of Aerial Photography and Ground Survey techniques.  Coillte local management also developed a Forest Management Plan for the area, aimed at categorising the damage and determining the regeneration plan required to re-establish the forest.

Results of this inventory show that the total area in Cloosh that was damaged by fire was 1,213 ha.  Of this figure, 828 ha was categorised as forest, with the balance of 385 ha being classified as non-forest (e.g. Bare, Undeveloped, Swamp, peatlands).

Coillte advise that costs of the forest fires to them are calculated across a variety of different activities required to both bring the fire under control and subsequently to prepare and replant the forest and, of course, the loss of value of the standing timber.  The costs involved can be broken down into the following headings:

Fire-Fighting costs – Direct costs involved in bringing the fire under control;

Clean up costs – these costs are to make the site fit for regeneration or replanting following the fire.  The actual costs will depend on the extent of replanting the forested areas and any offsetting revenue from harvesting the damaged timber;

Regeneration cost – this is the cost to replant the non-productive forest area and is dependent on the level and type of planting that Coillte undertake;

Additional Project costs – the costs of any additional projects that may be required from extra overheads incurred in managing the area;

Depletion cost – this reflects the costs of depleting the total forested area less an area of 67 ha which had been recently felled before the fire.

Overall, the total cost of the Cloosh fire is estimated by Coillte at approximately €3 million. Coillte add that they are not aware of any prosecutions for breach of section 40 of the Wildlife Acts resulting from the fire at Cloosh.  

Finally, I believe that the recommendations of the 2017 Government Task Force report on wildfires informed preparedness and operational responses to wildfire during the very challenging 2018 fire season. Recommendations particularly influenced improvements in respect of air support readiness and military aid to civil power support for firefighting interventions at large scale wildfires. These improvements were readily apparent during the extended firefighting operations in the Slieve Bloom Mountains during July 2018 and at several other large scale incidents across the country at that time.

My Department continues to issue forest fire warnings where appropriate, particularly in advance of high-risk periods such as high temperatures. These include advice on preparedness and appropriate responses and are intended to inform relevant stakeholders and the general public.