Committee chairman Michael Foxley said the day had been extremely useful in highlighting action points to be followed up over the next few months.
On forestry, he said an urgent need was to improve and expand the transport infrastructure for timber extraction by road, rail and sea. Delegates were urged to respond to the council's draft local transport strategy seeking additional funding to be made available to upgrade rural roads and thereby avoid weight restrictions on roads and bridges. Economies of scale would make transport by sea more important in the future.
He said: 'The Scottish executive has to be convinced that the needs of the Highlands are more demanding than the rest of Scotland due to the vast extent of territory covered by single-track roads. It is hoped to use European funding to upgrade the transport infrastructure.'
- Encourage the wood using industry in the Highlands, through increased use of Highland timber and promoting purchase of Scottish Conservation Timber with the FSC logo.
- Investigate the burden of energy tax on Highland forestry businesses and encourage the implementation of carbon credits which would greatly increase the value of timber plantations (which act as a carbon store to reduce the greenhouse effect).
- Examine the introduction of an integrated joint strategy for both agriculture and forestry in the Highlands.
- Re-establish a Highland forestry forum to meet regularly to act on behalf of forestry interests in the Highlands.
Some of the key issues arising from the debate on deer management were:
The urgent need to increase the membership, openness and accountability of local deer management groups.
The need to set local deer management plans with local target populations for deer to guide the cull required.
Mr Foxley said: 'The key issue in terms of culling is that the conservation interests, as expressed by the RSPB on behalf of the Capercaillie and Black Grouse, was down to a level of 4 to 5 red deer per hundred hectares. This was also the target for forest enterprise rangers who were culling to minimise the destruction of growing trees.
'However, it is clear that the levels on private estates are three to ten times this level. The basic view is that a lot more deer need to be shot. One mechanism for this would be by the re-introduction of sporting rates, but with a rebate if the deer were managed in line with target populations as agreed with the DCS, and in an open way.'