UPDATED October 31: The Forest Stewardship Council Australia is under fire from an unlikely quarter, with key environment groups calling for the FSC to rescind the Controlled Wood standard accreditation granted to Western Australia’s state logging agency, the Forest Products Commission.
The furore has erupted over what the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Western Australian Forest Alliance claim is a flawed definition of old growth forest used by FPC and accepted by the UK-based certifying body, Soil Association Woodmark, a claim denied by FSC.
The FSC rejects allegations by ACF and WAFA that the accreditation means FPC will be able to log High Conservation Value forest areas. In a media statement, the FSC said that to comply with the Controlled Wood standard the FPC will undertake staged harvesting of select portions of the area covered by the forest certificate under “strict provisions, which includes the protection of old-growth High Conservation Value areas.”
FSC Australia chief executive Natalie Reynolds said Controlled Wood is not full FSC certification and is not an endorsement of responsible forest management.
Under the FPC’s Old Growth definition, one stump per hectare, even if it was created by pre-mechanised selective logging decades ago is enough to define the entire hectare as not old growth, regardless of the size, age and species composition of the rest of the trees in the particular hectare.
Using this definition, out of 244,612 hectares that are covered by the certificate, at this stage only 84 additional hectares of forest will be protected because they are deemed to meet the FSC’s own criteria for the Old Growth 2 category.
By contrast, WAFA, which has undertaken extensive on-ground surveys, says there are up to 10,000 hectares of high conservation value forest that may meet the FSC criteria for protection but were not identified as high conservation value on FPC maps submitted to the certifier.
WAFA and other groups, including ACF, have raised the issue with both FSC and the certifying body.
The bigger picture, which affects consumers that are relying on FSC certification to make ethical purchasing decisions, is the FPC will be able to log thousands of hectares of high conservation karri forests for woodchip that can then be used in FSC Mix-certified paper products.
FSC Mix is a product containing timber or fibre that is a mixture of some or all timber or fibre from an FSC-certified forest; or reclaimed timber or fibre; or timber or fibre from other controlled sources. The woodchip from the WA forests can therefore be used in FSC Mix as it is a “controlled” source under the newly-granted certification.
The Wilderness Society in its Guide to Environmental Copy Paper notes that FSC Mix includes fibre sourced from contentious forest areas, and is therefore best avoided.
A major customer for woodchip from WA’s forests is Nippon Paper Industries, a major customer and former joint venture partner in Marubeni Corporation‘s WAPRES woodchip mill near Manjimup.
The company’s brands include Kleenex, Scotties, and it also manufactures a wide range of paper and cardboard products including ink-jet printing paper, thermal papers, wrapping paper, packaging, postcard paper, art paper, book paper and newsprint.
WAFA spokeswoman Jess Beckerling told The Fifth Estate that 90 per cent of the timber logged in WA is used for woodchip, and that this included karri trees up to 600 years old that are critical habitat for at least 15 threatened fauna species including Red-tailed Black Cockatoos, Mainland Quokkas and Chuditch.
“We have shown the certifying body that the information provided by FPC is demonstrably false. This is the wrong decision and FSC needs to withdraw the certification in order to maintain its credibility in Australia,” Ms Beckerling said.
“FPC’s mapping of ‘two-tiered’ high conservation value forests provided for this application is rife with errors that misled the certifying body and the public,” she said.
“The certifying body cannot accept the loggers’ claims without properly verifying them. The failure of the certifying body to check the facts undermines the whole FSC accreditation scheme.
“FSC accredits forest products if they meet its criteria for sustainable and ethical forest management. It is seen as the international ‘gold standard’ for forest certification. This time FSC has got it wrong and needs to take action to correct the mistake.”
Who pays the certifier?
Ms Beckerling also said that the fact the certifier was paid by FPC also calls into question the independence of the certifier.
“The certifier does not want to get a reputation for never granting certification, or they won’t get any more work,” she said.
This conflict of interest issue around FSC certification has also been raised overseas, including by one of the founders of the FSC, Simon Counsell.
In an article in the UK magazine, Ethical Consumer, the FSC’s then head of policy and standards at FSC head office in Bonn, Andre de Freitas, acknowledged that claims around conflicts of interest between forestry companies and certifiers are valid, and that the FSC needs to deal with this in “credible ways”.
- Read the full article here.
ACF health ecosystems campaigner, Jess Abrahams, said that another concern the environment groups have is that even the 84 hectares that are to be protected by FPC as part of the Controlled Wood standard are only granted temporary protection, and that when the old growth trees reach end of life, and therefore the characteristics of those forest areas changes, those hectares will then be regarded as loggable.
Mr Abrahams said the whole situation is part of a bigger credibility issue with the FSC, which has come under fire previously over certification granted for Victorian plantation growers, Hancocks.
Environment groups have also called the credibility of both FSC and Soil Association Woodmark into question in relation to Boral Timber Fibre Exports controlled wood certification application in 2012, sending a formal letter in which they made it clear they would refuse to endorse or participate in the process.
Environment groups sit on the board of the FSC in Australia and an ACF representative is chair of the FSC board. Their involvement is part of the requirement for stakeholder consultation that is one of the criteria for FSC certification. On this point also, Mr Abrahams said the WA approval is flawed as the input of the environment groups in terms of areas of forest that should be protected has so far been ignored.
Green groups considering getting out of FSC
Mr Abrahams said that ACF and other groups are reconsidering if they can continue to be involved with the organisation while it is endorsing environmentally questionable logging operations.
“If the certifiers are going to apply the bar so low [as they have in WA] groups like ACF are not going to hang around,” he said.
For the logging companies and state forest managers, Mr Abrahams said that FSC certification is recognised as critical in the market, which is why Victoria and Tasmania are both applying for certification for their state forestry operations.
Ms Beckerling said that FPC’s application for certification was in fact driven by their main customer, Nippon Paper Industries, as it recognised that having FSC certification on its products is a crucial in terms of market share.
“We are calling on the FSC to step in immediately and withdraw the [WA] certification and investigate the certifier. The auditor must take into account environmental concerns. If they don’t the credibility of FSC certification is gone.
“Industry needs that certification, but if they get it without changing their ways, it becomes meaningless.”
Ms Beckerling said that Soil Association’s response to date has been that the Controlled Wood designation “encourages [FPC] to improve their management so they can apply for full FSC certification”.
The FSC position
This position has been echoed by the FSC itself, which released a media statement in response to the situation.
“FSC standards have been designed to ensure the fundamental nature and composition of forests remains over time, and FSC Australia encourages managers of natural forests to publicly commit to making changes to their forest management practices in line with these standards,” Ms Reynolds said.
FSC has also made it clear that it is not “involved in decisions about who receives FSC certification or which independent auditor does – we are the guardian of the scheme and organise the membership to set the standards.”
And there’s the rub – the environmental groups, which are members, are wanting the certifier to apply a standard that will protect old growth and High Conservation Value Karri, the FPC, which is supplying the certifer with the data, wants to log some of it while having the Controlled Wood standard accreditation.
And the FSC is so far standing by the position that Controlled Wood is – if not deep green good wood – at least not terribly bad wood, and it might encourage the tree fellers to do better.
“Controlled Wood evaluations allow companies to avoid unacceptable wood being mixed with full FSC Certified and/or FSC recycled wood in products carrying the FSC Mix label,” Ms Reynolds said.
“For many forest managers it is the first step towards achieving full Forest Management Certification and provides assessment against only the FSC’s most fundamental prerequisites, such as ensuring wood is not illegally harvested and harvesting does not threaten High Conservation Values.
“Wood sourced from the identified harvesting zones cannot carry the FSC label unless they are mixed with fully FSC Certified or recycled wood under strict conditions.”
Ms Beckerling says the “strict conditions” include Controlled Wood only comprising 30 per cent of the final FSC Mix certified product.
Ms Reynolds said that the FSC Australia High Conservation Values Framework means the FPC “cannot harvest ecologically mature forest where the effects of disturbances are now negligible, even where they have been logged in the past, but where they retain such characteristics.”
The FSC statement also said that the preliminary assessment carried out by Soil Association in January 2013 found 15 instances of non-compliance by FPC – seven minor and eight major – and that FPC had since “undertaken significant work to resolve the issues and demonstrate adherence to the Controlled Wood standard throughout the extensive auditing process.”