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Forest Stewardship Council under fire from green groups

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Australia is under fire from an unlikely quarter, with key environment groups calling for it to withdraw the Controlled Wood standard accreditation granted to Western Australia’s state logging agency, the Forest Products Commission (FPC). Source: The Fifth Estate.

The furore has erupted over what the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Western Australian Forest Alliance (WAFA) claim is a flawed definition of old growth forest used by FPC and accepted by the UK-based certifying body, Soil Association Woodmark.

The FSC rejected 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 completely FSC certified 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 ha 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 ha 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 that 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/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.

In its Guide to Environmental Copy Paper, The Wilderness Society 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 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,” Beckerling said.

“This is the wrong decision and FSC needs to withdraw the certification in order to maintain its credibility in Australia.

“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.

“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.”

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