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VicForests’ response to media criticism on FSC status

VicForests has responded to media criticism attacking its failure to be granted FSC status. VicForests reported last week results from an audit taken in November last year, but that was not completed because of the impacts of the coronavirus, remaining challenges arising from last summer’s bushfires and ongoing legal issues. Source: Timberbiz

Effectively, VicForests admitted that the audit – incomplete as it was – again failed to grant FSC status to VicForests.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the independent audit of Victoria’s state logging operations has found “multiple problems, including failures to adequately survey for threatened species, identify old-growth forest or contain post-logging burns”.

“The FSC investigation by independent auditors found VicForests failed to survey for threatened species at both the coupe and landscape level, including consistently failing to detect and protect Leadbeater’s possums and greater gliders,” the SMH reported.

“And VicForests failed to apply conservation measures for threatened species, including forest owls, the Orbost spiny crayfish and barred galaxia fish, the report found. The auditors refused to grant the entry level of FSC certification to VicForests.”

VicForests said in a statement on Monday said it noted that its audit against the FSC Controlled Wood Standard had found significant and large-scale improvements which “helped demonstrate VicForests’ commitment to achieving conformance to the Standard”.

Such changes included a shift to smaller harvesting coupe sizes and improved high conservation value management comprising of a new habitat tree assessment and retention strategy.

VicForests said the audit team had also unanimously commended the following behaviours:

  • VicForests staff and contractors demonstrated consistent commitment to positive change and supporting new approaches in efforts to achieve FSC certification. This support of innovation and changing practices was found throughout all levels of the organization.
  • Notwithstanding some further refinements that were identified, stakeholder engagement was assessed to be greatly improved compared to prior audits.
  • VicForests staff maintained high levels of professional behaviour during the audit despite very stressful circumstances (SCS Global Services Report 2019, p.39).

It said that against this backdrop, the organisation had been found to have complied with the vast majority of the 44 applicable criteria used to assess compliance against the Standard.

In relation to claims made in the media regarding old growth forests, VicForests said it has worked with the Office of the Conservation Regulator to develop, test, and implement a new Old Growth Regulatory Guide and Old Growth Assessment Tool.

This had included extensive stakeholder engagement including input from DELWP’s Scientific Advisory Committee to develop a clear framework.

VicForests said that this approach was now being applied to all coupes as part of pre-harvest assessment processes.

This was in addition to VicForests already implementing corrective measures for the non-conformances raised in the audit report as these findings were based on outdated harvesting methods.

VicForests said it would maintain its commitment to achieving the FSC Controlled Wood Standard at an appropriate time.