Pic- Forest Product Commission

Tall karri trees in south-west, WA (Photo: Forest Products Commission)

Independent British forest management auditor, the Soil Association (SA), defended a certification granted to the West Australian Government-owned Forest Products Commission (FPC) to log what conservation groups claim as old-growth forests covering tracks of 600 year-old trees that are home to threatened species.

SA said FPC has met Forest Stewardship Council’s (FSC) International Controlled Wood standards despite uproar from conservation groups.

FSC Australia said SA backs  the organisation “to undertake staged harvesting of select portions of the forest certificate coverage area of 244,612 hectares under strict provisions, which includes the protection of old-growth High Conservation Value areas.”

FSC Australia CEO Natalie Reynolds said opponents should understand that “Controlled Wood is not full FSC Certification and is not an endorsement of responsible forest management, ” adding “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.”

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.

Under the FSC Australia, High Conservation Values Evaluation Framework, designed to assist in interpreting the FSC Controlled Wood standard, 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.

Ms Reynolds further noted that about 84 hectares of forests have been added into the protected area while the commission will continue to identify old-growth forest as an ongoing requirement of the Controlled Wood standard.

WA Forest Alliance spokeswoman Jess Beckerling sits on a karri tree stump in an area of clear-felled forest near Manjimup. (Photo: Perth Now)

WA Forest Alliance spokeswoman Jess Beckerling sits on a karri tree stump in an area of clear-felled forest near Manjimup. (Photo: Perth Now)

Conservation groups object certification

Conservation groups, however, insist that the FSC is undermined by this certification. They argue the move supports the destruction of old-growth forests, including 600-year-old trees for wood chips and pulp.

Supporters attacked SA’s Facebook page over the past few days. One comment said:

600 year old trees? For pulp? What the hell is wrong with plantation timber? That is what should be certified. Why won’t you use plantation timber? Because it is cheaper to cut down old growth forests. Plain and simple. Please prove me wrong.

Many seconded another comment:

As a consumer, I look to FSC certification to tell me that the products I buy are sustainable. Industrial logging of 600-year-old trees is not my definition of sustainable. Please withdraw FSC certification for logging the Karri forests as it should not meet FSC’s high standards.

The Wilderness Society said this certification permits logging operations in the tall eucalyptus Karri forests in the state’s south-west. These forests are also home to at least 15 threatened species including Red-Tailed Black Cockatoos, Mainland Quokkas and Western Quolls.

Wilderness Society National Forest Campaigner Warrick Jordan said the FSC is seen as the international gold standard for wood certification, approving products that meet its high standard for forest management. However, FSC in Western Australia is a different case. He said,

When consumers buy a product branded as sustainable, they don’t expect to be buying paper made from a 600-year-old giant or a tree that was home to animals threatened with extinction, such as the Red-Tailed Black Cockatoo. Areas currently being assessed for their old-growth values by the WA Government, such as the Northcliffe forest, are now open for logging under an FSC stamp.

Mr Jordan calls for the SA to withdraw the FSC certificate and conduct a thorough review of how the decision was made.  He said WS will be pursuing FSC complaints processes to ensure its high standards are maintained. He is also calling on governing bodies, FSC Australia and FSC International, to act in order to ensure the credibility of FSC in Australia is not damaged due to this bad decision.

In 2011, Australian Paper had its FSC accreditation revoked because logging endangered the Leadbeater’s possum habitat in Victoria. Mr Jordan said his organisation is watching at a repeated mistake where FSC has been awarded despite clear environmental damage.

The Australian Conservation Foundation also joined the objection saying the WA logging agency committed a grave error.

ACF noted that this is the second time high conservation value Australian forests have been erroneously allowed into the FSC system by a fly-in-fly-out audit team, raising questions about whether FSC is able to properly police its own standards.

Mr Jess Abrahams, Healthy Ecosystems Campaigner said, “Consumers buying products with the FSC logo would be shocked to discover their product could be made from rare 600-year-old Karri trees.” “ He noted this is a significant threat to the credibility of the FSC brand.

ACF calls on the FSC to withdraw the certificate and launch a swift, full investigation.