Media Releases - 08 October 2020

State government loggers still without FSC certification

After more than a decade of repeated attempts to secure credentialled Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification VicForests’ latest audit again failed to pass, including for failures to adhere to legal requirements to protect threatened species. Yet only two months ago, VicForests was blaming anyone but itself for its failure to attain FSC standards.

“VicForests’ most recent FSC audit further shows that its unsustainable logging practices need serious reform in order for paper, cardboard and timber products made from wood it supplies to be able to carry the FSC tick of approval,” said Amelia Young, National Campaigns Director for the Wilderness Society.

The audit report is dated 25 June, 2020. Remarkably, instead of releasing the report, VicForests instead launched an extraordinary attack on FSC Australia’s board directors.

“It's highly inappropriate that VicForests sought to blame FSC Australia, and FSC board members, for its failure to successfully obtain the FSC Controlled Wood standard when they well knew the reasons for failure were otherwise, as outlined in the audit report produced by independent certifiers VicForests itself had contracted.

“Rather than take responsibility for its continued failure to gain FSC certification, VicForests has chosen to launch an extraordinary attack on the directors of an organisation formed to encourage sustainable forestry practices. VicForests spent months accusing FSC directors of interference, when it already knew it had failed on multiple grounds,” said Amelia Young.

Months after the report was finalised, VicForests has today released the results of its most recent Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) audit, undertaken by independent auditors SCS Global. Auditors found multiple instances of major non-conformances with the FSC system:

  • Failure to adequately survey for threatened species at both the coupe and landscape level - auditors found "consistent cases of failure to detect and protect individual occurrences of both [Leadbeater’s Possum and Greater Glider] these, and other species of concern… There are also questions around the adequacy of legislated protections."
  • Failure to take a precautionary approach to threatened species protection - “The pattern of harvesting in areas of known habitat and occurrences was also noted for Greater Gliders, and other species of concern, and is not consistent with conservation of HCVs using a Precautionary Approach as defined by FSC.”
  • Failure to identify old growth forest - "abundant, large, ecologically mature trees bearing large hollows observed that had been harvested or pushed over."
  • Failure to adequately consult with communities, including Indigenous people, living near logging operations.
  • Failure to apply conservation measures for numerous threatened species, including Greater Glider, the Tree Geebung, Forest owls, Orbost Spiny Crayfish, and Barred Galaxias.
  • Failure to contain post-logging burns, with auditors noting several examples where burns had escaped and burned High Conservation Values areas, including those specifically retained for protection.

“The results of this audit confirm that VicForests logs in a manner that went out of fashion before the entity was even created. From major retailers of stationary and timber, to large corporate buyers of copy paper, to individual shoppers, the Australian market is making it quite clear that logging of threatened species habitat and old growth forests is unacceptable, with both Bunnings and Officeworks this year distancing themselves from VicForests’ wood due to illegality in the supply chain and an absence of FSC certification. 

“We anticipate that VicForests will continue to bleed customers unless its operations are brought into line with FSC Full Forest Management standards—as the market expects,” said Ms Young.

“The audit results once again reveal the dilemma of public forest management in Victoria: VicForests is required by government to log at unsustainable levels to meet its contractual obligations to Nippon Paper Group owned Opal Australian Paper. Until the Victorian government and Nippon Paper Group can agree to reduce these volumes - currently at a staggering 265,000 cubic metres a year - and bring forward the planned 2030 exit from native forest logging, Victoria’s public native forests will continue to be trashed by an entity forced to overcut, and FSC certification will remain elusive.” 

Many of the results of the audit closely mirror the findings of the recent Federal Court case, which concluded that VicForests operations had been, and were likely to continue to be, in breach of both state and federal laws. Notably, the audit called in to question the adequacy of existing protections for threatened species in Victoria, at a time when the Victorian Government is commencing a review of logging rules - ostensibly to reduce protection requirements, and the Federal Government is looking to devolve decision making on activities that impact the environment to the states.

“The findings of this audit and the Federal Court case raise larger questions about the adequacy of legislated protections for threatened species under the Regional Forest Agreements and whether they ensure Australia’s national environment law is actually applied to logging operations. Given the Morrison Government’s plans to apply a similar RFA-type model to all environmental protections in Australia, the Federal Government must urgently review the Regional Forest Agreements so that we can avoid the mistakes of this outdated model of environmental regulation being carried into the future.”

For more information or comment, please contact:

Amelia Young, National Campaigns Director, 0404 074 577