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Local protester at Maryvale Pulp Mill Action Feb 27 2010
Weekly Times p28 May 27, 2008 Plantation Timber. Overseer fails on quality - auditor by Leslie White
An auditor's report has slammed Forest Stewardship Certification, the company that issues environmental accreditation to plantation companies including Timbercorp. FSC, which accredits much of Australia's plantation timber, has been questioned after an audit found accreditation company Smartwood continued to award accreditation to Hancock Victoria Plantations "despite continuous non-compliance with relevant standard requirements". SmartWood also issues FSC - a "green" badge that also helps to sell timber products overseas - to managed investment companies Timbercorp and ITC. Timbercorp has denied any problem with FSC certification issued to it by SmartWood. An auditor's report found SmartWood issued certification to HVP despite the recommendation of its own lead auditor, though SmartWood disputes this. The report found SmartWood closed files on compliance issues despite "no appropriate evidence of compliance", and labelled the decision to issue certification to HVP "a major threat to the credibility of the SmartWood certification system and subsequently to FSC if not corrected". HVP Plantations stewardship and risk general manager Malcolm Tonkin said the audit was "not an issue that would have caused any concern to us." "I'm not aware of the details of the audit of (SmartWood). It's not particularly relevant to us," Mr Tonkins said. Friends of the Earth researcher Anthony Amis said the system left "too much power with certifiers, who are ultimately paid by the companies". "If the companies don't like a ruling in an audit, they can put pressure on the certifier or have the auditor removed," Mr Amis said. SmartWood Asia Pacific regional manager Loy Jones said HVP's certification was not awarded to retain the income from the company's certification. "We base our decisions... on whether the company complies with the requirements of the standard," Mr Jones said. "I can provide examples where we have suspended certificates despite serious financial implications." FSC Australia chief executive Michael Spencer said while stakeholders had made new complaints regarding HVP, the audit had "done a lot to restore their faith" in the FSC system.
FSC, Hancock and Smartwood Selling Out the Gippsland Environment (FSC Watch Website Feb 2009)
(BOYCOTT REINSTATED AUGUST 4 2004 - SEE UPDATES BELOW FOR FURTHER INFORMATION)
Are Smartwood really lapdogs for the Australian timber industry? (As published on the FSC-Watch website January 2008)
An answer to this question appears to be yes. Smartwood's reputation as 'honest brokers' has hit an all time low with their most recent audit of Hancock Victorian Plantations (HVP). So serious are the implications of Smartwood's latest appraisal of HVP that not only has it raised serious doubts about the ethics of Smartwood, but has raised massive credibility issues with FSC itself.
It has certainly been a fascinating exercise to watch Smartwood trip over themselves for the past 4 years, in continuing to take money from one of the more morally bankrupt companies operating in Australia. The longer Smartwood fails to tackle HVP, the further it reveals the philosophical shortcomings of a certification system that is slowly drowning in the moral quicksand so commonplace within the Australian timber industry.Smartwood themselves are now increasingly being tarred with a very dirty brush that ultimately will severely tarnish their reputation in this country.
As pointed out on the FSC-Watch website in March 2007, concerns over the certification of HVP's operations in the Strzelecki region of Victoria since 2004 have centered around, but have not confined to, rainforest management issues. The company has been issued with numerous Corrective Action Requests (CAR's) since 2004, many of which have arguably not been met, yet closed, including most seriously those relating to rainforest. So serious has the rainforest issue been, that even Smartwood auditors recommended in both 2005 and 2006 that HVP lose their certification. Both times these recommendations were overturned by Smartwood who decided instead to grant new CAR's, which in turn were then undermined by HVP. We were under the impression that if a company doesn't meet CAR's its certificate is stripped. Smartwood have shown that this is not the case within the FSC system.
Apparently, FSC International treated the issue as serious enough to get Accreditation Services International (ASI) to conduct an audit of Smartwood in February 2007. However the ASI audit as of late December 2007 is nowhere to be seen and ASI, through a recommendation by FSC Australia, actually employed the services of an Australian forester, who in the past, had given the greenlight to the logging of contentious rainforest areas, including Goolengook, the site of Australia's longest ever forest blockade. A blockade that lasted over 7 years and resulted in hundreds of arrests! Hardly a politically neutral background for an auditor!
We had to wait 9 months for a public copy of Smartwood's 2007 audit of HVP to be made available to the public, with ASI's as yet unsighted report taking longer than 10 months. In the meantime it has been business as usual for HVP who have continued wiping out controversial rainforest buffers and high conservation value forests. Why such long delays? Is Smartwood adopting the same tactics with ASI as HVP have done with Smartwood? Will ASI themselves now be sucked into the vortex by then adopting typical Smartwood stalling tactics? This in turn could drag FSC into a very ugly blackhole, from which there will be no escape.
It appears that the rainforest CARs have been written in a way which allows HVP to wriggle out at every opportunity. If a CAR isn't properly fulfilled, Smartwood simply move the goal posts by closing one CAR and granting the company another CAR. One could assume that the CARs have been deliberately worded to grant the company maximum leeway to keep going with a business as usual attitude. This undermining of the CAR process reveals a massive ethical shortcoming, where Smartwood working in cohoots with industry can keep a perpetual freeze on dumping a company from the FSC system despite recommendations from the certifiers own auditors.
All auditing systems are reliant on the company for payment. How can a certifying body ever be regarded as independent when the certifiers are reliant on these companies to put bread and butter on their tables and send their kids to university? HVP have deliberately misled Smartwood in past audits, by telling mistruths and failing to provide key information, yet still Smartwood pat them on the back! In a PR survey of threats and opportunity's funded by HVP, it was no surprise that Smartwood were viewed as being of lowest risk.
The long and short of the rainforest situation is now this. Minimal to zero protection of rainforest by granting inadequate buffers and ignoring peer review conclusions and recommendations made by rainforest experts. The experts are also concerned that young regenerating rainforest are not being given adequate protection, as the disease myrtle wilt kills the oldest stands of native Nothofagus trees. Locals have witnessed this year the chainsawing of young rainforest by HVP. In short nothing has changed since HVP were first certified.
Experts have made specific buffer width recommendations in two reports related to the Strzelecki Ranges Bioregion and have also been totally ignored by HVP and now Smartwood. HVP's rainforest Best Management Practices (BMP's) were peer reviewed in 2005 by two experts. The BMP's failed to get acceptance by rainforest experts who said that the company's protection measures for rainforest were inadequate. HVP then argued the toss and deliberately stalled on accepting almost all of the experts recommendations. Current buffer widths are still considered inadequate by the experts.
HVP attempted to go around the experts by getting approval for the BMP's from the ex-Secretary to the Department of Sustainability and Environment. The same Department that has a worse record in regards to rainforest than HVP! Apparently Smartwood have endorsed this move. Worse still, the current BMP (as bad as it is) has not even been provided to logging contractors who are still logging to minimal buffers (which has always been HVP's agenda). Even worse is Smartwood's latest proposal that two local shire CEO's will have to sign off on the rainforest BMPs in 2008 (or are SmartWood really just stating an idea from HVP?). These two signatories, untrained in rainforest ecology, will supposedly solve this delicate problem. This basically ignores the best of scientific information concerning rainforest and instead allows these non-experts, usually highly supportive of the economic needs of the timber industry, to be called in as umpires because Smartwood have refused to take the ethical stand. More 'buck passing' by Smartwood?
Such manipulation of the process gives Hancock no incentive to improve its on-the-ground practices. There is no balance between social, economic and environmental outcomes which impact on the wider community. Rainforest of the Strzeleckis has now effectively been sacrificed by a certifying body supposedly working under the banner of the Rainforest Alliance. Many in the community are furious and feel that their concerns have deliberately been swept under carpet by FSC, Smartwood and HVP. FSC Australia remains totally mute about the subject saying they are powerless to do anything. FSC International appear also to be asleep at the wheel. ENGO's working with the FSC system in Australia also remain mute preferring to help prop up FSC rather than stand in unity with communities in protecting their regions from unsustainable logging practices.
All of this situation is likely to come to head in the near future when Smartwood's close association with the Maryvale pulp mill and PaperlinX is publicised more widely. PaperlinX were granted a Chain of Custody (CoC) certficate in June 2006 by Smartwood because their mill at Maryvale is supplied with timber from HVP. However, the CoC does not even attempt to look at the source of Maryvale's native forest fibre, sourced largely from water supply catchments for the city of Melbourne. It does not take a genius to realize that water consumers in Melbourne (population 3.5 million people) have a very low opinion of companies that are clearfelling the source of their water supplies. Likewise any certification scheme which turns a blind eye to such ecological carnage will also be treated with contempt.
Smartwood decided in 2006 that rather than get an ecological solution for the Strzelecki's and de-certifiying HVP, they would instead take a greater share in the profits from the rampaging Gippsland based paper industry, knowing full well that the company supplying Maryvale pulp mill, HVP, was blatantly breaching CAR's in the Strzelecki's with absolutely no plans to stop committing the breaches. The moment Smartwood decided to do this was the moment any remaining credibility totally evaporated. Many in the local community felt betrayed by Smartwood and in the FSC system that promised so much but delivered them bugger all. Many are also questioning the viability of a system which flys in 'experts' from other countries who have no track record in understanding unique local politics and history. Most of all though it reveals how the FSC system cannot deal with unethical companies willing to manipulate anything that infringes on their ability to make as much profit as possible.
Anthony Amis (Friends of the Earth Melbourne), January 2008
 
For full copy of 2005 audit see here

Click Here for April 2005 Updates

Friends of the Earth Melbourne April 2005 position on FSC April 2005.

Hancock certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (Feb 04). Click here for more details!

Hancock going for FSC certification:

In September 2002 Hancock had their forest operations assessed by Smartwood. Details of the initial assessment can be found at;

http://www.smartwood.org/ongoing-forest-assessments/pdfs/hancock.pdf

While supportive of the initiatives of FSC certification, Hancock Watch feels that certification of the Hancock estate at this time could be premature. There are a host of issues that need clarifying before the company should be awarded FSC certification.

LETTER CONCERNING PROPOSED SCOPING AGREEMENT BETWEEN SMARTWOOD AND HANCOCK TIMBER RESOURCE GROUP IN LANDS MANAGED BY HANCOCK VICTORIAN

PLANTATIONS. April 27, 2000.

To whom it may concern,

We are writing to you because it has come to our attention that John Hancock (Hancock Victorian Plantations - a subsidiary of Hancock Timber Resource Group) is pursuing independent, third party forest management certification in the United States and may be considering a similar step for its plantations in Australia.

We would like to cautiously welcome Hancock for having made this decision, which will mean some major changes to the management of its assets in Australia. For your information, we are aware that a broad range of environmental NGOs from around the country are currently developing a statement on certification in Australia. This is the first step in the development of management guidelines that can form the basis for certification domestically.

In view of this process we believe it is premature for Hancock to be engaged in any preliminary scoping that may be required for certification in Australia. As the local ENGO's that would be involved in any discussions regarding certification of Hancock's plantation management we would be most concerned to see any assesment occuring prior to the development of NGO management guidelines. As an act of courtesy, and sensitivity to local conditions, we are asking that you suspend any proposed assessments until NGOs have finalised their own discussions. We believe this will be in the best interests of Hancock. It would reflect very poorly on both Hancock and the certifier if they are seen to be overriding an exisiting domestic initiative.

We will consider participation in any future scoping processes that may take place. However, we must make it quite clear that Hancock's bid for certification will not produce results unless the following issues are

addressed in advance:

1) Full independent ecological audit of all of Hancock's Eucalypt/native forest landholdings prior to harvesting.

2) Clear definition of native vegetation and plantation.

3) Clear delineation of native vegetation and plantations on all coupes plans (Including cool temperate rainforest, riparian vegetation and sites of cultural and environmental significance ).

4) Enter into dialogue with traditional Aboriginal custodians of lands now managed by Hancock Victorian Plantations.

5) No logging of Koala habitat, habitat for arboreal mammals and forest birds.

6) No logging of hollow bearing trees (including stags).

7). No logging of any old growth/old regrowth and regenerating native vegetation.

8) No logging within 100 metres of Cool Temperate Rainforest.

9) Clear definition of Cool Temperate Rainforest.

10) Development of conservation strategies which may include reserves/corridors/buffers to conserve the biodiversity values of the area/region.

11) Development of conservation strategies in regard to whole catchment management. Especially the impact of logging/roading on domestic town water supplies and the impacts of logging on freshwater ecology particulary macroinvertebrate and fish populations.

12) Expertise required to fulfill these requirements; Environmental Consultant/s, Cultural Officer, Ecologist, Hydrologist, Independent Forester, Civil Engineer (for roading), Soil Scientist.

13) Land Capability Assessment (soil, slope, topography, climate analyses).

14) All the above will set the framework for specific conditions relating to Local Prescriptions as per the Code of Forest Practices.

15) Investigations into the use of mixed species plantings in plantations to restore the ecological values of the lands in question.

16) Detailed information regarding Hancock's use of pesticides/herbicides/insecticides in plantation management.

17) Details of the use of fertilisers in plantation management.

18) Allow for full party access to documents concerning sustainable yield figures in all forest/plantation areas managed by Hancock Victorian Plantations.

19) Review current sustainable yield calculations for Hancock holdings throughout Victoria.

20) Monitoring to be carried out by NGO's.

Furthermore, considering that Hancock have vast landholdings in the Strzelecki Ranges of both plantations and native forest we would like to give you some local perspectives and concerns about timber management in the Strzelecki's.

We fear that certification may mean more troubled days ahead for the Strzelecki Ranges and locals are deeply concerned about loss of environmental values through land uses such as forestry. We also feel

that we need further consideration and discussion at all levels as proposed certification covers an all too familiar approach by the industry as it struggles to achieve credibility in the environment.

The process is nothing new! You may not know about the recent attempt by the forest industry for recognition of "Accredited Foresters". This was a first step initiative. Under that proposal, as a second step,

"Accredited Foresters" could certify coupe plans which would reduce the need for the "Responsible Authority" to scrutinise forestry operations.

The Responsible Authority (local council) was duped into believing in the process and was manoeuvred into a position from where it was impossible to disassociate itself from the process. It took many months

and considerable community energy to reverse the Authority's thinking. Finally the Authority provided an "out" by conceding to a 2-year review.

Meantime, the industry is employing all measures of "band aid" procedures so that it can present a case that supports increased compliance to various aspects of the Code at the conclusion of the review period. However, their entire range of temporary fixes is inadequate and local conservationsists have spent a considerable amount of time noting evidence of these shortcomings!

The argument here is that the industry has initiated a process whereby continual pressure is applied in some direction in order to convince some influencing body that they should accept implied acceptable

standards, when in fact, few existing standards comply with minimum legal requirements.

The industry always attempts to gain recognition by "employing" a third party to give a sense of credibility. Eg. Presently Gippsland Farm Plantation Inc. has persuaded West Gippsland Catchment Management

Authority to endorse a move for the development of "Regional Interpretations" relating to the Code of Forest Practice for Timber Production (the Code). This attempt at credibility is a meaningless exercise that, at its completion, will have no legislative impact.

Briefly, the actual requirement is that the Responsible Authorities must develop local prescriptions that take into account, and protect, local environmental values in areas where timber harvesting occur.

Local prescriptions are incorporated into planning schemes and are enforceable. The legislation makes no accommodation for "Regional Interpretations". Again, if the process is allowed to gain official recognition it will be at the expense of the environment.

The above initiatives were separate events which when combined would allow the industry to

i) Bestow accreditation to its foresters

ii) Employ self-regulation of the industry

iii) Water down minimum state standards prescribed in the Code by applying non-enforceable Regional Interpretations.

The process that Hancock Victorian Plantations (HVP) is seeking to achieve with Smartwood reminds us of similar duplicity.

Our groups are also concerned that the proposed scoping agreement does nothing to ease our minds about

how the Certification process will develop in Australia. eg

*Q: Who will assist with information? A: Not sure.

*Q: Where and how will they look at HVP's operations? A: Not sure.

*Q: Who will Smartwood even contact? A: Not sure.

*Q: What will they find and where will it lead? A: Not sure.

Concern is based on living experience and we have learned to be extremely cautious and now apply some fairly strict rules in consideration of any issues as they arise, such as:

Don't trust anyone from the Department of Natural Resources and Environment. They were ready not long ago to allow APP (a subsidiary of Amcor) the clearing of 2000ha of the native bush when scientific studies

instigated by Friends of Gippsland Bush (FOGB) lead to the retention of 85% of that land for its environmental values.

Do not innitiate a process from which there is no return It is very easy to become involved for all the right reasons only to discover that you've been conned.

Be wary of government (local, state and federal) -for (politely stated) they know not what they do!

HVP are presently under investigations that will decide if the Local Authority for LaTrobe Shire, as the Responsible Authority responsible for the administration of the Code at local level, will proceed with

prosecution against HVP on allegations that HVP failed to comply with minimum Local and State legal requirements in harvesting operations. This is a strong incentive for the company to gain credibility from a

third party. In any case, this should demonstrate that all is far from good in relation to HVP and their harvesting of the Strzelecki Ranges.

We would like to address another issue.

HVP purchased the lease for harvesting what was formerly crown or public forests. These formerly State owned forests are now a protected resource for the timber industry through the Victorian Plantation

Corporation Act 1993, Amendment Bill 1996. Through this Act, the entire public forested regions of the Strzelecki Ranges were transferred to "private" forests managed by HVP through a licence granted in

perpetuity. There are community concerns over whether the land should be in Hancock's 'ownership' in the first place. There is an ongoing dispute about the actual vesting of the land in question.

Recent developments in the Gippsland Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) (A Federal and State initiative) have lead to the exclusion of the Strzelecki Ranges from any due process. This has placed the biodiversity values of the Strzelecki Ranges in a perilous position.

The decision to exclude the Strzeleckis emanates from: (a) The State Governments refusal to accept a biological meaningful definition of native vegetation and plantations in the Strzeleckis. Despite

recommendations warning of the serious consequences continued clearing of native vegetation would have on this bioregion there is no effective mechanism that protects the important ecological assets of this region.

(b) The limitation of the RFA to include only public land for consideration of protection for environmental values unless the private land holder agrees to the voluntary inclusion of the agreement.

Map 1 of the RFA entitled "Gippsland Regional Forest Agreement, Land Use" indicates that ALL of the previous State forests is now an area consisting of "land leased or licensed for plantation purposes." Much

of this land contains Native vegetation that has not been delineated from existing plantations.

The native vegetation consists of remnant ecosystems having some unique flora and fauna values.

The Strzelecki Ranges provide an environment for possibly the only known endemic Koala colony remaining in Australia. DNA testing has established that Strzelecki Koalas have been isolated from the affects of translocation programs employed throughout other regions of Australia. These animals therefore constitute a separate management unit (Moritz 1994) and are significant in terms of management of biodiversity on regional and State basis. With low levels of gene flow throughout the general species range elsewhere in Australia, the Strzelecki Ranges population is internationally significant as well.

Despite this, HVP continues clearing unprotected koala habitat, damaging/destroying Cool Temperate Rainforests and other irreplaceable ecological treasures of the Strzelecki Ranges. We have recently learnt

that the Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) will be employed by Hancock (starting this October) to satellite monitor the Strzelecki's concerning habitat requirements for the Strzelecki and South Gippsland Koala. Our groups see this move as antagonistic as the conservation movement has little faith in the work of the AKF. Many in the Australian conservation movement see the AKF as an industry front group and see

their upcoming involvement in the Strzelecki's as leading to further confrontation and possible sullying of Hancock's name.

The Hancock experience in the Strzelecki's has been closely followed by conservationists since its inception. Since 1997, FOGB have had direct contact with Hancock management as well as that of the

responsible authorities. All attempts to negotiate a responsible environmental outcome have lead to stalling and evasive actions by the company. That has led has to a level of bewilderment and mistrust by locals concerning anything to do with Hancock. We need to stress that people from outside this region who wish to deal with the issues need to come and look at what is being done, and that when they do come, to allow themselves plenty of time to speak to us and to absorb the full significance of this disaster to date! Hancock under its current management in the Strzelecki's is destroying what little remains of our native vegetation. Current management by Hancock is working against the very spirit of forest certification as we see it. How can conservationists endorse plantation management when many of those plantations are currently being mis-managed by Hancock? How can we support the certification of plantation timber when remnant native

vegetation has been wilfully destroyed to establish and expand those very same plantations? As recently as yesterday locals are reporting destruction of non-plantation trees, regenerated native bush and habitat

trees by Hancock in the Strzelecki's.

In an area as depleted as the Strzelecki's, any remnant ecological systems are of extreme significance.

Further, many locals have sought to resolve these issues through existing legislation. This process has failed to date and is far too slow to have any significant affect for the near future. The current Victorian Minister for the Environment apparently cannot find time to respond to concerns although constant attempts have been instigated.

An agreement between Australian Paper Plantations (APP) and FOGB provides the only framework for Ecological Sustainable Forest Management Practices in the Strzelecki Ranges for private forestry operations. The agreement provides for careful compilation of coupe plans developed using Environmental Care Principles as prescribed in the Code of Forest Practice for Timber Production. This provides a model for ecological sustainable forest management in the Strzeleckis.

Regards

Theo Morsink - Friends of Gippsland Bush.

Anthony Amis - Friends of the Earth.

Leonie Van Der Maesen Research Assistant Utrecht University - Friends

of the Earth, Australia - Native Forest Network Southern Hemisphere.

 

Hancock Timber Resource Group Earns Forest Stewardship Council Certification

BOSTON, December 9, 1999 - The Hancock Timber Resource Group (HTRG) said its 39,364-acre timberland near McCloud, Calif., has received the Forest Stewardship Council's certification for environmentally sound, sustainable forest management.

HTRG, the world's leading timberland investment management organization, with $3 billion and 3 million acres under management in North America and Australia, becomes the first such organization to receive certification for one of its properties. "This is a proud achievement," said John Davis, HTRG's western regional manager. "Stewardship certification underscores our basic commitment to forestry that is socially acceptable, economically viable and environmentally responsible.

It also enables us to strongly support a valued customer -- Columbia Forest Products of Portland, Oregon -- in bringing certified wood products to the marketplace."

HTRG's McCloud timberland is a large supplier to Columbia's mill in Klamath Falls, Ore., which earlier this year became the first Columbia facility to produce certified products. Columbia is North America's largest hardwood plywood and veneer manufacturer.

Ed Woods, Columbia's director of marketing, said, There is an increasing demand for certified plywood from cabinet, furniture and other manufacturers, as well as from do-it-yourself woodworkers. They care about the environment, and they want some independent verification that their wood comes from sustainable forests.

"Thanks to HTRG," he said, "we have a large, dependable supply of certified timber from a trusted business partner with a great stewardship reputation."

To gain certification for the McCloud property, an independent team evaluated the property's management, using guidelines accredited by the Forest Stewardship Council. The four-person team of experts was brought together by SmartWood, an organization that certifies timberlands and forest products manufacturers.

The team spent several days on the property, examining HTRG's forestry, environmental and sustainable harvest practices, as well as the firm's relationships with its surrounding community. What HTRG is doing is unique and exemplary," said Steve Gretzinger,team leader and certification director at The Rogue Institute for Ecology and Economy in Ashland, Ore., a SmartWood affiliate.

The Forest Stewardship Council is an independent, not-for-profit organization that sets standards and accredits SmartWood and other certifiers of "well managed forests" and "chain-of-custody" -- both necessary to get the FSC ecolabel on certified forest products. "Well managed forest" certification applies to a specific timberland such as HTRG's McCloud property. "Chain-of-custody" certification, like that held by Columbia, verifies that a manufactured product is made of wood from an FSC-certified forest.

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