VicForests FSC certification bid eyes end to old-growth logging in East Gippsland

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

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VICTORIA’S state-owned forestry company has flagged a potential end to contentious old-growth logging in East Gippsland and improvements to forest management to help it secure top-flight certification.

Nathan Trushell, VicForests general manager, stakeholders and planning, told The Australian that the logging agency accepted it had to make “significant” changes to secure Forest Stewardship Council certification.

A preliminary assessment by auditors for FSC, whose globally recognised certification allows a premium to be attached to wood products, has found deficiencies in VicForests’ operations.

The negative findings relate to even the lowest form of FSC certi­fication, suggesting ­VicForests’ aim of achieving the highest level will require fundamental changes.

In the assessment, auditors conclude VicForests “will likely require significant modifications to the current forest management system to meet the requirements” but could be a candidate for certification if it embraced change.

In particular, the SCS Global Services report warns VicForests “should continue to explore ­alternative harvest prescriptions ... to more effectively demonstrate that its silvicultural and other management practices are appropriate for forest ecosystem function, structure, diversity”.

It warns of the need for more stakeholder consultation and that VicForests’ approach to old-growth logging is an area of possible “major nonconformity” with certification standards.

Mr Trushell said VicForests was undeterred by the assessment and determined to achieve FSC certification.

It accepted this would require new work on alternative harvesting methods and a fresh attempt to engage with green groups about the future of old-growth logging.

Asked if VicForests was flagging a willingness to cease old-growth logging, Mr Trushell said: “We are starting a process. We are happy to consult with stakeholders around the future of old- growth logging. We expect it will be on the table for consideration.”

He likened the consultation process to Tasmania’s forest peace deal, but said that it would be far more transparent.

“We have to understand what people want and understand what the trade-offs are,” he said.

“We are trying to use this (FSC) framework to get outcomes that are independently ­assessed.”

Despite the significant changes needed to achieve FSC certification, VicForests would seek the lower level “controlled wood status” as a step towards the high-end “forest management standard”.

“It (FSC) is part of our corporate plan — no ‘ifs or buts’,” he said.

VicForests estimates it harvests about 330ha of old-growth forests each year, mostly in East Gippsland.

Victorian Forestry Minister Peter Walsh said his government backed the push to secure FSC, but he appeared to reject the need to protect more old-growth forests from logging.

“In East Gippsland ... at least 80 per cent of old-growth forest is permanently protected and ­excluded from timber harvest,” Mr Walsh said.