VicForests is appealing a Federal Court ruling in May that found it had unlawfully logged areas of critically endangered Leadbeater’s possum habitat.
The Federal Court decision prompted hardware giant Bunnings to end its timber supply contract with Victoria’s logging agency. Another major customer, Officeworks, has said that by the end of the year all timber for its paper products will come from either FSC-accredited sources or recycled products.
FSC offers two levels of accreditation. Typically, it permits forestry operations to claim membership for two years while they apply.
Because VicForests had made several applications to the council’s auditing process, it was permitted to claim membership for the past decade without achieving the first level of accreditation.
A spokesman for FSC Australia rejected VicForests’ concerns over governance.
“As VicForests well knows, all assessments are carried out by independent auditors,” it said. “The FSC itself plays no role in the outcome of the assessment. If they meet the standard, they get the certification.”
The nine FSC directors do not make decisions on accreditations. FSC encouraged VicForests to continue to seek certification.
In the Federal Court case, Justice Debra Mortimer noted there had been at least two failed FSC applications by VicForests, and many of the policy documents had been in development for several years.
“The lack of progress by VicForests in changing its approach to its forestry operations is consistent with the findings I have made about its lack of attention to … practices that will assist the protection and conservation of threatened species,” Justice Mortimer said.
Wilderness Society spokesperson Amelia Young said VicForests had launched an “extraordinary attack” on the FSC and its independence.
“From blaming the Leadbeater’s possum, to bushfires … to now blaming the FSC system itself,” she said.
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“How long are they going to continue with this game without recognising the problem is their logging?”
There are three smaller native timber operations in NSW, Tasmania and Victoria that have exceeded the entry-level accreditation and attained certification under the FSC’s toughest assessment.
A VicForests spokesperson said it continued to be certified under the Australian standard for sustainable forest management, which is governed by the Responsible Wood certification scheme.
A state government spokesperson said it was implementing the Victorian forestry plan, which would end native timber harvesting in a decade.
Miki Perkins is a senior journalist and Environment Reporter at The Age.
Mike is the climate and energy correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.