Certification for all forests needed, experts argue

Philip Hopkins

LEADING forestry experts have called for the certification of all Australian forests to find out how well our forests, including national parks and reserves, are managed.

Consultant Rob de Fegeley AM and Ric Sinclair, managing director of Forest and Wood Products Australia, said all forest management in Australia, including conservation reserves and small forest holdings, should be independently certified under internationally recognised sustainability criteria.

Currently, only production forests are certified. Mr de Fegeley has had numerous forestry leadership positions, including chair of the Forest Industry Advisory Council, which urged the federal government to push for full certification.

Mr Sinclair, who spoke in a personal capacity and not as FWPA chief, reiterated what he said at a major forestry conference eight years ago.

Mr de Fegely said the FIAC supported the global independent certification bodies, PEFC, whose Australian body is Responsible Wood, and the Forest Stewardship Council, which had already certified production in native forests and plantations.

Mr Sinclair said during the past 30 years, large areas of forest had been set aside in reserves, with no mechanism to assess whether reserves were achieving the desired for conservation outcome.

“FSC and Responsible Wood (previously Australian Forestry Standard) have the potential to certify forest reserve management practices and provide confidence that the reserves are being appropriately managed,” he said.

Mr de Fegely said more was known about production forestry than forest area outside production.

Certification would inform a whole-of-landscape approach that would include water quality and catchment, biodiversity, invasive pests, weed and disease risk, and the potential effects of future climate and fire regimes.

“It would ensure equitable treatment of forests in a tenure-blind manner, and measurement and monitoring of management objectives for all forests,” he said.

“There is a general acceptance that once a national park is declared, then everything is OK, but without some form of monitoring, no-one can tell.

“It is about questioning – are our parks working to protect threatened species?

“Certification would assist as it would then set some key performance indicators for parks to be measured by in the same way that production forests are measured.”

In Victoria, consultant Gary Featherston, who is registered to assess both PEFC and FSC certification, said the state government’s policy was for VicForests to get FSC certification.

“But then they did the analysis, they couldn’t because a lot of the requirements for the standard are provided by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, not VicForests,” he said in a recent interview.

“VicForests is just a glorified harvesting and regeneration contractor.

“They don’t own the land; they only manage it for five years then hand it back.

“To demonstrate sustainable management, you’ve got to have the landowner and the land manager involved.

“That’s the Crown and DELWP.

“They (VicForests) could only then go for Controlled Wood.”

Mr Featherston said VicForests still could not be FSC certified because it was not an integrated body, not responsible for weed control, recreation or native title – “all the other things you have to do; DELWP is responsible for all that”.

Mr Featherston said when VicForests was set up, he urged certification for the whole timber allocation area, but they decided only to get certified for the timber harvesting plan.

“It’s harder to demonstrate holistic management on a smaller area,” he said.

“Ideally, it should be the state of Victoria that gets certified because they are the owner of the land.

“The other irony is that national parks are not certified.”

A Victorian parliamentary inquiry three years ago found that invasive animals were expanding in number and distribution across the state.

Parks Victoria manages a system of more than 100 parks totalling about 3.4 million hectares.

The inquiry said invasive animals – feral cats, foxes, dogs, horses, rabbits, goats and pigs – were damaging the environment, hurting agriculture and reducing liveability.

“In many cases, invasive animals spread from Crown land onto private land, where they can damage property, kill livestock and consume pasture and crops,” the report said.

“Evidence suggests that these problems are becoming worse in many parts of Victoria.”

Victoria’s Legislative Council Environment and Planning Committee is now conducting an inquiry into ecosystem decline in Victoria.

It is looking at the decline of Victoria’s biodiversity and ways to restore habitats and populations of threatened and endangered species.

Submissions have now closed, and the report date has been extended from October 30 until April 30 next year.