FSC-Watch

An independent observer of the Forest Stewartship Council

FSC in Australia: Hancock rips off rainforest dealTags: Australia, Rainforest Alliance SmartWood

Earlier this year, we reported on SmartWood's certification of Hancock Victoria Plantations, Australia. We have been asked to post this update by Anthony Amis, a local expert. Further images and details are available at Hancock Watch.

Hancock Victorian Plantations and Victoria's Department of Sustainability and Environment undermine Community Agreement

In October 2006, an historic Heads of Agreement was signed concerning rainforest protection in Victoria's Strzelecki Ranges. The deal was announced by then State Conservation Minister John Thwaites. In essence, the deal worth $7 million would buy back key rainforest and wet eucalypt forest buffers back from FSC certified Hancock Victorian Plantations (HVP). The reserve would then be managed by the Trust for Nature.

The Reserve known as the 'Cores and Links' Reserve would link the Nationally significant rainforests and wet forest buffers of Gunyah Gunyah to Tarra Bulga National Park, a distance of about 30km. The entire reserve would be about 8500ha, with approximately 2400ha of 30 year old reforested Eucalyptus Regnans forests.

Nineteen months later, the deal is stuck in limbo, with the new Conservation Minister still attempting to negotiate the deal with Hancock. Community representatives are feeling disgusted with the attitude of Hancock who continue to demand unrealistic logging volumes, that exceed by almost 50% the volumes agreed to in the lead up to the signing of the deal in October 2006.

May 2008 Strzelecki Ranges/Jack River catchment: Kelly Track inside Strzelecki Cores and Links Rainforest Reserve. Hancock have started logging this controversial area with no consultation with local community groups, despite signing a Heads of Agreement supposedly protecting this rainforest area in October 2006. 19 months after the signing Hancock are ramping up their logging regimes inside the reserve in order to meet unsustainable contracts to Maryvale Pulp Mill.

Not only has the community had to put up with the antics of Hancock wanting as much profit as possible out of the deal, but the community has also been undermined by head bureaucrats from the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE). DSE have also been actively 'white-anting' the deal, hoping to take control of the supposed Reserve in order to log it themselves in the future. Recent documents revealed under Freedom of Information show that the DSE and Hancock were working together on a deal, before the community was invited into the negotiations. By May 15 2006, HVP and DSE had already worked out their 3 options regarding the deal. The first meetings held between Ministerial staff and the community occurred on May 18, 2006. The FoI also reveals that by August 2006 Hancock's preferred option was to log 400,000m3+ of custodial land including large sections of the Cores and Links.

Under Freedom of Information, DSE has refused to hand over 126 documents relating to this issue, with 12 documents only released in part. This reveals that a massive cover up is occurring. One has to wonder why, when this was supposedly a Reserve set with support of the Conservation Minister, community representatives and FSC-certified HVP.

The major sticking point in negotiations leading up to the deal was the issue of shortfalls. Hancock claimed that because of failure of 1,000 hectares of bluegum plantations elsewhere in Gippsland, they would have a 600,000 cubic metre shortfall in their contract (which runs out in 2027) with the major buyer of pulpwood in the region, Australian Paper (PaperlinX). Hancock further elaborated that by 2016 they would be looking at a shortfall of 100,000m3 per year for six years. After this time, their newly planted Shining Gum plantations would supposedly be able to meet contract volumes.

Hancock then claimed that to make up this shortfall, logging of approximately 1,000ha of the Cores and Links would have to occur. Community negotiators whilst not happy with this outcome realised that this was a key hurdle that probably could not be overcome and reluctantly granted a once only logging of ~900 ha of 30 year old trees, to occur in the cores and links to meet these contractual shortfalls. Any volume that could not be met by logging their 30 year old mountain ash trees inside the Cores and Links, would then by met by logging a small amount of native forest 'outliers', possibly 100 hectares.

During negotiations Hancock's manager let slip that they were working on a logging volume figure of ~300m3/ha. In actuality HVP get between 500-600m3/ha in their hardwood coupes. This deliberate downplaying of volume gave Hancock the excuse, that not only would they need to log about 1,000ha in the cores and links, but they would also need to log several hundred hectares (up to 460,000m3) of native forest in their estate to meet the supposed 600,000m3 figure.

Soon after the deal was announced on October 13, 2006, Hancock's real agenda was highlighted in an email from their Gippsland Manager claiming that Hancock assumed that the Heads of Agreement meant they could log inside the cores and links, with all contractual shortfalls to come from 460,000m3 of native forests/custodial land, which mean the logging of several hundred hectares of company owned native forest! This point was reaffirmed by HVP CEO in April 2007 with the company now claiming a required volume of 835,000m3, (which if you include sawlogs) would mean a blow out to 1.1 million cubic metres, almost 50% above the supposedly agreed 600,000m3. This has nothing to do with anything negotiated during the Heads of Agreement process which occurred between May-Sep 2006.

It's now almost 20 months after the Heads of Agreement was signed. The community has not gained their Reserve, the Minister has now left office and Hancock continue to log what they can, often in breach of conditions set under the Heads of Agreement. DSE have done nothing to implement spot audits and monitoring of volumes coming off coupes are compiled by Hancock with noone in Government overseeing the numbers. The whole process is now a farce, with local media now shedding light on the dubious ethics of Hancock and DSE. Hancock continue to be certified by FSC, despite their undermining manipulation of process. Maryvale Pulp Mill, the source of between 70-80% of the Cores and Links Rainforest Reserve timber logged by Hancock also continues to glow in the light of FSC CoC Certification.

Comments

The $5.5 million Strzelecki deal

The Strzelecki Rainforest 'deal' was announced by Victoria's Environment Minister on May 30. The deal is a complete hatchet job on the Strzelecki Rainforest Reserve. I was personally told on the day of the announcement by the Minister that the 2006 Heads of Agreement signed between Hancock, Australian Paper, the Trust for Nature and Strzelecki Forest Community Group was now redundant. Only problem was that noone even told the community, and Hancock, certified by FSC and the DSE had arranged an alternative deal on May 29 by keeping community groups totally in the dark.

First area to be logged by Hancock under this deal will most likely be College Creek, a site of National Conservation Significance!

Victoria's Environment Minister Gavin Jennings has responded to concerns that the recent Strzelecki Ranges 'cores and links' deal will lead to the fragmentation and destruction of sensitive rainforest.

The Government's announcement was not in line with the original Heads of Agreement signed between the State Government, Hancock Victorian Plantations (HVP), Australian Paper, Trust for Nature and community representatives in October 2006.

Friends of the Gippsland Bush spokesperson, Susie Zent said the new agreement did not honour the original point of the cores and links project, to connect the Gunyah Gunyah rainforest with the Tarra Bulga National Park.

The State Government will pay $5.5 million plus 'in-kind' support to HVP and it says that an extra 15,000 hectares of bushland will be protected, with 1500 hectares subject to a one-off harvest by HVP.

At this stage no detail has been provided to show which areas will be logged and as local groups were excluded from the final negotiations, there are major concerns that even the most sensitive areas are at risk.

Minister Jennings said it was clear two months ago that an agreement between the government, HVP and the environmental groups could not be reached. 'The difficulty was that negotiations had completely broken down between Hancock, the government and the community. 'At that point we had the option of either saying 'it's all too hard' or alternatively embark upon negotiations to keep the agreement alive and to deliver on the government's election commitment.'

What the Minister conveniently forgets in that statement is that he, and his predecessor gave an undertaking that if the community wasn't happy with the deal, it would not proceed. It was never to be 'a deal at any cost'.

Mr Jennings also responded to claims by Ms Zent that the extra 15,000 hectares that would be protected in the new agreement was not necessarily of any significance to the cores and links. He said 'The disappointing thing for any environmentalist around Australia will be to hear other environmentalists say that protecting native forest is not important.'

That is an outrageous statement for any Minister to make and Susie Zent barrelled into him saying 'The protection of native forests outside the Cores and Links Rainforest Reserve is a separate issue and confuses people. 'Enhancing existing parks and reserve systems is critical in maintaining the biological integrity of the region,' she said. An independent scientific review commissioned by the Strzelecki Forest Community Group comprising three shires, the Trust for Nature, West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority and environmental groups, identified the Cores and Links as the key Biodiversity Areas linking Tarra Bulga National Park to Gunyah Gunyah Rainforest Reserve. 'Retaining the integrity and continuity of this rainforest reserve is critical in maintaining the biodiversity values of the Strzelecki bioregion. Fragmentation leads to species extinction on local and regional levels' Ms Zent added.

The announcement by the Government and HVP allows for double the volume of wood and areas of National and state significance to be harvested, compared with the areas protected by the previous Environment Minister under the Heads of Agreement signed by the Strzelecki Forest Community Group the Trust For Nature, HVP and Australian Paper.

'There were very specific areas which were targeted strategically for a one off harvest. This was agreed to by the government and the company on maps attached to the HoA. It did not include the harvesting of College Creek, a site of National significance or Merriman's a site of State significance. Both Core areas of rainforest,' Ms Zent said

'We applaud any moves to protect 20,000 hectares of native forest, however outside the cores and Links, the custodial land varies in size quality and is often isolates. Where is it? What has the government signed off on? How will it be protected? 'Is the minister going to amend the VPC Act which allows for the conversion of all native forests on former VPC Land. Friends of Gippsland Bush are still waiting for 12000 hectares of native reserves to be set aside, which was promised to the people of Gippsland in 1997. 'This is not a good deal for the community or the future managers of the reserve, the Trust for Nature, as they have been excluded from negotiations after 10 years of hard work. 'We cannot support any agreement (nor did minister Thwaites) which contributes to the destruction of the core areas of Rainforest of the Strzeleckis', Ms Zent added.

It will be interesting if people ring the Wilderness Society and Victorian National Parks Association to establish if they still endorse the destruction of Rainforest sites of National and State significance. Their endorsement of this proposal has been used by the Minister and Hancock Victorian Plantations to validate this deal, with HVP actually requesting media to contact groups associated with the press release below. For TWS call Gavan McFadzean, on 0414 754 023 and for VNPA call Matt Ruchel, VNPA, on 0418 357 813


TWS and VNPA groups supported this dodgy deal by sending out the following press release with zero consultation with Friends of Gippsland Bush, Strzelecki Forest Community Group or Friends of the Earth even though FoGB and FoE had been working and monitoring in the Strzeleckis for the since 1996 and were privy to negotiations under the 2006 Heads of Agreement. On the other hand TWS and VNPA had minimal experience in the region, meaning that TWS and VNPA (probably?) had no idea about the technicalities of what they were signing, leaving them wide open for criticism about sending national sites of conservation significance to the Maryvale pulpmill.

Shortly after publicly supporting the Strzelecki deal, the following press release was withdrawn from both the TWS and VNPA websites, never to be seen again. Why?

Friday 30 May 2008 Media Release

Strzelecki Forest Protection Welcomed by Environment Groups

The Wilderness Society (TWS) and Victorian National Parks Association (VNPA) today welcomed the Victorian Government's announcement to protect over 20,000 hectares of native forest in Gippsland's Strzelecki Ranges.

TWS campaigns manager Gavan McFadzean said Victoria's carbon dense forests played a major role in combating climate change.

"This move is a much needed addition to the reserve system in Victoria," Mr McFadzean said. "Without this commitment the remaining native forests in the Strzelecki Ranges were at threat from logging and woodchipping.

"We are pleased to see the Victorian Government maving to protect native forests in the Strzelecki Ranges. We now look forward to the ALP's other major forest election commitment - the real and absolute protection of the last significant stands of old growth forests, our greatest carbon banks, in East Gippsland".

VNPA executive director Matt Ruchel said the government's announcement was "great news for one of Victoria's most important, and most beautiful natural areas".

"The Strzelecki Ranges were known 50 years go as the 'Heartbreak Hills', due to the land impoverishment that followed excessive clearing for forest, but now these remarkable hills can have a bright future," Mr Ruchel said.

"The remaining tall forests of these ranges and the magnificent rainforests they shelter can now be enjoyed by us and our children's children.

"With climate change bring added impacts to all of our natural areas, measures to protect them are more important than ever before".

For interview: Gavan McFadzean, TWS, on 0414 754 023

Matt Ruchel, VNPA on 0418 357 813

FSC Watch: FSC certified company, Hancock, caught on film converting forest to plantations in the Strzezlicki Ranges, Australia
A new video about the Strzezlicki Ranges in Victoria, Australia reveals that FSC is failing to uphold its own standards, allowing destructive logging and conversion of native forest to exotic plantations.

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