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Geasphere | Articles : FSC

1. FSC Certification of Industrial Timber Plantations in South Africa

Open Letter to Mr. David Nahwegahbow, FSC Chairperson 2004. The letter poses questions regarding the sustainability of the Industrial Timber Plantation model and the validity of FSC certification



2. Moratorium FSC!

We, the undersigned environmental and social justice organisations, call on the FSC to immediately institute a moratorium on the certification and re-certification of industrial timber plantations, until the findings and recommendations of the present ‘Plantations Review’ have been incorporated into the FSC certification system and are being properly implemented.


3. Letter for the De-Certification of FSC Certified Timber Plantations in South Africa

We the undersigned wish to register our concern over the certification of tree plantations by the FSC, which has granted a green label to monoculture plantations that have proven to be socially and environmentally destructive.



4. FSC Reply – De-Certification Letter

Dear Signatories to the letter of 31 August 2006,
Thank you for your letter of 31 August 2006 demanding de-certification of plantations in South Africa, which have been certified by FSC-accredited Certification Bodies.

We acknowledge your concerns over the certification of tree plantations by the FSC. We have informed FSC Board of Directors and the Working Group on the review of FSC’s approach to certification of plantations accordingly and forwarded for information your letter of 31 August 2006

5. Letter sent to FSC directors and stakeholders – Recommendations for Plantations Certification

Industrial timber plantation monocultures composed of fast growing alien timber species are non sustainable. Successive rotations impoverish the soil nutrient base, which leads to various medium and long term ramifications throughout the integrated environment.


6. FSC Credibility Crisis (NoseWeek #74)

Selling our Forests down the Elands River December, 2005

With the year-end silly season just around the bend, NoseArk have turned
our collective thoughts towards trees. Christmas trees, as you might
have guessed.

1. FSC Certification of Industrial Timber Plantations in South Africa

Dear Mr. David Nahwegahbow

I look to you for guidance and advice. I represent a organization opposed to the further expansion of Industrial Timber Plantations (ITP’s)in Southern Africa and elsewhere. We firmly believe that ITP’s comes at a massive cost to the natural and social environment, and that these costs have not been quantified.

In South Africa, timber plantations are established in the rare ‘high rainfall’ areas, primarily grassland. These areas are some of the
most floristically diverse areas of our country. In South Africa, millions of hectares of primary grassland, savannah grassland and
pockets of indigenous forests have disappeared beneath this sea of alien monoculture.

South Africa’s most threatened bird species - Rudd’s Lark - has been most severely affected by destruction of its high rainfall grassland
habitat. South Africa’s most threatened antelope species, the Oribi can also trace its demise to loss of same grassland habitat.
Industrial Timber Plantations are of fast growing, high yielding, evergreen species, and consume vast quantities of the scarce water
resource. Many springs have become bone dry since whole catchments had been planted to high impact ITP’s. There are reports that with ready access to water, a mature eucalyptus tree can use upwards of 500 liters of water daily. Also reports that in some areas where ITP’s have been established, the water table has dropped as much as 36 meters.
It is sad to see how we people lose touch with the reality of our relationship with mother earth. We substitute her bounty with row
upon row of monotony, smothering the life-force in the soils. As we steal from this soil, we must remember that in truth – money does not make the world go round.

On April 23, 2004 I sent a letter to the FSC board of directors and others who attended a FSC stakeholders meeting in Sabie, South
Africa. Unfortunately, there has been no attempt from any of the FSC representatives to address our concerns. I copy this (slightly
revised) letter below. I ask that you consider the statements and inform as to if our concerns are legitimate, and if FSC could be the
vehicle to instigate the drastic changes needed to move towards‘sustainably’ managed plantations.

Philip Owen - GEASPHERE

To the Members of the FSC Board and Others

After your recent visit to South Africa and having viewed the industrial timber plantations you must be wondering how a million
hectares of these alien plantations can possibly carry the FSC label, and how 80% of South Africa’s high impact timber industry could have been certified within such a short period of time. By certifying industrial timber plantations the FSC is in effect misleading consumers who choose to buy product produced in an environmentally sound manner. I have no doubt that FSC contributes to better forest management and the protection of forest systems world wide, but certifying South African Industrial Timber Plantations with a ‘green label’ is irresponsible and undermines your credibility. It is not responsible to promote the protection of one biome (indigenous forests) even when this sometimes occurs at the expense of others, especially grassland. Is one more important than the other?
The true costs associated with industrial timber plantations, including loss of biodiversity resources and services provided by
grassland (such as flood prevention and carbon sequestration) have never been quantified, so we are unable to make informed decisions about the extent to which the industry can be called ‘responsible’. I support Wally Menne (TimberWatch Coalition) when he writes - “there is a need to establish the legitimacy of existing certifications in South Africa, and to urgently undertake an immediate and complete review and reassessment of such certified plantations”.

The FSC should:

- Suspend certification issued to industrial plantations until such
time as a national FSC initiative has developed criteria and
standards applicable to local conditions which promote the protection
of grassland and other natural / semi-natural areas.

- Incorporate certification standards applicable to Industrial Timber Plantations, designed to facilitate a change towards organic,
diversity-based, agro-forestry practices in an effort to maximize soil micro-life.
- Not consider certifying any mono culture plantations established post 1994 in any natural area, so as to ensure the FSC does not
contribute to the destruction of other more threatened - biomes, such as grassland.

- Follow through on your promise to review principle 10 It is clear that FSC Principle 10 does not contribute much to the
principle of ‘sustainability’ - as surely it should. In example, diversity of species is encouraged, but it would only contribute to
increased biological activity if the diversity is encouraged WHITHIN plantation compartments. Principle 10 in fact, endorses the
destructive and unsustainable industrial timber plantation model, and need to be revised urgently. The proposed notion of stretching FSC certification even further, beyond industrial timber plantations to certify savanna game reserves is to say the least, ludicrous. It begs the question whether the FSC label has become first and foremost, a commodity to be sold to anyone willing to pay for it?
Certification can contribute towards better plantation management, most notably aiding the local regulating authorities in executing
their mandate. However, it would appear from viewing the unsatisfactory impacts that still exist on the ground in many or most of the plantations that bear the FSC label, that the standard is not rigorous enough and that there are significant shortcomings with it. Invasive alien plant control is a critical issue within the ‘forestry’ sector. How has the invasive alien plant situation in FSC certified timber plantations changed since certification? Is weed control measures functional, (are there more weeds? or less weeds?) and do you have statistical data to provide proof? Please supply me with relevant data, if available to yourselves. By certifying Industrial Timber Plantations as responsible forests, the FSC is undermining the work done by concerned individuals, communities and environmental organizations such as the World Rainforest Movement, FASE, TimberWatch Coalition, GEASPHERE and others.

Please circulate this letter to other members of the FSC board.
I look forward to your response.

Philip Owen



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2. Moratorium FSC!

We, the undersigned environmental and social justice organisations, call on the FSC to immediately institute a moratorium on the certification and re-certification of industrial timber plantations, until the findings and recommendations of the present ‘Plantations Review’ have been incorporated into the FSC certification system and are being properly implemented.

Industrial timber plantations established as large scale chemical and mechanical intensively managed monocultures, have a wide range of negative environmental and social impacts that have not yet been adequately assessed and comprehensively quantified, and that cannot therefore be meaningfully mitigated against.

The problems caused by industrial timber plantations are often more acute in the south, where trees grow fast and high yielding alien plantations have rotation cycles as short as seven years. These short rotations result in abnormally high depletion of soil nutrients, leading to long term soil impoverishment, together with accelerated top-soil losses.

In South Africa, more than 1 million hectares of industrial timber plantations have been certified by the FSC and timber companies use the FSC label to promote their products as ‘environmentally friendly’. Yet these plantations have been responsible for major impacts on the scarce local water resource, lowering the groundwater table and drying out countless wetlands, fountains and streams - which severely limit land use options and thereby jeopardise rural people's livelihoods. All industrial timber plantations in South Africa have been established in areas with the highest rainfall and deepest soils, replacing valuable grasslands, and disrupting or displacing the traditional communities that occupied those areas.

Such problems are not confined to the south. In Ireland, the FSC has certified extensive plantations comprising 90% exotic species, mainly Sitka Spruce from North America - with apparent disregard for ecological impacts and nature conservation principles.

The negative impacts associated with timber plantations (and FSC certification thereof) have come increasingly under the spotlight during the past decade. As early as 2001 the FSC position on plantations was listed as an issue which needed clarification. In May, 2002 Tim Synott produced an FSC Plantation Policy Draft, which acknowledged that "Disputes have arisen around plantation certification, and some of the disagreements and confusion has been caused by different interpretations of the FSC Principles and Criteria and other policies."
At the FSC general assembly in November, 2002, FSC members passed a motion which stated that "The current version of the FSC Plantation Policy Draft (30 May 2002) is not clear enough and needs improvement." The motion continued to state that FSC should produce a revised plantation policy "after a broad consultation with the membership" to give "concrete guidance on the interpretation of P10 [principle 10]". This was to have taken place within 18 months, i.e. by May 2004.
In September 2004 the FSC launched the present plantations review in Bonn.

Please provide full details of the area of Industrial plantations that has been certified since November 2002 when the organisation’s membership passed a motion which clearly stated that the FSC policy on plantations needed improvement.

There is growing and justified opposition to the spread of industrial timber plantations world-wide, and we cannot endorse continued ongoing FSC certification of industrial timber plantations using the current flawed principles and criteria. Therefore, the FSC board of directors must suspend certification of industrial timber plantations until the review process has been finalised and the broadly approved findings and recommendations incorporated. It is essential that the social and environmental concerns of the non-industry stakeholders are fully addressed in this process. Continuing to certify industrial timber plantations while the Review is in progress undermines the legitimacy of the review and the reputation of the FSC


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3. Letter for the De-Certification of FSC Certified Timber Plantations in South Africa

(Sent to the FSC Board of Directors and other FSC stakeholders)
31 August 2006

We the undersigned wish to register our concern over the certification of tree plantations by the FSC, which has granted a green label to monoculture plantations that have proven to be socially and environmentally destructive.
We are aware that the FSC is carrying out a review of its plantation certification policy, and it is our hope that the result of this process will be an end to the certification of these types of plantations by the FSC in the future.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that the FSC has already certified large areas of monoculture tree plantations in South Africa, and we believe that their certification should be re-assessed as part of the current review process in order to determine whether they deserve to keep the FSC label.
There are well-documented cases of plantations that never should have received this label and clearly merit de-certification.
As proof that the current review process is genuinely aimed at a profound change in plantation policy, environmental and community based organizations world wide are calling for the immediate de-certification of industrial timber plantations that blatantly violate the FSCs mission.
We therefore demand the immediate de-certification of all industrial timber plantations in South Africa which have been inappropriately certified by the FSC.
There are 24 FSC certificates in South Africa, and a total area of 1.665.418 ha certified. Some of the largest certified companies include Global Forest Products, Komatiland Forests, Mondi, NCT Forestry and Sappi Forests. For a complete list visit www.fsc.org  


Philip Owen
GeaSphere S,A,

Glen Ashton
Ekogaia Foundation
Cape Town, S.A.

Patrick Bond
 Professor, University of KwaZulu-Natal School of Development Studies  and Director, Centre for Civil Society
Durban, S.A.
David Hallowes
Grahamstown, SA.

Francis Darvell
Five Assegais Country Estate
Machadodorp, S.A.

Wally Menne
TimberWatch Coalition
Durban, S.A.

Desmond D’Sa
SDCEA Chairperson
Durban, S.A.

Prof. A.E. van Wyk
Department of Botany
University of Pretoria, S.A.

George Dor
Jubilee S.A.

Eben Cilliers
Nelspruit, S.A.

Dr Bob de Laborde
Hilton, S.A.

Nicole Hemphill
Nelspruit, S.A.

Bobby Peek
Pietermaritzburg, S.A.

Vera Ribeiro
GeaSphere Mozambique
Maputo, Mozambique

Sandile Ndawonde
Green Network
PieterMaritzburg, S.A.

Owen Wiggins
Nelspruit, SA

David Fig
Johannesburg, S.A.

Liane Greeff
Environmental Monitoring Group
Cape Town, S.A.

Fred Daniel
Nkomazi Wilderness
Badplaas, S.A.

Bryan Ashe
Earthlife Africa eThekwini
Durban, S.A.

Jean Moore
Durban, South Africa

Cecil Moore
WESSA Durban Branch
Durban, RSA

Christina Potgieter
NU Herbarium, University of KwaZulu-Natal,
Pietermaritzburg, S.A.
Peter Hitchins
Meerensee, S.A.

Harald Witt (PhD)
University of KwaZulu-Natal
Durban, S.A.

Stephan Schoeman
Nelspruit, S.A.

Rose Williams
Durban, S.A.

John Blessing Karumbidza
Timberwatch Coalition

Peter Hitchins
Meerensee, S.A.

Leigh Voight
Schagen, S.A.

Philip and Laura-ann Keates
Kilmorna Manor
Schoemanskloof, S.A.

Muzi Mdamba
Empangeni, S.A.

Anabela Lemos
Director, JA! Justica Ambiental
Maputo, Mozambique

Patrick Dowling
Cape Town, S.A.

Prof Ben C W van der Waal
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Venda, Thohoyandou, S.A.

Helen Duigan
Rhenosterspruit Conservancy
Gauteng, S.A.

Parkmore, S.A


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4.Reply from FSC to De-Certification Letter

Philip Owen,
South Africa
13 October 2006

Dear Mr. Owen,

Dear Signatories to the letter of 31 August 2006,
Thank you for your letter of 31 August 2006 demanding de-certification of plantations in South Africa, which have been certified by FSC-accredited Certification Bodies.

We acknowledge your concerns over the certification of tree plantations by the FSC. We have informed FSC Board of Directors and the Working Group on the review of FSC’s approach to certification of plantations accordingly and forwarded for information your letter of 31 August 2006.

With the broad support of our members and constituents the FSC developed the Principles & Criteria for responsible forest management, including plantations. Compliance with the Principles & Criteria means a plantation would be certifiable. FSC has also developed procedures to be followed by accredited certification bodies for the certification of forest and plantation management operations. To suspend or withdraw FSC certificates from operations which do not comply with the FSC Principles & Criteria Certification Bodies have to follow these same procedures. The FSC Board of Directors does not have the mandate or the power to cancel a certificate outright, or de-certify the plantations that you have referred to in your letter – it must follow due process.
We encourage you to document clearly your specific concerns on the FSC certified plantations and submit them to the company, the Certification Body and to the FSC Accreditation Program. Please clearly state the rationale for your concerns and areas of non-compliance with the FSC Principles & Criteria, and what you believe the level of performance should be to meet or exceed the requirements of the FSC Principles & Criteria. Further, as per FSC procedures, we must inform you that if you do not receive satisfaction from the plantation manager or the Certification Body, then you have the right to initiate a dispute resolution process with the FSC.

Over the past years FSC has audited the performance of various Certification Bodies at certified plantation operations in different countries around the world and issued corresponding corrections to the Certification Bodies. We will include your concerns in planning our schedule of audits of Certification Bodies over the coming year. We will keep you updated on any audit involving certified plantations in your country and would like to encourage you to assist us with specific information related to your concerns in these audits.

In a more general context, allow me to point out, that the FSC General Assembly of members at their meetings in year 2002 in Oaxaca, Mexico and in year 2005 in Manaus, Brazil discussed at length the certification of plantations under the FSC Principles & Criteria. In 2004 following a 2002 General Assembly motion, the FSC convened a working group with balanced representation of social, environmental and economic stakeholders from the Global South and Global North to lead the review of the FSC’s approach to certification of plantations. This working group has since encouraged and sought comment and input from as many stakeholders as possible. It held various meetings around the world and concluded its work with a final meeting on 6 - 8 September 2006 at the FSC International Center. The Working Group will now draft its final report, which we expect to publish for 2 months consultation in early November 2006. We would like to invite you to participate in the consultation process, review the report by the working group and comment on their respective recommendations.

The engagement of the FSC membership and the sincerity, transparency and balance with which the working group conducted the review of FSC’s approach to certification of plantations is the best possible proof that the concerns of stakeholders around the world are taken most serious and that FSC is fully committed to finding the best possible approach on this controversial issue.
Since your letter of 31 August 2006 did not include email addresses of the signatories, I would like to ask you to kindly ensure that the letter is distributed to all signatories.

Please do not hesitate to contact us at any time for further information and clarification.
Heiko Liedeker
Executive Director


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5. Letter sent to FSC directors and stakeholders – explaining in brief the problem with ITP’s  and including recommendations

21 June, 2006

Hi Grant and others
Industrial timber plantation monocultures composed of fast growing alien timber species are non sustainable. Successive rotations impoverish the soil nutrient base, which leads to various medium and long term ramifications throughout the integrated environment.
The industrial timber plantation industry should recognize this sustainability problem and take immediate action to mitigate the long term impacts. This would require a major change away from the mono-culture model towards a more sustainable model based upon diversity at all levels.  
Geasphere would support FSC certification of timber plantations if they:
Diversify within plantation compartments
Grow Indigenous
Grow Organic
Incorporate Animals
Establish / maintain / Manage conservation corridors.
Adhere to policy of NO transformation of natural areas.

Industrial monocultures lead to a loss of biological activity in the soils, nutrient impoverishment, soil erosion and long term desertification.
It is vital that the timber industry respond to this threat by diversifying - within compartments. Different timber species should be planted at different ages in order to sustain harvesting.
In an effort to maximize diversity full use should be made of the ‘understory’, which could be used for growing food crops, herbs, cut flowers etc.

Grow Indigenous
The timber industry should grow indigenous, slow-growing hardwoods for a long term, high value product.
Indigenous trees have less impact on the scarce water resource, their roots do not penetrate so deeply and many are deciduous, thus do not use much water during the dry winter months.

Grow Organic:
Successive rotations of any mono-crop lead to losses of certain key elements such as Nitrogen, potassium and phosphor. To increase yield the use of chemical fertilizers is necessitated by monoculture agriculture, which leads to water / soil pollution and more mineral / trace mineral imbalances. In addition to using chemical fertilizers, management of monocultures requires chemical herbicides to control other plant growth. Herbicides used includes glyphosphate, of which long term impacts are not yet well understood.
The timber industry should grow organic, using proven composting techniques to enhance fertility. Perma-culture and bio-dynamic agriculture models should be emulated and biological control methods utilized to eliminate the use of pesticides. 
Incorporate Animals

In every healthy environment there should be a symbiotic relationship between the animal and plant component. Animal matter (such as manure) is a vital part of any soil food web.

The industry should reintroduce animals such as mules and horses for timber extraction. Horses and mules have been used successfully for centuries; they can reach difficult to access areas and will alleviate soil compaction problems and require hands on management.

A forester should strive to maximize a diverse animal component within “forest management units’. Ultimately, if baboon numbers become a management problem, more leopards should be introduced.
Establish, maintain and manage conservation corridors.

In an effort to conserve local vegetation types in timber affected areas, a network of ‘conservation corridors’ should be established and managed.. Such conservation corridors will allow for improved gene transfer between indigenous plants and animals in timber affected areas, allowing these species a better chance of survival.

Adhere to policy of NO more transformation of natural areas; Modern man has transformed the environment to such an extent that we are on the verge of a global system collapse. Human induced global warming is leading to altered and more severe weather phenomena, such as droughts and floods, and more species are sliding onto the red data list and closer to extinction.
It is important that any area with the natural vegetation intact / or any disturbed area which retains the potential to naturally rehabilitate should not be transformed by external pressure, but be left so that local people (well informed and with access to all relevant information) can decide how best to utilize their lands.

In addition to the above, such a diversified forest industry should support and promote local (small and medium) value adding components, i.e. sawmilling, furniture production, honey farming, organic food processing, eco-tourism operations etc. This would stimulate a local economy, create more opportunities and lead to less dependency and more decentralization.

Changes such as described above could be phased in over two or three decades, with industry continually striving to minimize the mono-culture component. It is clear that implementing such changes would imply that the entire model of western consumerism would have to change - so it presents a major challenge to all of us.

Philip Owen

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6. FSC Credibility Crisis?

From ‘noseweek’ #74
December, 2005

Selling our Forests down the Elands River

With the year-end silly season just around the bend, NoseArk have turned our collective thoughts towards trees. Christmas trees, as you might have guessed.

A long-lost hippy connection of ours, last seen farming dirt under his toenails in the Eastern Cape, once told us that the reason pine trees came to be associated with Christmas was because, in northern Europe, they shelter hallucinogenic mushrooms. Pre-Christian Europeans used to gather around these trees and used the sacred fungi to float fantastically through their low-flying pagan festivals (beats another dull Boxing Day with dreadful aunt Annie and her smelly husband Harold, if you ask us).

Because the trees were associated with the trippy toadstools, they became sacred too.

After the heathens were converted, most of them stopped eating mushrooms, but carried on associating pines with sacred stuff. That’s
why so many of us still like a dead alien tree with red-and-white mushroom decorations in the corner of the living room to put our
prezzies under.

We can get freshly-decapitated non native pine trees in South Africa with relative ease because they grow rather well here, and the past centaury or so has seen about 1.5 million hectares of South Africa planted with pines and other alien species. Massive plantations are now found in many provinces and their scale has allowed local tree growers
and processors like Sappi and Mondi to become huge trans-national corporations, owning trees and pulp mills all over the globe.
Although miles and miles of pine monoculture can be visually appealing to those of us with a more northern hemisphere way of looking at things, they can also be seriously bad news environmentally. Exotic tree plantations have earned the name ‘green death’ from eco-activists, who point out that they displace native species, very few of which can live
in plantations.

The only reptile species thought to have become extinct in South Africa in the past three centuries, a lizard called Eastwood’s Long-tailed Seps, last seen in 1913, had its own habitat covered by pine plantations. Plantations in the eastern parts of South Africa are
particularly notorious for consuming grassland, now considered our most threatened biome due to 60% (ACTUALLY 80%) of its area being lost. All five of our critically endangered bird species are grassland or wetland species. Four of them, including the charismatic Blue Swallow, have lost considerable living space to exotic afforestation in recent decades. Industrial plantations also consume vast amounts of water, and have been blamed for drying up wetlands and contributing significantly to many of the once – perennial rivers in the Kruger National Park becoming seasonal streams, dry for much of the year. In many places pines have jumped plantation fences and have become increasingly invasive, smothering the countryside in a dark green suffocating blanket. And we haven’t even got to the pulp mills yet. Sappi got a rude PR shock in 1989 when an effluent spill from the giant Ngodwana Mill killed virtually all aquatic life in the Elands River for miles downstream. They’ve since spent a lot of time trumpeting their green credentials, and are especially proud of their role in the development of an industry-standard oxygen pulp bleaching process, which eliminates the use of toxic chlorine in that part of the paper making process. What they don’t bleat about quite so loudly is that, until a few months ago, they used an old-style chlorine bleaching unit on their Stanger mill, just upstream from the Mvoti River estuary, famous migratory bird stopover. The estuary was closed to fishing and swimming this year owing to a Sappi survey which found levels of chlorinated organic pollutants
‘above acceptable levels’ in the estuary. Although they made much of their subsequent decision to close the chlorine bleaching unit, they haven’t made their actual tests results public, despite media requests. Bearing in mind that chlorinated organic pollutants include some of the most toxic chemicals around, its hardly surprising that they wouldn’t want us to know exactly what they found.

It thus came as a pleasant surprise to NoseArk, while shopping for paper, to see the logo of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) on a box of Sappi’s Typek A4. The presence of the logo persuaded us to buy the paper, even though it was more expensive than another brand – also made by Sappi – that didn’t carry the FSC mark. On arriving back at the office, we found a box of Mondi Rotatrim also sporting the FSC logo. The FSC (based in Bonn, Germany) is a body that certifies products like timber and paper, via local agents, as coming from well managed forests. It is a laudable initiative to keep products from illegal clearcutting out of the market, and make sure that the forests are managed to minimize their environmental and social costs. The idea is that eco-friendly types (like you, dear reader) should only buy wood and paper with the FSC logo on it, to force producers to clean up their acts.

NoseArk finds it hard to consider industrial monocultures of alien trees to be ‘forests’, but a quick web trip to www.fsc.org reveals that they do in fact certify plantation products as well as those that come from (real) forests. The organization has a set of 10 ‘principles and
criteria of forest stewardship’ that form the basis of their management standards. Principles 1 – 9 deal with things like the environmental and social impacts of forests – product extraction. Principle 10 allows plantations to be FSC certified, and lays out in general terms how they need to be planted and managed to qualify.

The nine criteria under Principle 10 go into more detail on how this should be done, and, ecologically speaking, there are a lot of good
words in there, including stuff on the conservation of biodiversity and maintenance of ecological functionality. Criteria 10.6 , for example, says the choice of tree used in a plantation “shall not result in long term soil degradation or adverse impacts on water quality (or) quantity”.

Having read the criteria, NoseArk wondered how on earth any local pine plantation got OK’d by the FSC. The devil is, as usual, in the fine print, and how it is read.

It turns out that the FSC is so forest-centric, that despite its fine words about conserving biodiversity, they will only disallow FSC
certification to plantations whose construction has resulted in the destruction of natural forests since 1994.

(Plantations that destroyed natural forests before that date can be certified.) However, plantations that destroy other habitat types, like
grassland, savannah, etc. are OK as far as the FSC is concerned. Also, it is up to the local certifying agent to interpret the FSC’s
principles and criteria for local conditions. SGS Qualifor, the leading certification agent in South Africa, provides a 71 – page outline – on the internet – of their Forest Management Standard, against which applicants for FSC certification are assessed. SGS Qualifor provides for each criterion a list of ‘indicators’ or norms to achieve, and‘verifiers’, which are examples of the specific things that inspectors need to look for or confirm in order to ensure compliance with FSC standards.

Under the above mentioned FSC criterion 10.6 which forbids long term impacts on water quantity, we found no indicators or verifiers against which one would be able to determine reductions on runoff or stream flow. Elsewhere in the qualifor Standard there is brief mention of the fact that plantations should have a permit from the department of Water Affairs and Forestry – an implicit admission that plantations generally do reduce stream flow.

The FSC logo and associated labelling on the box of Sappi Typek we bought was also confusing. On the outside of the box, next to the logo, are the words ‘Mixed Sources’. We presume it meant that the paper was made from a number of different sources, but non the less legit ones. Once we opened the box, however, a label on each ream of paper, told us that only a ‘minimum of 30%’ came from FSC certified sources. Where did the rest come from?

According to a FSC local certification agent, it could have come from anywhere – pristine forest in Latvia or the Amazon, for example. Even if all a companies plantations are FSC certified, their pulp mills often get pulp from outside sources. The logo on the box is no indication of who grew the trees. This means that, today, you can buy a box of paper with a FSC “green” label that is probably made of 30% water-sucking, grassland – destroying, rare species – threatening local plantation stock and 70% Lord-knows-where-from wood.
Some local eco-activists formally asked the FSC to stop certifying plantations – distinct from natural forests – until a review of
principle 10, already under way, is complete. The FSC have told them (very politely) that it will carry on certifying plantations. Why? Money. Or, as the FSC euphemistically puts it, because it feels that a moratorium on plantation certification won’t be supported by the majority of its membership. Many of the members, surprise surprise, are from the timber industry.

The timber industry needs to be involved in the FSC for it to succeed. What it doesn’t need is for the timber industry to run it. It is one of
the few organizations that can turn the market away from dodgy forest products, but its reputation is going down the Elands river , along with the slow-flowing effluent from the Ngodwana mill.

Happy Christmas and a Merry New Year to you all!


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