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Japan Wants World's Largest Woodchip Exporter to Sell FSC Certified Product

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Warren McLaren,
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Timber Procurement


It takes time, sometimes decades, but people power can turn around seemingly unstoppable juggernauts. That seems to be what is happening with regard to Tasmania's old growth forests. For decades environmentalists have expressed their concern that these ancient forests, with all their attendant biodiversity were being irrevocably destroyed to feed a rapacious wood chip industry. That industry happily sold those munched up trees to Japan.

But, as the Tasmanian Mercury recently observed, the Japanese pulp mills only want Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood chips, because, in turn, their customers want to be better environmental stewards. People on Japanese streets may just save what is left of Tassie's majestic forests. Something local activists have struggled to do for many years.

Gunns = Damaged Brand
Gunns Limited, known as the worlds largest woodchip exporter, has, according to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), mounting stockpiles of woodchips and has implemented rolling closures at several of its wood chipping plants. The SMH says perceptions had grown that hardwood chips came from native forests that were not well-managed, and quotes chief executive of Gunns, Greg L'Estrange: ''Certainly the brand has been damaged.''

Forest Stewardship Council Certified Woodchips
Although there are several forest certification schemes around the world, most with varying degrees of problems, the FSC certification is widely held to be the most thorough and ethical. It does not lend it's name to high biodiversity old-growth forests, which is where a goodly portions of Gunns wood chips were coming from, with assistance from the Tasmanian state government.

But now the Tasmania Minister for Resources, David Llewellyn, is saying, after a trip to meet Japanese mill owners that plantation timber for woodchips is definitely on the cards. ''I've informed them that we will actually be seeking, and I've asked Gunns and I've asked Forestry Tasmania to seek, certification under the Forest Stewardship Council,'' he said, according the SMH piece.

Not that this means the end of bitter campaign to save old growth forests in the state. There is always the risk that native hardwood forests will still be destroyed to allow for more softwood plantations.

But Gunns isn't winning too many friends just yet.

Tasmania, for our non-Aussie readers, is that little island hanging off the south eastern corner of mainland Australia, and it has a long history of intense environmental campaigning. It is from such fiery crucible of eco-activism that, entities like the Wilderness Society, and the political party, The Greens, were forged. The same grass roots fervour that fought to save the iconic wildernesses of Lake Pedder and the Franklin River live on today.

World's Fourth Biggest Pulp Mill
One of those stoushes is to do with the proposal by aforementioned agroforestry giant Gunns, to build the world's fourth biggest pulp mill, in the Tamar valley of northern Tasmania.

We won't bore you with the details. (some background on the Bell Bay pulp mill and Gunns Limited can be found on wikipedia. Or try the Tasmanians Against the Pulp mill, or TAP.)

Suffice to say it has been very fractious, to put it mildly. Australia's best known organic gardener has even called the project corrupt, and being arrested whilst airing his thoughts.

Anyhow, Gunns announced in January this month that the highly controversial proposed mill will now changes to sourcing 100% plantation timber as it's feedstock, instead of native forests.

This article, fresh today, from the Tasmanian Times via Crikey pretty much encapsulates much of the recent news of Gunns' problems, including its recent 98% dive in profits, a result of the company now having what the writer describes as "a reputation so toxic it makes tobacco companies look saintly."


Extpub | by Dr. Radut