Australian Bluegum Plantations Admits Koala Mistreatment
October 29, 2013
Here is some damning analysis and reporting by the Rainforest Alliance and the Rainforest Stewardship Council.
Australia’s biggest wood-chipping company admits koala mistreatment. WARNING: this report contains disturbing images.
Australian Broadcasting CorporationBroadcast: 28/10/2013Reporter: Greg Hoy
In July, 7.30 reported on thousands of koala facing injury or death as gum plantations were logged, and now the company involved has responded to an investigation and sanctions by preparing to publicly apologise for harming koalas.
LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: In July, 7.30 had a story about thousands of koalas facing injury or death due to the logging of vast tracts of bluegum timber in south eastern Australia.
The report named the country’s largest woodchip exporter, Australian Bluegum Plantations. The company ridiculed the suggestion that koalas were under threat, but since then, it’s being slammed in an environment audit and forced into a public admission that it has injured and killed koalas.
Greg Hoy reports, and a warning this story contains some disturbing images.
GREG HOY, REPORTER: After the logging machines have left, this is what’s left behind.
This lucky koalas survived, but their habitat is gone. Confused, expose and stressed, their health is deteriorating.
Wildlife carers are keen to catch them to check for injuries, nurse them back to full strength and try to relocate them.
It’s a sadly familiar story across the vast bluegum plantations of south west Victoria and South Australia.
TRACEY WILSON, WILDLIFE CARER: I think we’re facing a crisis with these guys.
Broken limbs, impact wounds, broken backs, severed arm. Dead mothers with joeys that are still alive, trying to survive.
It’s a huge issue.
GREG HOY: When 7.30 exposed this issue in July, we noted many companies were involved, but singled out the biggest: Australian Bluegum Plantations. Each year ABP ships 2 two million tonnes of bluegum woodchip to pulp and paper manufacturers in Japan and China.
(to Tracey Wilson)
Have you had animals from Australian Bluegum Plantations?
TRACEY WILSON: Yes. That one out in the tree; It’s from Australian Bluegum Plantations.
GREG HOY: And, do they know that you’ve had animals from Australian Bluegum Plantations?
TRACEY WILSON: Uh-huh.
GREG HOY: They know?
TRACEY WILSON: Yes.
GREG HOY: For this poor fellow, who’s missing both an arm and a leg, it was obviously a slow and painful end. But, the lingering problem for the Forest Stewardship Council, and for the environmental auditor for this company, The Rainforest Alliance, is that FSC certification is meant to pledge that companies like Australian Bluegum Plantations will guarantee that all wildlife is vigorously protected.
Following our report in July, Australian Bluegum Plantations issued a blanket denial through the Forest Stewardship Council.
EXCERPT FROM FSC VIDEO: When you choose an FSC product you are contributing to a positive change in the world.
GREG HOY: The chairman of the Forest Stewardship Council at the time was the chief executive of Australian Bluegum Plantations, Tony Price.
TONY PRICE, AUSTRALIAN BLUEGUM PLANTATIONS: At that time, our harvesting operations and the procedures we were operating under, from our perspective, we felt we were delivering the outcomes we were looking for and that is to avoid harming koalas.
GREG HOY: As complaints against his company flooded in following our report, international environmental auditors, the Rainbow Alliance, launched an investigation into ABP and 7.30′s claims.
ANITA NEVILLE, RAINFOREST ALLIANCE AUDITORS: We felt the program’s essence was serious enough and the feedback that we got from various stakeholders was serious enough that it warranted that immediate field investigation.
GREG HOY: The investigation’s report has now been published; it’s damning of Australian Bluegum Plantations.
(Excerpt from Rainforest Alliance report)
“Given the numbers of koalas that continue to be injured, killed or found in poor health (suffering from pneumonia due to exposure) APB is not taking sufficient steps to recognise the extent of the issue and address the issue.”
ANITA NEVILLE: Across six areas, the Australian Bluegum Plantations were found to have what we call major non-conformances. So these are significant failures in their management systems related specifically to how they manage wildlife on their operations.
GREG HOY: Australian Bluegum Plantations’s FSC certification has been suspended. It’s a significant blow.
ANITA NEVILLE: Really FSC certification is almost becoming an essential in the forestry industry in order to do business.
GREG HOY: The company’s logging operations in vast koala habitats across south eastern Australia have also been suspended.
(to Tony Price)
Do you feel any guilt that it’s taken this long, that it’s taken for you to be forced to take action? Do you feel any guilt about the numbers of koalas that have been injured or killed in that time?
TONY PRICE: If I could just take you back to …
GREG HOY: It’s a simple question, though. Do you feel any guilt about the…
TONY PRICE: Of course I do; we’re deeply sorry for the fact that koalas have been harmed on our property. Deeply sorry.We’re very, very keen to make sure that, going forward, we do everything we possibly can as a business to avoid harming koalas.
GREG HOY: Last year, ABP was named the Forest Certification Council’s Australian Forest Manager of the Year.
(to Tony Price)
So, have you written to complained to those who complained to the Forest Certification Council and to your company about the sort of problems that were problems that were presented in our program?
TONY PRICE: We responded to a number of emails that we had at the time.
GREG HOY: Yes, denying any involvement. Have you written to those people since to correct the record?
TONY PRICE: No, I haven’t.
GREG HOY: Should you?
TONY PRICE: I believe I should.
GREG HOY: Though he’s resigned as chairman, inexplicably, Tony Price remains a director on the FSC board.
(to Tony Price)
Having been found guilty of such serious breaches, do you not think it would be fair to step down as one of the leaders of the Forest Stewardship Council?
TONY PRICE: I come back to the point. We are focused on addressing some findings in an audit that we’ve just had, and our intention would be to get those things closed out, those corrective actions closed out, get them signed off by the auditor and then have our certification reinstated.
GREG HOY: As auditors are paid by the forestry companies they inspect, wildlife carers fear penalties won’t be either tough enough or imposed frequently enough to deter ongoing mistreatment of koalas, and they’ll be left trying to clean up the mess.
Summary of Rainforest Alliance Actions Related to Alleged Impacts on Koalas in Southwest Victoria Blue Gum Plantations
Since late July 2013 the Rainforest Alliance, a certification body accredited to audit against the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards for responsible forest management, has been conducting investigative audits into allegations that harvesting practices in blue gum plantations in southwest Victoria have harmed koalas living in those plantations. The investigative audits focused on two FSC-certified plantations owned by Australian Blue Gum Plantations (ABP) and Green Triangle Plantation Forest Company of Australia Pty Ltd (GPFL).
As a result of these audits, the Rainforest Alliance has found certain non-conformances with the FSC standards, with the following outcomes for each company:
Green Triangle Plantation Forest Company of Australia Pty Ltd (GPFL) has been issued two minor non-conformances. One non-conformance is related to failing to have assigned a staff member with the responsibility for koala management procedures. The other non-conformance was issued because GPFL’s stakeholder database did not include any wildlife carers or NGOs with a specific interest in wildlife and koalas (e.g., Wildlife Victoria, Australian Koala Foundation) or details of relevant Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI) staff.
The company has until their next annual audit to address these non-conformances. The next annual audit will be scheduled in early 2014 with the actual audit to take place before the end of March 2014.
In allowing GPFL this time to correct its non-conformances the audit team gave significant weight to the fact that in August the company ceased wood sales and therefore harvesting operations on its lands until an appropriate protocol could be established that would minimise potential risk to koalas. In addition, during harvesting on the GPFL-owned Draffen Plantation, the pulpwood purchaser responsible for that harvest proactively worked with DEPI, Wildlife Victoria and other experts to try and minimise the impact on koalas.
In spite of those efforts, the fact that the harvest resulted in the need for some 20 koalas being removed from the plantation has led experts to conclude that protocols previously considered “best practice” in terms of managing koalas in active harvest zones were actually inadequate when the animal’s population is as sizeable as it is on many blue gum plantations in southwest Victoria.
Australian Blue Gum Plantations (ABP) has been issued six major non-conformances, which requires the suspension of their FSC certificate. Per FSC rules, suspension is required when five or more major non-conformances are found. The suspension will take affect 30 days from the date ABP received the audit team’s final report to provide sufficient time for ABP to cease using all FSC trademarks and references and make alternate sales arrangements. The final report was issued on October 17, 2013.
The six non-conformances relate to ABP’s failure to halt harvesting in high koala population areas; inadequacies in ABP’s koala management procedures and their application by contractors; inadequate training for staff and contractors in the identification, assessment and handling of koalas on harvest sites; and failure to properly monitor impacts on koalas and to use the results of monitoring to make appropriate adjustments to forestry operations.
The Rainforest Alliance has received materials from ABP that demonstrate changes to its koala management procedures and new training programmes. These developments are welcome, but field verification would be necessary before ABP’s suspension could be lifted. ABP may request that a verification audit be conducted to assess whether measures taken since the report was issued have been adequate to resolve the major non-conformances.
The Rainforest Alliance takes seriously allegations of non-conformance with the FSC standards and believes the immediate investigation of this issue and resulting outcomes for each company demonstrate the value of FSC certification in providing confidence to the market that wood products bearing the FSC tickmark come from responsibly managed sources.
AUSTRALIAN BLUGUM PLANTATIONS KOALA MANAGEMENT PROGRAM
Koala Management Update from Tony Price, Managing Director Australian Bluegum Plantations
As part of ABP’s koala management program, we have had reports of injuries and deaths to koalas on our plantations in south eastern Victoria, through animal carers and our own internal reporting systems. Accordingly ABP has suspended harvesting operations in areas known to have high koala populations until we can be sure our policies and procedures to protect koalas are being properly implemented. ABP is fully committed to the hardwood plantation industry’s ultimate goal of zero harm to koalas.
We are very sorry about injuries and deaths of koalas on our estate. This situation is deeply troubling to all of us and is unacceptable, and we are committed to preventing further incidents of this nature. Our internal monitoring and reporting processes were inadequate, and we apologise for releasing any incorrect information about animal deaths and injuries.
While we have had a koala management program in place since harvesting commenced in 2011, clearly more needs to be done. We are working with local stakeholders to strengthen existing policies and procedures for the management of areas supporting koalas. Specifically:
Our forestry workers have received further training to help them identify and report sightings of koalas, and to reinforce procedures for reporting koala injuries.
We are undertaking more detailed pre-harvest surveys to identify koala density as well as testing advanced detection methods, including infra-red technology.
We have increased the frequency of on-the-ground koala spotting prior to, during and after harvesting and are ensuring these checks are consistently documented.
We have created a dedicated koala management role responsible for monitoring, personnel training and stakeholder communications.
We have implemented improved monitoring practices and procedures to evaluate the success of our program, and to prioritize areas needing immediate action going forward.
ABP’s new Koala management program which incorporates these initiatives was released in September 2013 and is now being implemented. This document will continue to be improved over time.
ABP welcomes stakeholder comments and input into this Koala Management Program.
Following a recent audit conducted by FSC auditor, Rainforest Alliance, we have been advised that ABP’s FSC forest management certification which has been in place since 2009 is to be suspended. ABP will continue to work with our stakeholders to address the shortcomings identified in the audit report, and we are committed to regaining our FSC certification as quickly as possible.
ABP is a significant regional employer and a major contributor to the economy in the Green Triangle region. It is in everyone’s best interests to maintain the economic benefits of sustainable plantation forestry while at the same time following environmental and social best practice.
Industry adopts new guidelines to protect Koalas in Blue Gum plantations in Western Victoria.
The plantation industry in Western Victoria and South Australia has adopted new, industry-wide policy and guidelines to protect koalas living in Blue Gum plantations across the region.