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The Board of Private Forests Tasmania believe that assisting private forest owners achieve forest management certification could be one of the greatest contributions the organisation may make to the future of private forestry in Tasmania, and in fact the future of the forest industry in general, and strongly supports the priority given to this business development project.

In addition, in 2010 the Tasmanian government allocated $500,000 to PFT to assist the organisation lead more non industrial private forest (NIPF) owners down the certification pathway showing the Government's strong support for this initiative.  Substantive work on this project commenced in July 2011 following appointment of a staff member with specific responsibilities to drive this initiative.

Forest Management & Chain of Custody Certification

The Board of PFT believes that assisting private forest owners achieve forest management certification could be one of the greatest contributions the organisation may make to the future of private forestry in Tasmania, and in fact the future of the forestry industry in general, and strongly supports the priority given to this business development project.  

Forest management certification is a system of private voluntary standards for sustainable forest management developed and managed by independent bodies (i.e. “third-parties”).   The standards consist of environmental, economic and social criteria and associated performance expectations.  Owners of forests with certified forest management agree to abide by that standard.  An enterprise’s compliance with the criteria, regularly audited by accredited certifying bodies, transforms the standard into concrete practices on the ground.

Chain of custody certification schemes operate in conjunction with forest management certification.  They allow the accurate and verifiable tracking of certified wood from the forest, through the changes of custodianship at the primary and secondary processors, on to the manufacturer and finally to the retail product in an outlet, eco-labelled with the schemes’ label or logo.  That label provides the ultimate assurance to consumers that a wood-based product has come from sustainable sources and that claim has been verified by a third party.

In Australia we have two main performance based forest certification schemes, the Australian Forestry Standard (the AFS or AS 4708:2013) and Forest Stewardship Council certification (FSC).  AFS is, in turn, recognised by the international mutual recognition scheme Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC).  Both these schemes have a chain of custody component.  Participation by forest owners and processors in either scheme is voluntary.

Only a few thousand of Tasmania’s 858,000 hectares of non-industrial private forest (NIPF) estate is currently certified and to maintain market access many smaller NIPF owners may also need to follow the certification pathway.  However, this is complicated by forest management certification being expensive to achieve and then maintain.  Unfortunately, the impact of this expense on the forest owners’ business is currently unlikely to be recovered, as certification has rarely resulted in a price premium being paid to forest owners for their timber anywhere in the world.

Very few NIPF owners in Tasmania are large enough to justify going alone with certification in their own right.  However, some will find they are certified by default when industrial forest growers with forest management certification have retained legally definable management control over the forest on their land and include it in their total certified forest management unit.  An example would be share farms, in which industrial forestry organisations like Norske Skog or Gunns have management control as well as a proportional equity interest in the trees with the landowner.

Specific activities undertaken in relation to this priority project are described in the following sections.

Survey of NIPF owners’ knowledge of and attitudes to forest management certification

The first goal has been to identify pathways and mechanisms for industry stakeholders to increase adoption of forest certification.  The University of Tasmania’s Cradle Coast Campus based Institute of Regional Development (IRD) partnered with us to survey NIPF owners’ knowledge of and attitudes to forest certification, their interest in participating in forest certification, and the barriers or challenges that would inhibit them from seeking certification.  The survey (report published in November 2012 and available for download under our PUBLICATIONS tab), revealed a number of barriers to NIPF owners certifying their forests.

We found most NIPF owners had little or no understanding of forest certification prior to being surveyed.  The survey included a brief leaflet explaining forest certification and although 10% indicated they were interested in certifying their forests, almost 35% declared they would not certify their forests.  The reasons for not wanting to certify fell into four categories: financial – the cost of certification; private property rights – many forest owners were concerned that certification may enable additional government control over their lands that impedes their rights as landowners; forest management process – many landowners find there is enough complexity in the current processes without adding another layer with an unclear benefit; and uncertainty - about the future of Tasmania’s forest industry and the likelihood of any benefits being realised in future harvests.

The largest barriers to certification can be summed up as its cost, uncertainty over its benefits, and the loss of some management control.  We also found that incentives to certify could be broken down into three categories: monetary, assistance with the certification process, and policy based.

Importantly, we found that any framework created to encourage NIPF certification would need to involve NIPF owners directly in the forest certification process, would preferably be managed by a not-for-profit such as a forest owners association, and would not require forest owners to pay for the cost.  This strongly pointed to an independent group forest management scheme being the framework most likely to succeed in Tasmania.

Development of a framework for an independent Tasmanian group forest management certification process

In a group scheme an individual forest owner (or ‘group member’) doesn’t get certified – it is the ‘group manager’ that gets certified.  Group member’s forests become a component of the total certified forest area of the group manager and only a sample of member’s forests is audited annually.  The group manager establishes and oversees processes and procedures, maintains group records and overall manages the membership and their performance.  Group schemes are characterised by the following core relationships: members enter a binding membership agreement with the group manager; the group manager is directly accountable to the certification body; and the certification body is accountable to the certification scheme – such as AFS/PEFC and FSC.  This means that when putting together group schemes it is just as much about the group manager as the individual members, if not more.

An ‘independent group scheme’ can fill a gap in the Tasmanian marketplace of forest management certification options currently available.  Such a scheme would give group members more independence in wood marketing, which some NIPF owners seek, than the various certification options that currently exist or are under development while significantly reducing costs by spreading the high overheads and workload further.

To test the appetite for such a scheme, in 2013-14 PFT will convene a small working group of leading private forest owners who may be interested in becoming members of a group scheme in the future.  They will be representative of a cross section of private forestry owner types.  The objective of the working group will be to ensure that potential members fully understand the role played by the group manager, the relationships between the parties and the commitments that individual group members have to make to be part of the ‘group’.  It will also help tease out other matters for investigation and quite possibly identify barriers to entry that may either be solvable or insurmountable in some circumstances.  A part of this working group process will be comparing and contrasting the Group scheme option with other options currently available.

Where this process leads will deliberately be kept open – it may lead to the development of an independent group scheme or, just as equally, it may demonstrate NIPF owner’s have insufficient will to form one and are currently happy with what is available.

Survey of primary wood processors’ knowledge of and attitudes to chain of custody certification

Encouraging the supply chain beyond the forest provides positive context for NIPF owners to seek forest management certification.  Chain of custody certification by primary wood processors will create a market for forest management certified logs. That will, in turn, encourage non-industrial private forest owner support for forest certification.

In 2012, we provided a preview of the results of a 2012 state-wide survey of all Tasmanian primary wood processors designed to help us understand their knowledge and attitudes, and the barriers and incentives to achieving certification.

In January 2013 PFT reported the results . A strong conclusion drawn from this project was that Tasmanian primary wood processors, driven by signals coming from their customers and their perception of where the marketplace in general was headed, were keen to hold chain of custody certification.

Project to encourage a Tasmanian FSC group chain of custody scheme

PFT recognised that, although there is a critical mass of small to medium-size primary wood processors and manufacturer/retailers in the State who have AFS (Australian Forestry Standard) chain of custody certification, particularly through Fine Timbers Tasmania’s (FTT) group scheme, there were no small to medium size processors with FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) chain of custody certification.

To support FSC forest management certification, particularly for non-industrial private forest owners, by facilitating Tasmanian processors into FSC Chain of Custody certification, in June 2012 PFT initiated a project to assist with the development of a FSC chain of custody option to complement the AFS scheme already in place.  In partnership with SFM Forest Products and FTT we have made a strategic investment in a pilot project to initiate a Tasmanian-based FSC group chain of custody scheme.  This project should be completed in 2013-14.