How can an audit that has found environmental breaches on almost all the coupes checked possibly end up with a result of 93% compliance?
The latest audit of logging in Victoria’s forests will leave many environmentalists convinced that these Audits are totally worthless exercises that have done nothing to protect biodiversity in our forests. One of the reasons for the audit result is that around half of the things checked by the auditors are checks to make sure paperwork has been filled in correctly.
This year’s audit was conducted by URS (a private logging industry consultancy group), which looked at 25 VicForests and two DSE logging coupes across Victoria. This sample is significantly smaller than the 45 coupes checked in the final EPA audit in 2008.
Under the new audit arrangements, URS will not be conducting a similar audit next year, which means that checks on habitat trees, waterway buffers, rainforest and road construction will not be checked in the next audit. The report makes it clear that DSE is providing limited money for these audits, which means that it will be unlikely that far away coupes that require a lot of effort to reach will ever be checked.
Without checking some active logging operations, it is not possible to properly audit the Code. The fact that URS was unable to include any active coupes in this year’s audit further undermines the report’s credibility.
The number of breaches that had some environmental impact have soared since the EPA did their last audit. In 2008, the EPA found 78 breaches with an environmental impact, while the URS audit has found 108 breaches. When the different number of coupes in the two audits is taken into account, the rate of breaches has increased from an average 1.7 breaches per coupe to 4.3 breaches per coupe! More than a quarter of the coupes have 6 or more breaches with an environmental impact! DSE’s Lee Miezis comment that these results are a “good result for the industry and the environment" are patent nonsense.
After years of audit reports showing rainforest destruction, logging in 2008/09 resulted in two environmental breaches classed as “Major” when bulldozers were driven into rainforest buffers. Despite the finding of two major environmental breaches, URS still awarded VicForests a score of 90% for rainforest compliance!
Although checking of rainforest was meant to be a priority in this audit, the impact of low funding for these audits is already apparent. The auditors were unable to complete their assessment of one of the rainforest coupes due to lack of light. Time limitations resulted in swapping another four coupes for more conveniently located coupes.
Just like the rainforest area, the audit also found numerous Code breaches when they checked log landings (where logs are barked and loaded). Landing breaches have been raised in these reports for over 10 years, and the fact that they are still being raised just highlights how little impact these reports have.
Until the Government gets serious about enforcing the Code, there is no reason for VicForests to improve its performance.
Despite the limitations of the report, a close examination shows that in some key areas, VicForests results are atrocious. For the compliance element “Protection of Biodiversity”, VicForests scored 65% and only 57% for “Forest Health”. (These low results are mostly a result of poor noxious weed management).
During the period examined by URS, VicForests was audited twice for reissuing of its AFS environmental standard certificate. The fact that VicForests was recertified when URS has reported so many environmental breaches and poor performance in a number of areas shows how lacking in credibility the industry-owned AFS certification process is.