Sunday, March 29, 2009

Eight-five percent of Tasmania's logged old-growth forests end up exported, mainly to Japan (Photo courtesy of Island Lescure)

Just after the very unpopular “scientific” whale hunts by the Japanese have ended, they find themselves in the spotlight again.

Last year, Japanese paper companies Nippon and Oji admitted to misleading their customers for years – approx. 10 years actually – regarding the recycled content of their paper products. Claims were being made that the paper contained more recycled content that it actually did. In some cases, even though recycled content was claimed - there were, in fact, no recycled materials in the paper at all. Even worse, it was revealed that they were purchasing woodchips sourced from the destruction of old-growth and mature forests in Tasmania.

What exactly is the Tasmanian old-growth forest? The forest is a large stand of Eucalyptus trees known as E. renans. Not only are the E. regnans the largest of the 600-plus species of Eucalyptus found in Australia; but, they are the tallest standing hardwood trees in the world. They are second in size only to the world-famous Californian redwoods. The average growth of a mature E. regnans ranges from 75-90m (246'-295') with a life expectancy of up to 450 years. Currently, the tallest tree recorded in the Styx Valley is measured at 91.6m (300.5'). The tallest Redwoods exceed 100m (328'). They are being logged at an unsustainable rate and are considered by environmentalists are endangered.

Interesting that these trees are in a valley named "Styx". In Greek mythology, the River Styx divided two worlds - Earth and the Underworld. It was the dividing line between life and death. Losing this forest could be the end of several ecosystems.

That scandal caused major embarrassment for the companies and led to the resignation of Nippon Paper’s president, Masatomo Nakamura. In January 2008 Shoichiro Suzuki, chairman of the Japan Paper Association and Oji Paper admitted they had been falsifying the amount of recycled content in their paper products. He refused to resign; but, admitted they had “betrayed public trust”.

Despite the committees that were set up; the investigations into the scandal; and Nippon’s and Oji’s public apologies, a report by two Australian conservations groups claim to present “irrefutable evidence” that the companies are still importing at least 268,000 green tons of woodchipped Tasmanian old-growth forests. The Japanese paper companies claim this is not true.

The report ‘Oldgrowth for Export’ highlights how those companies, the two major customers of Tasmanian woodchipping giant Gunns, are receiving old growth woodchips.

Sobering highlights from ‘Oldgrowth for Export’ report by groups The Wilderness Society and Still Wild, Still Threatened include:

- Approximately 78% of the original extent of tall-eucalypt forests have already been cleared or are available for logging
- 61 000 hectares of tall-eucalypt RFA old growth are currently unprotected from logging
- The dominant product from logging of Tasmania’s public native forests is pulpwood (86%), with less than 5% becoming solid wood products
- The vast majority of pulpwood from Tasmanian native forests – and an even higher proportion of pulpwood sourced from publicly-owned RFA old growth forests – are exported by Gunns Ltd as woodchips
- A significant proportion (at the absolute lowest, 20%) of woodchips from mature and old growth forests are exported to Japan

Over 85 percent of these felled trees end up as woodchips for export, mainly to Japan, at the price of a measly AUS$10 per ton ($7.00 US).

"Whilst the Japanese paper companies were misleading people about using recycled paper in their products they were actually buying large amounts of old growth woodchips from Tasmania," explains Paul Oosting, pulp mill campaign manager for The Wilderness Society (Tasmania).

"We know that environmentally-conscious consumers in Japan will not want to source paper products that are made from the destruction of irreplaceable forests in Tasmania," states Oosting.

"We hope that this exposure and a backlash from Japanese consumers will help convince Nippon and Oji to cease buying woodchips from old growth and high-conservation-value forests in Tasmania and take a more environmentally responsible path into the future."

The full report is available at

Sign the petition to save Tasmanian old-growth forests, if you are so moved.

Next blog: More actions to take to help save the Tasmanian old-growth and mature forests.


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