SmartWood and Tembec: into the ‘black hole’ of disinformation

FSC-Watch earlier reported on the certification of more areas of Tembec’s vast logging operations in Canada, making it the largest of all FSC certified companies and no doubt earning it’s certifier, SmartWood, substantial fees. David Nickarz, a forest activist in Winnipeg, has been challenging Rainforest Alliance over this certificate. Other forest activists that have questioned SmartWood (there are many of them) will understand what David means by the ‘black hole’ of disinformation that he refers to in the blog article below, which describes his experiences in ‘complaining’ to SmartWood.

We follow this article with the actual correspondence between Nickarz and SmartWood. It provides interesting insights into how SmartWood and other certifiers create these ‘black holes’ that suck energy and time out of forest campaigners.

It is yet another indication of how, under Heiko Liedeker, FSC has lost the support of many forest conservationists worldwide, and is now seen as ‘part of the problem’, not ‘part of the solution’.

Tembec’s Green Laundering Corporation Responds

Tembec has paid Smartwood to certify its forestry operations as ‘green’ and ‘well-managed’, and they got every penny’s worth. On October 11, 2007 Tembec was certified under the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) by Smartwood. They held and open house for their 2008-09 logging plans and let everyone know about it.

After spending 17 years as a forest activist, I was naturally skeptical. True to form, Tembec confirmed every fear. Vince Keenan, divisional forester for the Tembec mill in Pine Falls, took me aside and showed me how he was going to cut down half of the lowland Black Spruce on his 9000 square kilometer logging area. Black Spruce is the majority species needed to feed their aging newsprint mill.

After frantically scribbling down my concerns with their plan on several of the ‘questions and concerns’ papers left on the tables, I went home and contacted the company responsible for this green-washing.

Smartwood is a company that is paid to certify logging companies under the FSC principles. I knew I was in for a ride down the techno-babble black hole when Alex Boursier, Regional Manager of Smartwood informed me that he was treating my concerns as a formal complaint under FSC complaints and appeals process.

For those of you who are not familiar with the black hole, it’s when a company wants to obscure and confuse an issue they respond with several pages of technical and double-speak. It’s designed to bore you out of your skull and hopefully you will just go away and let them destroy the planet. FSC and Smartwood has now become another layer of obstacles for conservationists to overcome in their efforts to protect forests.

I made it known that I was not to be treated with a ‘process’ and that I wanted answers to my very real and pressing concerns regarding Tembec’s logging operations.

Smartwood’s five page response was very telling.

Apparently clear cut logging is an acceptable practice for managing the Boreal Forest. Logging in Provincial Parks does not contravene FSC standards – and he backs that up by citing other atypical uses of Manitoba’s parks such as mining and hydro-electric development. I am to assume that FSC supports mining and hydro developments in Manitoba’s Provincial Parks?

Logging is still allowed in the habitat of the endangered Owl Lake Woodland Caribou herd. My questions about herbicide spraying were not answered.

The worst of his response was in about Tembec’s efforts to weaken guidelines that protect wildlife. Tembec has been in contravention of the Wildlife Guidelines several times over the past years. Manitoba Conservation has overlooked several of these violations until citizens started seeing them – and making noise. After that, Tembec started to complain that the guidelines were ‘not clear or flexible’.

One example is the line-of-site across a clear cut must not exceed 400 meters. This already weak rule is to allow for deer to escape from predators out in an open clear cut. The 400 meters allows for a maximum of 200 meters to the nearest cover. Tembec is trying to weaken this rule so that they can cut down more trees and make larger clear cuts. Quoted directly from Mr. Boursier’s e-mail to me,

“Tembec has been discussing with MC the possibility of removing these conditions from the work permit as it will continue to generate non-compliances because of a lack of clarity and flexibility in the work permit condition interpretation and a lack of clarity in how the condition will be enforced. Stakeholder interviews indicated that they believed the line of sight requirement is clear and that Tembec is not following the rules. MC does afford some flexibility over the line of sight and wildlife guideline implementation. Despite the difficulty in the work permit ‘line of sight’ wording, the audit team feels that the concept has merit, and the compliance standard can be made more precise through discussion with MC, Tembec and stakeholder groups.”

Not only does Smartwood take money to certify Tembec under FSC principles, but they are actively supporting Tembec’s efforts to weaken the laws that protect wildlife, and in clear opposition from stakeholders. Logging companies like Tembec have a new ally in their efforts to destroy our forests, and it’s the Forest Stewardship Council.

Mr. Boursier’s response finished with insults to my intelligence. After denying me and others the preconditions for Tembec’s certification, he wrote “We are very proud of the transparency of our process.” He also apologized for not getting back to me within the timeframe of the certification and that they had ignored my concerns from as far back as 2005.

My response to his e-mail was finished within three hours. I really let him have it. If I could have yelled in an e-mail, I would have.

This also brings up a more pressing issue for the conservation movement. Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund and the Rainforest Action network are a few of the groups that support FSC. They need to pull out of the process altogether. FSC condones the destruction of old growth forests, pesticide use, logging in parks and, now lobbies to weaken existing laws.

I must give credit to the Rainforest Action Network for posting the debate about FSC on their website. They talk about reforming FSC, which I strongly disagree with, but at least they are talking about it.

I strongly believe that FSC has been completely co-opted by the logging industry. Conservation measures are watered down and made meaningless by qualified language. Conservation groups must now pull out of the FSC process because they are lending legitimacy to this dead effort. There have already been efforts to lobby Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network to do something to improve FSC. We have already come to the day that we have to lobby large conservation groups to protect forests on a grass-roots level.

What a sad day.

Letter to Alain Boursier, Canada Regional Manager, SmartWood Program

Nov 5th

Mr. Boursier,

First of all, your process is not open and transparent. I asked for Tembec’s preconditions on August 29th and you told me that they were unavailable. You also admit that you did not address my concerns from as far back as 2005, and that those concerns should have been addressed during the time frame of certification.

I would like to be provided with a copy of all of my e-mails to Smartwood.

How is it that you are proud of the transparency of your process? You managed to hide the preconditions from me and others to avoid any conflict. Is it FSC practice to withhold preconditions from the public until certification is issued? What possible motive could this serve other than to protect the company applying for certification?

How much is Tembec paying you to certify them? I want to know exactly how much money Tembec pays your company, including dates and amounts.

I also want to know when and how Tembec plans to start advertising their FSC certification to consumers.

I want to know how much post consumer recycled content is in paper coming from the Tembec mill in Pine Falls. Do they still use all the recycled content for their markets in the United States? How much PCR content is in paper sold in Canada?

What are they going to tell customers like the Winnipeg Free Press?

Regarding old growth logging. Why is it that the levels of old growth are twice the level indicated in the PIC analysis? If the PIC analysis is so accurate, then why just double them? This was what Vince Keenan told me they did with the PIC numbers at the October 11th meeting.

Tembec has been actively lobbying Manitoba Conservation to remove the line-of-site requirements from work permits? Are you serious? You think that it is appropriate to take the view that the wording is not clear, when it clearly is? You also take this view in clear opposition to stakeholders. This puts you in clear conflict as to your role in certification. Is it your role to hold the company accountable to local laws or is it your role to help the company change those laws when they aren’t convenient?

What is your role as a certifier?

The line-of-site requirement is clear and Tembec is not following the rules. The only reason why they want it changed is because they are being called on it when Manitoba Conservation doesn’t do its job, and citizens have to do it for them. You said as much in your response.

Why are you supporting Tembec’s questionable claim that the requirements are not clear and flexible?

Am I considered a stakeholder in this process? I want the requirements of work permits to be more stringent. It’s Tembec’s job to follow the laws of the land, and it’s not yours to undermine them.

Thank you for confirming that clear cut logging is an acceptable practice under FSC Boreal Standards. I find it hard to believe that no stakeholder brought up clear cut logging as a concern.

Thank you for also confirming that logging in Provincial Parks is an acceptable practice under FSC standards. It would also appear that the FSC standards support the practices of mining and hydro-electric developments in provincial parks. Can someone from FSC please confirm this?

Does FSC support the use of herbicides? Tembec plans to use herbicides on their clear cuts and has not indicated any intention of stopping. Does Tembec have a plan to phase out herbicide use? If not, then why not?

If FSC defers to Manitoba Conservation with regards to logging in parks, herbicide use, clear cutting, endangered species habitat and enforcing wildlife guidelines, then what good is Smartwood? Even if Tembec breaks the law, you take their side. It’s no wonder, since they are paying you to certify them.

Is it not true that Smartwood is just a well-paid rubber stamp to greenwash Tembec’s operations? Why should a stakeholder such as myself consider your involvement anything else? I’m serious–why?

What have you told me that Tembec hasn’t told me before? What have you told me that any other logging company hasn’t told anyone concerned with conservation?

You are an embarrassment and an insult to the conservation movement. We work for years trying to get this company to follow the basic laws of this land and you support them in their efforts to undermine them. FSC was once a hope for better logging practices and it’s companies like Smartwood that have ruined and debased every effort in that direction.

Whenever I see the FSC logo on any product, I will be sure to tell everyone that it is a fraudulent scam. How dare you waste my time. How dare you sit there and tell me that you are proud of your process. How dare you tell me that logging in an endangered species habitat is ‘Tembec doing the right thing for Caribou’.

Not only were my concerns not addressed, several new ones have come up. I want answers to all the above questions.

David Nickarz

SmartWood’s letter to David Nickarz is available here:SmartWoodresposnetoDavidNIckarzcomplaintNov52007.pdf

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