Tree plantations owned and operated by Forestal Valdivia S.A., a subsidiary of the Arauco group, have not only been granted certification by the Chilean sustainable forest management system CERTFOR (backed by the international Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification or PEFC label), but also chain of custody certification from the FSC (SGS-COC-005376).
According to CERTFOR’s website, “This standard allows forest owners [or rather, plantation owners] to demonstrate that the management they have applied meets the social, economic and environmental performance requirements that the relevant stakeholders demand.” For its part, FSC certification is meant to promote “environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically viable management of the world's forests [including plantations].”
Therefore, certification by both organizations would seem to be a double guarantee for socially conscious consumers, who want to make sure that the products they buy have not caused any harmful impacts on other people or on the environment. However, a press release recently issued by the Association of Foresters For Native Forests (AIFBN) in Chile casts serious doubts on the validity of this assumption.
Since 2008, a team of experts from the AIFBN have conducted a series of reconnaissance flights over the Andes and Coastal mountain ranges in the regions of Los Ríos and Los Lagos in order to assess the state of conservation and possible destruction of native forest areas.
The AIFBN revealed that, “Based on the analysis of the data gathered, areas with evidence of illegal forest clearing were identified, leading to the detection of 23 irregularities committed on different properties, which were reported to the National Forestry Corporation (CONAF) in July of last year. This state agency investigated all of the reports filed, and confirmed that breaches of current forestry legislation had been committed in every case.” Among the worst offenders identified in the study is the doubly certified Forestal Valdivia.
When consulted, forester Cristián Frene (listed as the contact person in the AIFBN press release) commented: “If this monitoring was repeated in the regions farther north (Bío Bío, Maule and Araucanía), I can assure you that the panorama would be even worse, but unfortunately no one does this kind of work in those areas.”
Referring specifically to the reported breaches committed by Forestal Valdivia in the commune of Lanco, the press release stresses that “the properties harvested through clearcutting by the above-mentioned company are part of a mountain that provides water to five communities located within the commune of Lanco, where at least 700 people are affected by the harvesting of plantations and subsequent burning of NATIVE vegetation with highly toxic chemicals.” In addition, the note adds, “in the northern area of the mountain… there are currently 45 legally recognized Mapuche communities with a total of 1,258 Mapuche families, according to figures from the 2002 census.”
This combination of the confirmed destruction of native forest alongside the serious impacts of the company’s management of its plantations led the AIFBN to denounce to the National Forestry Corporation “the extremely serious breaches of environmental legislation committed by the company Forestal Valdivia, a subsidiary of the Arauco Group, in the commune of Lanco, in the northern portion of the region of Los Ríos.”
The press release adds that these breaches “additionally imply a total lack of social conscience, through the lack of respect for the sources of water for Mapuche communities in this region. Since February of this year, the company has sent subcontractors to eliminate existing NATIVE vegetation with highly toxic chemicals. These chemicals, when applied to the vegetation, remain in the soil and are washed by rainwater into the surrounding waterways, which supply water to hundreds of families in the locality of Antilhue.”
In view of all this, what do CERTFOR’s guarantee of the fulfilment of “social, economic and environmental performance requirements” and the FSC’s guarantee of “environmentally appropriate and socially beneficial management” really amount to? In this case, at least, the answer is clear: a ploy aimed at deceiving consumers.
This article is based on a press release entitled “Una historia de no respeto a los bosques nativos y la ley forestal”, issued in May 2010 by the Agrupación de Ingenieros Forestales por el Bosque Nativo (AIFBN). Contact: Cristián Frenecristianfrene@bosquenativo.cl