World Heritage Area under Threat

Revocation of part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area

It seems that the entire Tasmanian conservation movement is united in its opposition to the Abbott Coalition government’s proposal to the World Heritage Committee to revoke 74,000 hectares from the 170,000 ha which was added to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA) in June 2013. As well as writing to the Federal Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, the TCT made a submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications which is investigating this proposal.

The Senate Standing Committee will provide advice to the World Heritage Committee prior to it considering the matter at its 14 June 2014 meeting in Doha and we hope it has a positive impact.

It seems to us that the Abbott government wants to revoke part of  TWWHA solely because of the link to the Tasmanian Forests Agreement (TFA), which it opposes, rather than any serious refutation of the merits of the nomination made by the former Australian government, the advice provided by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) or the decision made by the World Heritage Committee (WHC). For the record, the TCT opposed the TFA, but we do support the retention of the entire TWWHA extension for good reasons.

The previous Labor Federal government’s nomination and the WHC decision outlined the very significant values which justify the TWWHA extension. In short, the World Heritage Committee decision found that the TWWHA extension area made an additional contribution to the ‘Outstanding Universal Values’ (criteria vii, viii, ix and x) and delivers a more rational and contiguous boundary which will enable enhanced protection and management of universial values across the entire TWWHA. The extension area greatly adds to the protection of tall eucalypt forests and associated rainforest and a range of landforms including karst and glacial features as well as alpine and sub-alpine environments.

The Australian Government is seeking the revocation of a large part of the TWWHA extension on the basis that it is degraded by the presence of logged areas and a small area of plantations. However, it seems excessive and unjustifiable that the government seeks to revoke 74,000 ha when the actual area affected by logging since 1960 (when industrial-scale clearfell practices were introduced) is estimated by Dr Peter Hitchcock to be only 5-6% or about 10,000 ha of the entire extension area.

It is safe to assume that most logging in these areas has not been done recently but dates back many years or decades and therefore forest cover has been regenerated. The area of recently logged forests within the TWWHA that has not yet been regenerated and/or shows obvious signs of logging would therefore be a very small proportion of the entire extention area.

However, we could not obtain this information to verify these assumptions and urged the Senate Committee to obtain precise data on which areas within the TWWHA extension have been logged since 1960, how and when they were logged, the current state and extent of vegetation cover and plans for regeneration or rehabilitation of recently logged areas.

If the recently logged areas remain within the TWWHA they cannot be logged again and can be regenerated or rehabilitated. Over time the 218 ha of plantations can also be removed and rehabilitated.

Recently logged areas can be rehabilitated, just as the areas at Melaluca in the south-west of the TWWHA, which were affected by decades of mining, are currently being rehabilitated. It is our view that rehabilitating after the impacts of mining is much more difficult than after the impacts of logging .

Contrary to claims made by the Australian Government, the retention and rehabilitation of areas affected by logging will result in the best outcome for the values within those areas, the areas immediately surrounding them and for the entire TWWHA.

If World Heritage Areas had to be without flaws then there would hardly be a single historic site and very few natural sites that could justify being listed, as most have been damaged or altered by humans to some degree or impacted by natural proceses of change.

Peter McGlone