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Snow on Mountain Pinkberry (Leptecophylla) in the Tasmanian Wilderness. Photo: Tatters ❀ via Flickr.
Snow on Mountain Pinkberry (Leptecophylla) in the Tasmanian Wilderness. Photo: Tatters ❀ via Flickr.
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  • Climbing heath (Prionotes cerinthoides) on a gum tree in the Tasmania Wilderness World Heritage Area - 74,000 hectares of which may lose its protection this week. Photo: Natalie Tapson via Flickr.
    Climbing heath (Prionotes cerinthoides) on a gum tree in the Tasmania Wilderness World Heritage Area - 74,000 hectares of which may lose its protection this week. Photo: Natalie Tapson via Flickr.

UNESCO, protect Tasmanian wilderness

Jess Abrahams

18th June 2014

74,000 hectares of Tasmania's native forest wilderness will be opened up to industrial logging, writes Jess Abrahams - if Australia's government succeeds in removing its World Heritage status at a UNESCO meeting now under way in Doha.

Without any new evidence, the Abbott government is trying to convince the committee that 74,000 hectares of forest is heavily degraded and not worthy of protection.

Most countries spend years, sometimes decades, seeking World Heritage listing for their special places.

But the Australian government has other ideas. It's in the process of asking UNESCO's World Heritage Committee to 'delist' 74,000 hectares of Tasmanian forests, so the area can be opened up to logging.

The 38th world heritage committee meeting, currently taking place in Doha, Qatar, is expected to consider Australia's extraordinary request in the next few days.

The Federal Government claims the area it wants delisted is "degraded", but I disagree. And I'm not alone: over 70,000 people have signed a petition calling on the Government and UNESCO to maintain the listing.

Where's the evidence?

Scientists from the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the International Council on Monuments and Sites have advised the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, in a brief but damning report, not to approve the Abbott government's unprecedented request to delist the 74,000 hectares of forest, which were added to the Tasmanian wilderness world heritage area less than a year ago.

Last year's additions gave protection to wild and stunning landscapes, including the Upper Styx, Florentine, Weld and Derwent valleys and parts of the Great Western Tiers and Recherche Bay.

The previous federal government argued these areas were of outstanding universal value and thus worthy of World Heritage protection.

Now, without any new evidence or information to the contrary, the Abbott government is trying to convince the committee that 74,000 hectares of forest from these same areas is heavily degraded and not worthy of protection.

World Heritage - a badge of pride!

In a previous life as a Tasmanian parks and wildlife ranger, my job was to inspire, in locals and tourists alike, a love and appreciation for Tasmania's natural wonders. It was not difficult.

During the years I spent walking and working in the Tassie bush, I came to see the beauty and value of the island's natural heritage at a very deep level. The Tasmanian wilderness became part of me and continues to shape and inspire my life's work as an environmental advocate.

Being a ranger was a wonderful job and I was proud to wear the khaki uniform with the Tassie devil patch on the shoulder. In our training, my fellow rangers and I were schooled in the significance of the World Heritage status afforded to Tasmania's wildest places.

First declared in 1982, expanded in 1989 and again 2013, world heritage listing conferred the highest level of protection for the most spectacular and important landscapes. Back then, governments at both levels were proud advocates and defenders of World Heritage.

The Australian people strongly support World Heritage

New national polling conducted by Lonergan Research on behalf of the Australian Conservation Foundation found an overwhelming majority of Australians (97%) agreed that, regardless of economic or political pressure to exploit natural places on the world heritage list, the Australian government should do all it could to protect them.

Nine in 10 Australians (91%) believed the 74,000 hectares of Tasmanian wilderness should remain listed, the poll found.

Even the head of the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania, Terry Edwards, is on the public record as saying: "We don't support any or all excisions to the world heritage area."

Given this broad chorus of support for maintaining listing for the recently added forests, why on earth is the Abbott government not listening?

It's the politics, stupid

The Abbott Government's request to the committee is not about delivering environmental or scientific objectives, but political ones.

These include the PM's controversial commitment to tear up the Tasmanian forest agreement and strip back the recent additions -  because, he argued, too much forest was already locked up in national parks.

It is high time the prime minister put the Tasmanian environment, science and the wishes of more than 90% of Australians ahead of ideology.

Many Australians will be watching with bated breath over the next few days as the World Heritage Committee decides whether to uphold or reject the Australian government's shameful and unprecedented request, which risks diminishing Tasmania's wilderness and the universal significance of world heritage protection.

 


 

Petition: Keep Tasmania's Old Growth & High Conservation Value Forests on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Jess Abrahams is the healthy ecosystems campaigner for the Australian Conservation Foundation

This article is an edited version of a one originally published by The Guardian.

 

 

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