01 February, 2014

Government targets Tassie's World Heritage flashpoint

Andrew Darby 
The Age, February 1, 2014

The Abbott Government is targetting Tasmania's most bitterly contested forest flashpoint in its attempt to roll back World Heritage protection, for logging.

A map of the target areas published by Federal Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, shows the Upper Florentine Valley in the island's centre would lose its World Heritage status under the plan he put to UNESCO on Friday.

The bid, if successful, would axe 74,000 ha. of the 120,000 ha of forest that was added to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area in 2013, together with 50,000 ha of national park.

Among a string of disputed native forest valleys running along the eastern boundary of the existing World Heritage Area, the Upper Florentine fight stood as the toughest.

A five year blockade camp occupied the temperate rainforest and tall old growth eucalypt until 2011, and the valley was the scene of elaborate tree-sits, and dozens of arrests.

In one of the most hair-raising events, a rampage by loggers wielding a sledgehammer and steel-capped boots on a blockade car occupied by protesters was secretly videoed, leading to three assault convictions.

Teacher Miranda Gibson spent an epic 457 days in a tree-sit near the Upper Florentine to raise awareness of several forested valleys in the area, and campaign for their World Heritage listing. She only came down in March 2013 because of a nearby bushfire.

Despite the protests, a small portion of the Upper Florentine was logged for sawlog, veneer and woodchip pulp, before the collapse of the Tasmanian timber industry in 2012

The Federal parliamentary secretary for Forestry, Richard Colbeck, said the wilderness values of such areas, where logging had occurred, had diminished to the point that they no longer deserved World Heritage listing.

But the 2013 extension was agreed by the World Heritage Committee on grounds other than wilderness, such as natural values of the trees themselves.

The Wilderness Society's Tasmanian campaigns manager, Vica Bayley, said on Saturday that the attack on the Upper Florentine demonstrated the government's wind-back was all about opening confirmed World Heritage forest for logging.

"The Upper Florentine is an incredibly intact and precious forest," Mr Bayley said.

"And so are the other areas detailed on the map. The entire exercise is highly contentious, highly provocative - particularly when the forest industry doesn't want a bar of it."

The Forest Industries Association of Tasmania confirmed that it stood firmly beside The Wilderness Society and other signatories to a 2013 forest peace deal in opposing any wind-back of World Heritage.

FIAT executive director Terry Edwards said: "We've made our position quite clear. We don't support any or all excisions to the World Heritage Area. The 2013 extension was an integral part of our agreement."

Mr Edwards said the industry was also concerned about the potential impacts the wind-back might have on Tasmanian forest products.

"Wood that is supplied under the Tasmanian Forest Agreement is now non-contentious," he said. "We don't want to be put in the same position as in the past."

No comments: