13 March, 2014

Tasmania's World Heritage Area: World Heritage Committee advisor raises concerns over plan to reduce protected area

Jake Sturmer, environment reporter
ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), Thu 13 Mar 2014

Senator Colbeck has published photographs he says show recent harvesting in some of the extended world heritage listed areas

PHOTO: The Coalition Government vowed to reduce the World Heritage area as part of an election commitment.

A key advisor to the World Heritage Committee has flagged concerns with the Federal Government's plan to delist 74,000 hectares of Tasmania's World Heritage Area.

In 2013, the committee approved an extension to the area, adding about 172,000 hectares to take the total protected area to about 1.6 million hectares.

The Federal Government vowed to reduce the area to help Tasmania's economy as part of an election commitment.

As part of the World Heritage Area boundary change, areas of the Southern Forests, the Styx and the Florentine were given protection.

The Government has said areas of genuine high conservation value are not part of the delisting plan, including tall forests in the Great Western Tiers.

A Senate inquiry is investigating the issue and in a submission, the Australian arm of the International Council on Monuments and Sites said it believed allowing the reduction in the area would likely reduce the credibility of the World Heritage listing.

The council is one of three advisory bodies for the World Heritage Committee and provides evaluations of cultural and mixed properties proposed for inscription on the World Heritage List.

"We are alarmed that this proposal ... fails to respect that due process was followed by the World Heritage Committee and that Outstanding Universal Value has been established as a prerequisite for the decision to support the 2013 Boundary Modification," the submission said.

We hence query how the Australian Government states it believes the excision of identified areas from the property will enhance the credibility of the World Heritage Listing.
International Council on Monuments and Sites submission
"We hence query how the Australian Government states it believes the excision of identified areas from the property will enhance the credibility of the World Heritage Listing.

"The opposite seems more likely."

The council's submission said it was too early to suggest any changes to the boundaries.

"As the Australian Government is to submit a progress report on this assessment of cultural values ... in 2015, it is premature to be proposing any modification before that time," it said.

"The evaluation of cultural values is a priority and no boundary modifications should be considered until that report is provided."

What do you think about the plans to delist part of Tasmania's World Heritage Area? Have your say
In its submission, the Institute of Foresters of Australia said the World Heritage Committee made its 2013 decision based on a flawed assessment from the previous federal government.

"The process and conclusions were in fact a hasty and superficial analysis of conservation values where no peer review was undertaken," it said.

"Many claims and conclusions were based on limited information.

"These claims were open to scientific interpretation and, in many situations, have been shown to be in error."

The IFA said it supported a reassessment of the 2013 decision.

'Degraded' forests detract from World Heritage Area: Hunt

Environment Minister Greg Hunt last month said he supported most of the 2013 extensions to the World Heritage area, but that large parts had already been logged.

Mr Hunt said the area was added amidst "enormous local controversy" and was against the wishes of some in the community.

"What has been put to the committee for reconsideration is 117 degraded or logged areas, so these were areas that many people feel should never have been added because they significantly detract from what is one of the great World Heritage Areas," he said at the time.

Mr Hunt has been contacted for comment.

Tasmania's forest peace deal was designed to end decades of conflict.

Under the deal, environment groups are supporting the timber industry in exchange for old growth forests being protected in the 172,000 hectare boundary extension.

Tasmania's Liberal leader Will Hodgman has said he will tear up the agreement if he wins office in Saturday's election.

Abbott's address triggers 'unprecedented' move by WCPA

Meanwhile 114 members of the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) have written to the Prime Minister, criticising his comments that Australia had "enough national parks".

Tony Abbott told a timber industry dinner this month that too many of Australia's forests are "locked up".

The WCPA's vice chair Marc Hockings says those remarks triggered serious concerns among its members, prompting the commission to take the "unprecedented" step.

"This was really the most recent in what we see as a large number of examples where governments around Australia have been stepping back from a commitment to national parks and protected areas," he said.

"Even though WCPA is very much a non-political organisation, we needed to stand up and strongly make the point that national parks and protected areas are really important for our society."

The WCPA is a body of experts that advises governments and organisations around the world on conservation issues.

Lawyers, scientists and conservationists were among 114 Oceania members to sign the letter.

The commission is part of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which is also one of the key advisors for the World Heritage Committee.

But Professor Hockings says they are completely disconnected from the committee's upcoming decision about the Tasmanian forests or Great Barrier Reef.

"The decisions and recommendations of IUCN that will go to the World Heritage Committee meeting are not prepared by the Australian members of IUCN," he said.

"But I think that's another example of the way in which we've seen the retreat from a commitment to protected areas."

The Prime Minister's office has been contacted for comment.

Do you know more about this? Email investigations@abc.net.au

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