Fact Sheet on the Australian Government’s proposal to extend the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area

On 31 January 2013, Environment Minister Tony Burke announced the Australian Government’s proposal to extend the TWWHA by approximately 170,000 ha. The map (above)  shows the relevant areas, about one quarter of which are already in formal conservation reserves. This fact sheet endeavours to give critical background to the progress of World Heritage conservation in Tasmania.

What is World Heritage?

Unesco administers the World Heritage List of 962 properties of ‘outstanding universal value’ for their natural and/or cultural characteristics. 190 nations are signatories to the World Heritage Convention, an international treaty. Famous natural properties on the list include the Grand Canyon, Yosemite National park, Mt Everest and the Great Barrier Reef ; cultural properties include Egypt’s Great Pyramids, the historic centre and ancient monuments of Rome, the Palace of Versailles and the Sydney Opera House.


The Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA)

The TWWHA was listed in 1982 and significantly extended in 1989. It occupies just over 1.4 million hectares – about 20% of the state. It is one of only 29 World Heritage sites around the world that are listed for both natural and cultural values. Natural values include its glaciated landscapes of lakes, tarns and jagged mountains; plant and animal species, including rainforests and native pines, that are reminders of the ancient supercontinent Gondwana; a wild, pristine and dynamic coastline of cliffs, headlands, lagoons, islets and beaches; intricate and scientifically significant cave-systems; treeless alpine areas, peat bogs and moorlands; wild rivers and wetlands; and the tallest hardwood forests in the world. Cultural heritage consists of artefacts, middens, cave-sites, rock art and other evidence of the Aboriginal people’s occupation of Tasmania extending back over 40,000 years, including during the most recent ice age.


The implications of World Heritage Listing in Australia

World Heritage nomination and listing compels the Australian Government to protect the natural and cultural values of the site concerned. World Heritage listing of part of the Tasmanian Wilderness saved the Franklin and lower Gordon Rivers from damming in 1983, and prevented logging of the Lemonthyme forest and Farmhouse Creek in 1988-89. World Heritage Listing usually compels the Australian government to provide more financial resources for management of the properties concerned.

Styx valley oldgrowth forest, part of Government’s proposed extension to the TWWHA

World Heritage and Tasmania’s forests

An eastern boundary compromised by logging interests in 1989 excluded most of the outstanding oldgrowth tall-eucalypt forests from the World Heritage Area. This led to a series of battles in forested valleys such the Picton, Huon, Weld, Styx, Florentine, Tyenna and Derwent. The IUCN (World Conservation Union) and World Heritage Committee also frequently expressed concerns about encroaching logging adversely affecting the integrity of the World Heritage Area. At its 2008 meeting in Quebec, the WH Committee requested that the Australian government extend the boundary to include adjacent areas of tall-eucalypt forest. Similar requests were made in 1989, 1995 and 2010.


The conservation movement is also seeking to have the Tarkine and West Coast rainforests added to the TWWHA. However, the major stumbling block here is not the logging industry, but the support of the Tasmanian and federal governments for mining in these wilderness areas.

For a full description of proposals to extend the TWWHA, see:

Minister Burke’s proposed modification to the World Heritage Area

On 31 January 2013, Environment Minister Tony Burke announced the Australian Government’s proposal to extend the TWWHA by approximately 170,000 ha, consisting of approximately 124,000 ha of forest in the Tasmanian Forests Agreement and a further 46,000 ha of existing national parks and other reserves. If accepted, the proposal would take the TWWHA to approximately 1.58 million ha, or 23% of Tasmania.


The forest-agreement areas are those identified in Map C and clause 37 of the Tasmanian Forest Agreement and were agreed by industry and unions. They include the Dove River forests, the Great Western Tiers, the Navarre Plains, the upper Derwent (‘Butler’) forests, the oldgrowth forests of the Florentine, the giant trees of the Styx valley, the forests adjacent to Mt Field National Park and Mt Wedge, oldgrowth and wilderness in the middle Huon and Weld, and forests in the Picton, Esperance, Lune and Catamaran valleys. The vast majority of these forests are adjacent to the existing TWWHA.


The existing reserves inside the proposal include the Mt Field National Park, the Forest Reserves of giant trees in the Styx valley, significant parts of the Great Western Tiers, and the Mole Creek Karst National Park. The proposal contains approximately 2000 ha of private conservation reserve owned by the Tasmanian Land Conservancy (notably Skullbone Plains, which three years ago was owned by Gunns), and Bush Heritage Australia (Liffey area).

This proposed boundary modification would enhance the integrity of the World Heritage Area, as well as greatly contributing to the protection of outstanding tall-eucalypt forests, cave-systems, fauna habitat, Gondwanic vegetation, and glaciated landscapes. It is not correct to describe the entire 170,000 ha as ‘forests’, as some media have done.
The process

The proposal has been put to the World Heritage Committee in Paris. The Committee’s expert bodies, IUCN (natural heritage) and ICOMOS (cultural heritage), will advise the Committee, which will consider the proposal at its meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, from 17 to 27 June 2013.

Geoff Law AM, 1 February 2013

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