UN report leads to logging plan abandonment in Tasmanian forest

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A United Nations report recommended against logging inside Tasmanian world heritage forests and the plans have now been abandoned as a result.

The UN’s recommendations were accepted straight away by both the state and federal governments in Tasmania. However, the Tasmanian state forestry minister confirmed that he felt it was “very disappointing” that the logging plans would not come to fruition.

While making public its recommendations, the UN voiced concerns regarding proposals to boost tourism in the area and requested a detailed plan regarding exactly what sort of tourism would be permitted in the forests.

Logging has been a subject of interest for coalition governments at the state and federal levels, both of whom have been attempting to boost the level of logging in and around the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, which accounts for around one fifth of the entire state of Tasmania.

A deal agreed in 2011 banned logging across 400,000 hectares of forest and also added strength to legislation that would punish anyone found to be protesting against logging. However, this deal was abandoned in 2014 and the Abbott-led government tried to de-list 74,000 hectares of the world heritage forested area. However, this was quickly turned down by the UN.

Last year, the state government made it clear that it planned to allow the logging of ‘speciality timbers’ across the Tasmanian wilderness world heritage area, as well as boosting tourism levels across the area and removing the word ‘wilderness’ from its name.

However, Unesco has just made public its report, which has advised against the use of logging, as well as casting doubt on raising the level of tourism in the Tasmanian wilderness world heritage area. It also called for the word ‘wilderness’ to be retained in the title.

According to the UN report: “It does not consider a world heritage property recognised for its outstanding cultural and natural values the place to experiment with commercial logging of any kind. On balance and in line with the above committee decision, the mission recommends that the property be off limits to any commercial logging, mineral exploration and extraction.”

Peter Gutwein, the Tasmanian minister for forestry, said of the decision by the UN to reject logging in the area: “The decision of the United Nations to prohibit limited special species harvesting in the Tasmanian wilderness world heritage area is very disappointing. However, it would be grossly irresponsible for any government to defy such a ruling, and we will abide by it.”

“The truth is, once the area had been made World Heritage by Labor and the Greens, it was always going to be extremely difficult to secure timber from within it,” he added.

Tasmania’s federal environment minister Greg Hunt said of the decision: “It was important that the mission experts had the opportunity to hear all sides of the debate, and having done so, their clear advice to the world heritage committee is that there should no timber harvesting in the world heritage area including for speciality timbers.”

The UN report also urged Australia as a whole to take steps to support the joint management of the precious forested area along with the Tasmanian Aboriginal community.

Wilderness Society Tasmanian campaign manager Vica Bayley told Guardian Australia: “This report outlines a range of very clear steps government needs to take to demonstrate Australia is properly protecting the outstanding values of our wilderness world heritage area. We welcome the report and seek very clear commitments from both the state and federal governments about the exact steps they propose to take to meet these recommendations and maintain strong protections for world heritage values, including wilderness.”

GWD Forestry spokesman James Barrett said: “Protecting precious forest resources across the globe is essential for myriad reasons, not least the environmental impact and the effect on local people who rely on them. The UN report has been welcomed by many and it will be interesting to see what steps the government takes to boost the outlined protections for world heritage areas.”

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