Australia proposes removing old-growth forests from World Heritage Site

Last year, after decades of fighting, environmentalists and the forestry industry reached a landmark agreement that added 170,000 hectares of old-growth forest in Tasmania as a part of a World Heritage Site.

But less than a year later and that so-called peace agreement is in danger of unraveling. The new Australian government, under Prime Minister Tony Abbott, is going ahead with removing 74,000 hectares (43 per cent) from the World Heritage site.

Australia’s Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, contends that the 117 areas in question are “degraded or logged” and were added to the agreement “against the wishes of local community.”

However, others say that at least some of the forests in question have high conservation value, including unlogged temperate rainforest.

“Some of it is some of the most outstanding forests in the country, if not in the planet,” Peter Hitchcock a consultant on World Heritage listing told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). “So the great majority of the area that is being proposed to be removed from the World Heritage Area is in fact unlogged forest, and much of it with important conservation values.”

In addition, a number of forestry companies have stated they wouldn’t want to log in the disputed areas. Evan Rolley, the Executive Director of forestry company Ta Ann, said it would not accept wood outside of the landmark peace agreement.

Vica Bayley, Tasmania campaign manager for the Wilderness Society, told the Guardian that the government’s proposal “is a purely political stunt aimed at tearing up the goodwill and the good progress that’s been made between hostile adversaries in the forestry debate.”

Australia’s new government under the Liberal/National Coalition has been viewed as making a number of controversial environmental decisions since it took over last year from abolishing the country’s nascent carbon tax to culling large sharks to dumping dredged soil from a massive coal mine in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

The Tasmania forest proposal will be evaluated by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in June.

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