Concerns have been previously raised in relation to logging adjacent to the property which has the potential to impact on the values of the property. Recent concerns have focussed on the development of a new road to access two logging areas (coupes) close to the World Heritage property, logging coupes BB021c and WR015F. Another related issue is a recent Australian court case. In late December 2006, the Federal Court of Australia handed down a judgement relating to forestry operations on the east coast of Tasmania and the protection of nationally endangered species. Although this area is not in the vicinity of the property there may be implications for the current logging operations which are adjacent to the World Heritage property. The decision is currently being appealed.
Differing perspectives on issues at this property have been put forward by NGOs and the State Party.
The Australian NGO, the Huon Valley Environment Centre has noted that work has commenced on construction of a logging road adjacent to the World Heritage property and specifically noted: “on 15 November 2006 […], roading commenced with bulldozers cutting a track through pristine forest near the Weld River. Several logging camps will be opened up in this area. On the southern side of the valley, a Forest Practices Plan for coupe WR015F has been approved. This is an old growth and rainforest coupe adjacent to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA). According to logging plans, harvesting and high intensity burning will occur to within 100m of the World Heritage boundary. There is a serious risk of fire escape into the World Heritage area from high intensity burning following harvesting at this site.”
In particular, the NGO reports noted that clear-felling logging operations, road construction and burning of logged areas directly threaten pristine, old-growth forests in areas outside the eastern boundaries of the World Heritage property. The NGOs argued that critical areas of the Tasmanian Wilderness have not been included in the World Heritage property due to pressure from resource-extractive industries. Further, that the loss of these areas due to commercial forestry activities will impact on the wilderness value and integrity of the property itself. NGO reports called for comprehensive and independent assessment of the threats and their direct and indirect impacts on the World Heritage property. In conclusion, the NGOs feel that logging operations and associated roading activities constitute a major threat to the integrity of the World Heritage Property.
The State Party submitted a very well documented report in response to the Decision adopted by the 30th session of the World Heritage Committee (Vilnius, 2006), which responds in detail to the concerns of NGOs raised before the Committee in relation to forestry operations in the vicinity of the property. The State Party report outlines tools that are used to conserve and manage various values of the property, including the Management Plan for the property and the Regional Forest Agreement reporting process. The Report notes that Federal Legislation: the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, 1999 provides for the protection of the World Heritage values of Australian World Heritage properties. Further, it is noted that the 2004 State of the TWWHA report concluded that management under the 1992 management plan delivered major achievements and that sound progress was made against all the management objectives. The report provides considerable additional detail and specifically rebuts points made in the claim by the NGOs. In conclusion, the State Party is confident that the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area is well protected and managed, and that there is no threat to its integrity.
IUCN notes that the issues at this property are controversial and opinions are divided between NGO and government. Commercial forestry activities on the boundary of the World Heritage property have been the focus of on-going debate between the State Party and the Australian conservation NGOs over a number of years. In the evaluation report of this property, IUCN noted that there is forested land outside the property which may have World Heritage values and which would contribute to the integrity of the property. In addition, a number of other reports, mainly from NGOs, have raised concerns over forestry operations, including the associated risks of increased fire frequency and have called for an extension of the World Heritage property.
The 1997 Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) between the Federal and State Governments was designed to balance conservation needs with sustainable forestry needs. IUCN notes that important steps had been made by the RFA toward developing a comprehensive, adequate and representative reserve system, but urges the State Party not to foreclose any options related to future extension of the World Heritage property. In particular, IUCN recommends that areas of the dedicated RFA reserve system with potential World Heritage value should be managed in a manner consistent with potential World Heritage status and should ideally be added to the World Heritage property as originally recommended in the IUCN evaluation report.
IUCN notes that there are different views from NGOs and the State Party as to which areas outside the boundary of the property actually are of World Heritage value. IUCN considers further assessment of areas outside the property that have the potential to meet the criteria for Outstanding Universal Value is required. This should be undertaken in conjunction with an EIA on the impacts of the proposed forestry operations on the World Heritage property.
The Director and Chief of the East Asia and Pacific Unit of the World Heritage Centre visited the property on 13 and 14 February 2007, including the areas outside the eastern boundary of the property, which are being logged or have been identified for logging. Although the visit was not in the context of a reactive monitoring mission, the staff from the World Heritage Centre had the opportunity to meet with various officials from the Federal and Tasmanian Government, from the Agency managing the World Heritage property, as well as with representatives from various NGOs expressing different concerns related to the logging operations.
The World Heritage Centre notes that on-going and planned logging operations outside the boundary of the World Heritage area affect portions of old-growth forest, of the same heritage value of that which is presently included in the listed property. At the time of the extension of the property, in 1989, the Committee had already noted the existence of these areas of natural heritage significance, and had expressed the hope that they could be added in the future to the World Heritage property. At the same time, the Committee had strongly welcomed the 78% increase in the area of the site (which now totals approximately 1,383 million hectares), which it considered, with its new boundaries, fully satisfactory in terms of value and integrity. For this reason, while maintaining that it would be desirable to have these areas of old-growth forest identified for logging preserved and added to the World Heritage property one day, the World Heritage Centre considers that they may not be “critical” for the safeguarding of Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage property. However, the World Heritage Centre concurs with the view that it would be good to manage these areas in a manner which is consistent with a potential World Heritage value.
Risk of fire from forest regeneration activities appeared a more immediate concern. It seems, indeed, that on a couple of instances, a fire set for regeneration purposes to areas adjacent to the World Heritage property got out of control and affected some minor portions of the listed forest. Fire is actually a major issue for the managing authority, especially natural fires from lightning, and a complex system of fire prevention and management has been established. The World Heritage Centre considers therefore that what is required at this stage is a thorough assessment of the degree of risk related to regeneration fires in areas adjacent to the World Heritage property as well as of the effectiveness of the fire management system in place.