The State Party submitted a comprehensive state of conservation report on the property on 28 January 2008, including responses to each of the issues raised by the World Heritage Committee in Decision 31 COM 7B.43.
At the invitation of the State Party, a joint World Heritage Centre / IUCN / ICOMOS mission took place between 15-20 March 2008, as requested by the World Heritage Committee,to assess the state of conservation of the property, focussing on theappropriate management of areas of heritage value which are currently outside the property, fire risks and their management, and the impacts of proposed forestry operations and roads on the outstanding universal value of the property. The full mission report can be consulted on-line at the following address: http://whc.unesco.org/archive/2008 and a summary of the findings is given below:
a) Cultural attributes
Cultural aspects of the outstanding universal value of the property are attributed principally to Aboriginal archaeological and cultural sites in caves on the Franklin and Gordon Rivers. These are an outstanding example of a traditional way of life in extreme southern latitudes in the last 34,000 years during the last glaciation and recession of the Pleistocene Era. Little has been reported on the conservation status of these cultural sites and landscapes. The mission is of the view that the existing sites within the inscribed property Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA) are now better documented and remain an exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition. However, there is a lack of detailed conservation management planning.
The property needs to have better re-definition of themes in both Aboriginal and European land occupation and history (although these latter are not related to outstanding universal value), cultural landscape analysis and appropriate management, improved interpretation, improved partnerships and consultation and better training, documentation and data bases.
b) Additional cultural areas of potential outstanding universal value
The mission noted a range of sites outside the inscribed area that could potentially demonstrate outstanding universal value and augment the context of the existing inscribed sites, by setting them into a wider context of Aboriginal land-use practices. Various NGOs have recommended that areas in the Western Tiers (north-east of the inscribed area) and Recherche Bay (south-east) should be included within an expanded boundary for the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.The mission could not provide a recommendation on whether the parts of the Western Tiers or Recherche Bay should be included in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area without further survey and documentation. The mission did however note that logging immediately outside the inscribed area might be having an impact on cultural sites of potential outstanding universal value.
Despite the presence of archaeological and Aboriginal cultural sites of potential outstanding universal value outside the property, in the view of the mission there is not an overriding argument in terms of protection of these sites for extending the boundaries as these sites are being protected by other means.
The mission considered that following further survey and research, the State Party might wish to consider, at its own discretion, nominating certain areas as an extension of the existing property or as a serial nomination. There are areas such as the upper Florentine that have both archaeological sites that relate in some way to the existing inscribed archaeological sites and have high natural values such as the mixed rain forest tall eucalypts. Meanwhile these sites should be managed for their cultural values. The mission also commented on the potential of the property to be re-nominated as a cultural landscape.
The mission recommends that resources should be greatly enhanced for identifying, recording and protecting archeological and aboriginal sites both those within the property and those adjacent which might have the potential to demonstrate outstanding universal value. Resources should be increased to enable the Tasmanian Aboriginal Land and Sea Council (TALSC) to conserve its cultural sites and improve land management capability, and also for identifying, monitoring, interpreting, and managing aboriginal and historical sites, and cultural landscapes,demonstrating Aboriginal land-use. The Aboriginal Relics Act also needs to be updated and passed into law.
d) Natural attributes :
The natural values of the property include undisturbed wilderness, encompassing most of the last temperate rain forest remaining in Australia, as well as tracts of tall eucalypt forest. The mission noted that 46.3% of Tasmanian native forest communities are protected by a system of formal and informal reserves, including national parks and the TWWHA. These reserves include about 79.3% of all remaining old growth forests of the state. Since inscription, better science on conservation planning and additional knowledge of the attributes of potential outstanding universal value, both within and outside the property is available on the ecology, biodiversity and cultural values. Climatechange, invasive species, connectivity and the integrity of ecological processes add to protected area management challenges and have led Australian NGOs to suggest a re-consideration of the World Heritage property boundaries.
The mission noted that contour or a straight line boundary for a protected area, such as that set for the TWWHA adds to the management challenge of assuring the ecological integrity, connectivity and the integrity of ecosystem processes. However, the choice of this boundary in 1989 was based on a consultative process that also took into account socio-economic considerations. Under the Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement a series of CAR (Comprehensive, Adequate and Representative) reserves have been established adjoining the TWWHA. These areas, together with the TWWHA, currently provide a basis for addressing these challenges.
e) Appropriate management of areas of natural heritage value which are currently outside the property
The mission noted that forested areas adjoining the World Heritage Property are governed under the Regional Forestry Agreement (RFA), signed in 1997, between the Commonwealth and State Governments. However, a subsequent supplementary Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement (TCFA) was signed in 2005. The RFA is a framework that covers both public and private lands. Under the RFA, the adjoining area to the property has different management objectives to those of the TWWHA. Under the RFA and TCFA, a range of commitments were made which have a direct bearing on the management of areas adjoining the Tasmanian Wilderness Area, including a system of informal and formal reserves, control of pesticides, and specifications for regeneration of felled areas in native forests. Reserves set up under the RFA are subject to mineral exploration unlike the lands in the TWWHA. Biodiversity-rich zones have been identified and are managed for special species timber harvesting. Clear felling is not allowed in these zones. Many of these special management zones are located directly adjoining the TWWHA borders. The RFA includes a range of other commitments regarding forest conservation noted in the mission report.
The mission noted a five year review of the RFA was completed earlier in 2008 and a number of its observations are relevant to the management of the area adjoining the TWWHA, including the need to complete management plans of reserves and provide resources to implement them, the need to review mechanisms to ensure that forest harvesting does not impact on the integrity of the boundary of reserves, publish compliance auditing, and to implement an environmental management system. Threatened species information is also lacking and thus is not available to guide land use decisions. Furthermore, subsequent changes in legislation and practices require amendments to the RFA and the implications of logging practices on water catchments require further consideration.
The mission notes that a fundamental underlying component of the RFA is the Forest Practices System. Compliance is detailed in the Forest Practices Code, which has been assessed to be comprehensive and amongst the most prescriptive in the world.
f) Risk from regeneration fires in areas adjacent to the World Heritage property and effectiveness of fire management
The mission noted that regeneration of Eucalyptus forests through regeneration burns and seeding is an accepted silviculture treatment and is used in production forests for regenerating Eucalyptus, a fire dependent species. If there is no fire, the tall eucalypts become ‘senescent’ and in time very old southern beech will dominate. Fire management however has inherent risks in its application which require careful management.
It was reported to the mission that in the past twenty years of regeneration fire treatments there has only been one fire escape (in 1989) among the over 500 regeneration burns carried out.
The mission noted that tall Eucalyptus forests within the TWWHA and forest reserves provide an opportunity to apply a holistic management approach through a landscape-level/scale vegetation plan that addresses fire use. Having managers of national parks and the forestry reserve estate prepare and implement such a plan jointly would be preferable to the various parties planning separately. The State Party has reported that an integrated Fire-Risk Management Plan for Tasmania is in the process of being prepared and would be completed by end of 2009.
g) Impacts of proposed forestry operations (including the construction of new roads) on the outstanding universal value of the property,
The mission noted that construction of roads, use of regeneration fires and logging operations are all strictly regulated under the Forest Practices Code (FPC) of 2000, which is currently undergoing a process of review. Logging roads in close proximity to the Tasmanian Wilderness Area provide access to the property and if unregulated can lead to possible damage to cultural sites or sensitive vegetation, and threaten rare and endangered species and may provide access for invasive species. Forestry Tasmania are conscious of the above as well as of the risk posed to expensive equipment on site and in response have instituted a gated system to control motorised access.
The mission considers that the standards applied to road building activities include significant requirements for environmental design, but also noted that there may be ways to reduce the need for road construction using the most modern equipment. The mission also noted that where roads are not longer needed their rehabilitation would enhance the aesthetics of the property.
h) Climate Change
The mission noted that the size of the area and the diversity of its ecosystems contribute to its adaptive capacity to climate change. The property would benefit from an active programme for monitoring the impacts of climate change, including for carrying out a vulnerability assessment for both natural and cultural (archaeological) resources and to prepare an adaptation strategy on that basis. This could be integrated within the recommended strategy and action plan for reducing risks to the World Heritage property.
i) Minerals leases
The mission noted that areas with high mineralization zones were left out of the TWWHA at the time of inscription or not included in national parks. In the 1989 technical evaluation of the revision of the 1982 inscription of the property, IUCN had drawn attention to small-scale mining operations at several locations such as Oakleigh Creek, Adamsfield, Melaleuca, and Jane River. When approving the extension to the property, the World Heritage Committee noted with satisfaction the statement by the Australian observer that legislation had been passed to revoke all mining rights within the World Heritage site. While some of these areas, such as the Adamsfield conservation area had already been incorporated into the World Heritage property (though not included in a National Park), the mission is of the opinion that all the remaining areas including those noted by IUCN in its evaluation should be incorporated into the World Heritage property as soon as the existing leases expire and that renewal or granting of any new leases should not be considered.
j) Statement of outstanding universal value
Since the inscription and subsequent expansion of the property, new knowledge has come to light on the ecology and biodiversity values of, for example, the Tall Eucalyptus Forest of Tasmania, and cultural values arising from subsequent archaeological and Aboriginal evaluations. The original and the subsequent Statement of outstanding universal value at the time of expansion do not measure up to the 2008 Operational Guidelines standards expected of sites presently under consideration.
k) Additional natural areas of potential outstanding universal value
In its decision (31 COM 7B.43) the World Heritage Committee also urged the State Party to consider the extension of the World Heritage property to “include critical old-growth forests to the east and north of the property, or at least to manage these forests in a manner which is consistent with a potential World Heritage value". According to RFA sourced statistics provided to the mission by the State Party, the vegetation types in all age classes dominated by the four Eucalyptus species that characterize tall Eucalyptus forests (E. regnans, E. delegatensis, E. nitida, and E. obliqua) total 237,000 ha in Tasmania. Of this area, the old growth in reserve status totals 172,000 ha or 73%. The TWWHA and areas managed under its management plan, contains 90,900ha or 38% of Tasmania’s tall old growth forests dominated by the four named Eucalyptus species.
The mission noted that there are currently 21 protected areas, mainly to the north and east, which are excluded from the boundaries of the World Heritage property but covered by its management plan, and recommends an extension of the property to include these areas. The management of these areas is essentially the same as that of areas within the boundaries. In the draft 2007 Management Plan of the property, which has been prepared as a result of the ongoing review of the 1999 management plan, the State Party indicates that these areas, which are considered by the State Party to have World Heritage values, will be considered for inclusion into the World Heritage property in 2009. Such a proposal would need to be evaluated through the standard processes of the World Heritage Committee as a boundary modification or a proposed extension
l) Comments from IUCN
IUCN notes that the current eastern boundary of the property is not ecologically based and represents a past compromise between different opinions and views. It is noted that there are many areas of the boundary on the eastern side of the property which follow contours across mountain slopes. In the opinion of IUCN the boundary as currently established, whilst functional to date, is not ideal or consistent with current best practice for boundary demarcation for World Heritage properties.
IUCN has consistently noted that there are areas of Old Growth Eucalyptus Forest adjoining the existing World Heritage property which have potential as to be added to the property. The mission received new information on the values of these adjoining areas adjacent to the property in a detailed report from the Environmental NGOs, which suggested the ecological diversity of the tall eucalypt ecosystem is incompletely represented in the World Heritage area, and, in particular, that only 29% of tall eucalypt forest is included within the property. It has also been suggested that the values outside the property are different and complementary to those of the tall eucalypt forest included in the property. Areas of high potential value as World Heritage have consistently been identified, including tall eucalypt forests in the Styx valley and the Upper Florentine.
IUCN notes the long history of discussion regarding the boundaries of the property both before and after the last extension. In the view of IUCN the decision to prepare any further World Heritage nomination is a matter for the State Party. The possibility of extension of the property is not a matter for IUCN in detail because it would also be the evaluating body of any proposal for an extension or boundary modification. However, IUCN notes that there is a clear body of evidence that there are areas which may have potential to demonstrate outstanding universal value which are outside the existing boundary of the property.
In the view of IUCN, it would be desirable that a moratorium on logging activity in areas of potential outstanding universal value be considered, as logging in these areas would foreclose the option of adding these areas to the property.
IUCN considers the proposed extension involving the 21 new additions could be valuable, noting these areas are under no direct threat from logging and associated activities and may not necessarily reflect the most important areas of tall eucalypt forest.