Feds move on World Heritage

THE federal government has written to the World Heritage Committee requesting that 117 newly protected areas of Tasmanian forest be stripped of their World Heritage status.

It is a move that the state government has warned could unpick the forest peace deal.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt has asked that a significant portion of the 172,000-hectare extension to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area approved by UNESCO last year be cut out, because areas "show evidence of previous disturbance, including forestry operations".

In a letter to Tasmanian Resources Minister Bryan Green yesterday, Tasmanian Liberal Senator Richard Colbeck said the areas sought for excision included eucalyptus and pine plantations.

The letter, obtained by The Examiner, said: "The Government believes that the inclusion of these areas detracts from the integrity and World Heritage values of the property, in particular its values as a pristine wilderness area."

Senator Colbeck said the proposed boundary changes would not affect areas that were already national or state parks before being granted World Heritage status in June, believed to be about 50,000 hectares.

"The request also retains the highest conservation values in the 2013 extension while delivering on part of the Australian government's plan to boost Tasmania's competitiveness, particularly in the resources, forestry, fisheries and agriculture sectors," he said.

It is not yet known whether the proposal includes rolling back the protection of the Styx and Florentine valleys, the preservation of which was a key plank of the Tasmanian Forestry Agreement.

Senator Colbeck would not provide the detailed proposal last night.

Tasmanian Environment Minister Brian Wightman warned Mr Hunt last week that failing to deliver protection for those areas would "almost certainly" cause the forestry agreement to fail, with implications for the sustainability of the industry.

Almost 70,000 people signed a petition calling for the federal government not to attempt to reduce the World Heritage Area.

Mr Wightman said he was concerned that reducing the World Heritage Area would damage Tasmania's brand and damage tourism, and he requested that the state be fully consulted on any proposed amendments before they were submitted.

Mr Hunt has already forwarded the proposal to the Australian Mission to UNESCO in Paris, which will submit it to the World Heritage Centre today.

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