21 Mar 2016

Tasmanian forests escape axe

5:11 am on 21 March 2016

Tasmania's government has abandoned plans to selectively log its Wilderness World Heritage Area after UNESCO recommended against it.

Footpath through Temperate Rainforest, Strahan, Tasmania, Australia.

Footpath through Temperate Rainforest, Strahan, Tasmania, Australia. Photo: AFP

But in a final report released last night, UNESCO advised against the plan.

The government had no obligation to abide by the report, but said it would.

Environment Minister Matthew Groom said the government would abide by the recommendation as it had said it would.

"The Tasmanian government together with the Australian government accepts the recommendations of the mission's report," he said.

"Specifically, we acknowledge the recommendation by the UN mission to not allow special-species timber harvesting in the Wilderness World Heritage Area."

The specialty-species timber sector is yet to comment on the report but Mr Groom said the result was disappointing for them.

"We've said all along we will accept the umpire's decision and we will continue to work with the sector to ensure it's got a positive future," he said.

Labor spokeswoman Rebecca White said the government, and in particular the previous forestry minister Paul Harriss, had let the specialty timber craft sector down.

"I think the government has been shown as being very ineffective when it comes to standing up for specialty timbers in our state," she said.

"In fact, minister Paul Harriss didn't meet with UNESCO when they visited the state last year."

Instead Premier Will Hodgman met the UNESCO representatives in November.

Tasmanian Greens leader Cassy O'Connor said the push to selectively log in the World Heritage Area was always a political move.

"Now the United Nations report has come down and we've seen Matthew Groom frantically backpedal from plans to log in the Wilderness World Heritage Area as he should," she said.

"He should also be embarrassed by the content of his draft World Heritage Area Management Plan and commit to rewriting it immediately."

Mr Groom talked up the report's comments about the government's plan to open the world heritage area to tourism developments.

"I think what is important in this report is that it acknowledges the legitimacy of the Tasmanian government's tourism EOI [Expressions of Interest] process within the World Heritage Area," he said.

"It also recognises that sensitive tourism can co-exist with the proper protection of natural and cultural values."

But Ms O'Connor said the report called for strict criteria around any tourism development.

"The problem that we have is the expressions of interest process has been embarked on before we have strict criteria in place for tourism development in the World Heritage Area. This is all back to front," she said

Vica Bayley from the Wilderness Society called on the state and federal governments to clearly outline the steps they would take to address UNESCO's recommendations.

A spokesperson for the specialty-species timber sector has been contacted for comment.


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