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Tasmania’s forests to remain under World Heritage

The 74,000 hectares of Tasmania’s controversial World Heritage extension will not be delisted as requested by the Tasmanian and federal governments. At the meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee…

Parts of Tasmania’s World Heritage area will not be delisted – but the forests will still need management and protection. ngaur/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

The 74,000 hectares of Tasmania’s controversial World Heritage extension will not be delisted as requested by the Tasmanian and federal governments.

At the meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Doha, the decision to reject the proposal was made in under ten minutes late on Monday (overnight Australian time), with reportedly no objections from any members of the Committee to retain the areas in World Heritage. In rejecting the move, Portugal condemned Australia’s request as “feeble”.

Tasmania’s World Heritage Area and extension. Screenshot from Department of Environment

The story so far

Under the previous state and federal Labor governments, 172,000 hectares were added to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area as a “minor boundary modification” under the Tasmanian forest peace deal. The extension was accepted into World Heritage at a meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in June last year. The decision included a request that Australia undertake more study of cultural heritage values, in consultation with the Tasmanian Aboriginal community.

There was some concern in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature that the size of the extension (more than a 10% increase in the area) was not “minor” and required more time and resources for a complete assessment.

In the lead-up to the 2013 election, the current federal government sought to have 74,000 hectares of the area delisted, on grounds that it includes degraded forests unworthy of World Heritage.

While debate has centred on forests, the extension may also satisfy a suite of other criteria for inclusion in World Heritage, including unique geology and important indigenous cultural sites.

New information on degraded forests

Previously on The Conversation, Tom Fairman examined just how much of the area to be delisted contained “degraded”, previously logged, or plantation forest. At the time we only had so much information — primarily the amount of eucalyptus and pine plantation in the World Heritage area, which turned out to be less than 1% of the area proposed to be excised.

Since then a Senate Inquiry, headed up by Labor and the Greens, allowed some numbers to be put on the extent of forest resulting from former logging and other activities. The data was drawn from environmental groups, state and federal authorities.

This information was relayed in the International Union for Conservation of Nature brief to the World Heritage Committee.

IUCN advised against delisting, indicating that of the 74,000 hectares, approximately 10% had been logged since the 1960s (when reliable records began). However, 44% of the area is considered to be old-growth forest – that is, ecologically mature forest where the effects of disturbances are now negligible.

The remainder of the 74,000 hectares is a mix of:

  • unlogged, but not old-growth, native forest - like regrowth from bushfires (15%);
  • forest potentially logged more than 50 years ago (6%);
  • rainforest (8%); and
  • grasslands and non-forest (17%).

The International Council on Monuments and Sites advises the World Heritage Committee on cultural properties, landscapes and archaeological values. They advised against the listing until assessment of cultural values in the proposed extension. This led to the World Heritage Committee to release a draft decision in May rejecting the proposed boundary modification, and it was this decision the Committee adhered to.

What does the decision mean for Tasmania and its forests?

Forests in Tasmania’s Florentine Valley. ToniFish/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

The decision to support retention of the World Heritage extension will come as relief to the conservation groups that have campaigned for the area to be protected for many decades.

It is expected that the additions will remain as “Future Reserve Land” tenure until they are formally reserved, as was the case with the extension in 2013. However, the creation of new reserves is pending management plans and consultation with communities.

But here are other considerations now that these areas remain World Heritage. For instance, World Heritage protection does not necessarily guarantee the forests are “locked up” from all forms of development.

For example, the Great Barrier Reef was recognised as World Heritage over three decades ago, and is managed for commercial activities such as fishing, tourism and shipping under regulated conditions that should maintain its World Heritage values. At the meeting in Doha, a decision over whether to list the Reef as World Heritage “In Danger” due to port developments was delayed until 2015.

It has not been done in the past, but in Tasmania, timber harvesting could occur in these areas if undertaken in a manner which maintains their World Heritage values. This will be an area to watch in coming years, though statements from the federal and Tasmanian governments indicate that they will respect the World Heritage decision despite the forest policy landscape having shifted substantially since the last Tasmanian election.

It is also important to remember that placing forests in a certain conservation land tenure does not necessarily protect them from catastrophic wildfires, invasive pests or diseases which may be made worse by climate change. For example, in other parts of Australia, we have seen some of our most treasured National Parks suffer serious biodiversity loss and repeated bushfire damage.

Therefore, even without timber extraction, these forests will need active management to ensure their resilience to a changing future. This does not always come cheap – the cost of management tends to be overlooked in decisions to change conservation status. In fact, park management agencies are having to manage larger areas with fewer resources, an alarming trend that has been identified for some time.

So while the battle to protect these forests in World Heritage may be won to the relief of many, it is by no means the end of ensuring the protection and future security, in perpetuity, of these forests.

The authors would like to thank environment and heritage consultant Peter Hitchcock AM for providing updates on the proceedings and decisions from the World Heritage meeting at Doha.

Join the conversation

48 Comments sorted by

  1. Mike Swinbourne

    logged in via Facebook

    Some good news on the Australian environment for a change.

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  2. Peter Frey

    Project Officer

    Yes - great news!

    .... and it only took 7 minutes for UNESCO to spot a fraud case and deal with it!

    Australia is developing quite a reputation abroad but I am really pleased to see UNESCO deal with this for what it was - an attempt to once again, dismantle and rip apart accomplishments for the sake of .... ?

    For the sake of the 1% rich who once again thought that they could get away with plundering the environment.

    Thankfully not in Tasmania, this time!

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  3. John Newlands

    tree changer

    Perhaps climate change is the next threat to the forests. Future rain may come in irregular squalls rather than recurring drizzle which will be harder on understorey plants like tree ferns. The dense forest will give way to more open woodland with less annual carbon uptake.

    A side issue is that of forest road maintenance for recreational users. For example the tourist road to the Big Tree Reserve in the Styx Valley is now rutted and potholed. However any of the unlocked side roads to recent logging coupes are quite suitable for 2WD cars. Who is going to maintain the tourist roads?

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    1. Tom Fairman

      PhD Student at University of Melbourne

      In reply to John Newlands

      Hi John,
      Yes, it will be very important over the coming decades for researchers to record, observe and predict how the Tassie forests will change with climate - an interesting parallel has been released in the US which shows that the iconic conifer forests of Minnesota may change to broadleaf forests in the next 100 years. (see: http://phys.org/news/2014-06-iconic-minnesota-conifers-broad-leafed-forest.html)

      And you've raised a very good point there regarding access to forests. This is an issue very often brought up in the discussions around changing tenure of forests from wood production to conservation. Hopefully, with the valuing of these forests as a tourism asset to Tasmania, the adequate funding will be directed towards the maintenance of access - not just for visitors, but also for fire management, too.

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    2. John Newlands

      tree changer

      In reply to Tom Fairman

      There are grey areas of law here. For example I sometimes use a gravel road now controlled by Parks and Wildlife under the forest peace deal. However NPWS have no money to patrol the road so users need to take a chainsaw and tow rope to clear fallen trees. It all feels somewhat odd.

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    3. Anthony Nolan

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to John Newlands

      Shit mate, I have to travel with a chainsaw and a snig hitch on local council roads where I live, state of economic disrepair.

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  4. Dean Frenkel

    logged in via Facebook

    This is great news!!! It's much more important that these forests be permanently protected than timber workers have temporary jobs and forest industries have profits. Gunns has ripped Tasmania apart and sold it short.

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  5. Chris Owens

    Professional

    "In fact, park management agencies are having to manage larger areas with fewer resources...". This is not an inevitability as governments choose where to assign funding. In my own local park I have seen budgets cut year on year for weed control and feral animals by both Liberal and Labor.

    However when a significant public event was scheduled for the park, all of a sudden there was plenty of money for park improvements including paths, fencing, a toilet block and other improvements to prepare the park for the event.

    If governments are short of money, perhaps they could look at negative gearing, super tax concessions and company tax avoidance for starters.

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  6. Joe Gartner

    Eating Cake

    Excellent news, i agree. It is a fiction that previously logging, or using a forest previously in any way, devalues any world heritage value.

    The forests have long been shaped by human hand anyway. The Tasmanian aborigines have burnt large parts of the south west for thousands of years, which is why it looks like it does now.

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    1. Dick Adams

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Joe Gartner

      Does that mean you would support logging in WHA's for specialty timbers such as boats and high end furniture?

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    2. Joe Gartner

      Eating Cake

      In reply to Dick Adams

      Depends, i think that remote 'wilderness' areas should be off limits but world heritage areas that are tangibly altered by recent human activity should be fair game, to a point.
      i am sanguine about restricted licenses to timber cutting of sasssafras, huon pine, celery top etc in rainforest areas PROVIDED that replanting is conducted - otherwise it's hardly a sustainable industry, is it? The worst case scenario is that timber cutters cut out the valuable species from areas of close proximity to waterways and roads and then agitate for removal of timber from areas of special significance.

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    3. Alice Kelly
      Alice Kelly is a Friend of The Conversation.

      sole parent

      In reply to Dick Adams

      Areas of forest outside the world heritage area should be set aside and logged for specialty timber, in a manner which doesn't include clear felling. If there needs to be a resource for these timbers, why obliterate a forest totally to get to it, and why should a world heritage area be its only source. Surely it's time for foresters to manage forests sustainably. This is what they say they do.

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    4. Dick Adams

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Alice Kelly

      I guess that’s the whole point Alice, the available forest was not world heritage 12 months ago and now is, with no supply guarantee to ensure their longevity. They have been pushed and pushed to the point where they will no longer exist – which is fine if we are talking about pristine sequoia forest with 3,000 year old trees.

      But what makes this decision a bit more controversial is that the WHA assessors and environmental commentators are suggesting that even if a parcel of land has been logged before and re grows (in some cases more than once), it should be considered world heritage because it displays those values.

      On that basis (I am not sure if you live in Tasmania or not), the only difference between your house or block of flats (or whatever structure / property type you live in) and a World Heritage listing, is a bull dozer and about 30-50 years of natural or facilitated regeneration – go figure!

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    5. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Alice Kelly

      Alice

      Perhaps you'd like to tell the reported 2,000 workers and their families who may well lose their livelihoods over this to simply 'get over it'.

      The particularly galling them for them is that they are suffering from a process that has not even yet identified whether there will be any significant conservation gains, ..... but hey it does seem to making people who have no stake in this and who will probably never visit these areas anyway, very happy. What a wonderful world.

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    6. Dick Adams

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Alice Kelly

      Again, Alice, that's the point. These guys were not consulted and never supported the agreement.

      I have nothing to get over as I am unaffected by what people choose to do with their land management in Tasmania. I am merely a commentator on a subject matter that I have practical experience in, particularly fire management.

      Mark is right though, there are a lot of people that have and will have to tell their families that they don't know how they are going to put food on the table, and these people are not multinational paper merchants. It is important to stay sensitive to this.

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    7. Dan Gavel

      teacher

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      2000 workers may lose their jobs because 70,000 odd hectares are kept as world heritage ? According to Jackie Schirmer here on the conversation the industry only employs 3400 people in 2011.
      http://theconversation.com/still-here-why-tasmanian-forest-industry-job-figures-are-misleading-10827
      Your figure seems excessive given the total number of current employees.
      this is comprised of
      1040 forestry workers and loggers
      123 forestry support services
      wood manufacturing 1771
      various paper manufacturing 476
      According to their own figures ,Forestry Tasmania manages 1.5 million hectares of land. Only half is available for wood production – the rest is set aside for conservation and recreation. That still leaves them with 750.000 odd hectares to log. So how will 2000 jobs go if we excise the 74.000 hectares?.

      Methinks thou art over egging the cake a trifle.....

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    8. Alice Kelly
      Alice Kelly is a Friend of The Conversation.

      sole parent

      In reply to Dan Gavel

      I would add to bot Mark and Dick that it is not unusual for transformation of industry to lead to initial job losses, perhaps they could reflect on the direct and indirect numbers who have lost jobs in the car industry?
      I agree with you Dan, and also would dispute Mark's numbers.
      Dick, my insensitivity is not directed at these workers, but 'commentary' which I think should move on. What is the next step, what industry could replace the jobs lost etc.
      There are many facing hard choices at the moment.

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    9. Chris Watson

      jack of all trades

      In reply to Dan Gavel

      Dan,

      Ms Schirmer's table in that article clearly states;

      "excluding employment in craftwood, furniture making and boat
      building dependent on special species timbers"

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    10. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Dan Gavel

      Dan

      You are quoting a gross available area that reduces considerably once management reservations such as stream reserves, or reserves for other environmental and cultural values are factored in, plus unsuitable or inaccessible areas.

      You are also forgetting the Tas Forest Agreement (the peace deal) which created 500,000 ha of new NP and halved the formerly available for timber production area.

      After all this, the available harvest area is now around 300,000 ha, which is just 12% of Tassies…

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    11. Alice Kelly
      Alice Kelly is a Friend of The Conversation.

      sole parent

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Forestry employment has been going down for some time. The losses in employment have been most spectacular in native forest industries. The Australian dollar, a shrinking market, (countries not wanting chip from non plantation forests, and a loss of new native forests have all contributed. But this does not mean the only way forward is to 'open up' new forests.
      page 9; "The result is that Tasmania's forest products industry will necessarily undergo a transition from reliance primarily on sawn-products…

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    12. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Alice Kelly

      I'm sorry Alice ... as soon as you mentioned Ross Gittens as being a supposedly credible commentator on forestry issues, you lost me.

      As I've said to you previously, if you are relying totally on the media and even sites like this, for you knowledge on this issue, you are only getting half the story.

      For example, economic commentators like Gittens and ENGOs have been talking for years about the industry being subsidised in Victoria.... yet a recent investigation by Victoria's Auditor General found that this is not the case.

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    1. John Newlands

      tree changer

      In reply to JB Rawson

      I have a couple of suggestions for wooden boat builders. Firstly go back in a time machine to the 1600s (circa Abel Tasman) and plant the species they want (Huon pine, celery top etc) on a patch of grassland. While they're at it try to prevent climate change. Second suggestion is switch to fibreglass.

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    2. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to JB Rawson

      Excuse me if I don't have any sympathy for a company that might go broke because it is no longer able to cut down trees to make expensive, fancy toy boats for rich hipsters to play with.

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    3. JB Rawson

      Writer

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Sympathy or not, if it's not that difficult to meet their needs while still maintaining the value of the site, surely that's a good thing to do. The whole Tassie forests process could do with a bit less drama and conflict. The more people who are happy to preserve the area, the better.

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  7. Comment removed by moderator.

  8. Michael Shand

    Software Tester

    Great Article, Offff Cooouuurrrrseeee, of course they can't just delist it because they decieded it is not a heritage area

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  9. Mark Poynter

    Forester

    Unfortunately, this article doesn't go far enough in explaining the background and lead-up to this issue. Notably that Tasmania already had 1.4 million ha of World Heritage listed areas even before last years 170,000 ha extension.

    Contrary to the article, the Abbott Govts attempt to revoke a 74,000 ha portion of this extension was not just based on it containing 'degraded' (in terms of wilderness) forests, but also on concerns that there had been no community consultation (read, it was a deceptive…

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    1. Rod Keenan

      Professor at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Hi Mark,

      World Heritage listing has been a politicized process for over 30 years since the Hawke Government first used it to prevent construction of the Gordon-below-Franklin dam in this region in 1983. I think the WHC has often been bemused about how federal-state politics is battled out in that forum.

      You're right that a large proportion of Tasmanian forest is now in protected areas, or will never be subject to timber harvesting, and that this is not well understood by most casual observers…

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    2. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Just a slight clarification of my post - if all the new National Parks are implemented after the Tas Forests Agreement (aka the "peace deal") multiple use State Forest will comprise only 20% of Tassie's total area of public forest, and the area within this that is still being managed for long term wood supply will comprise just 12% of the total public forest area.

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    3. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Rod Keenan

      G'day Rod

      Yes, its a nice sentiment to "move on and allow ..... a viable and prosperous forest-based industry to exist on less contested parts of the forest estate"

      Unfortunately, the industry's resource base has been shrunk to such an extent (now just 12% of the public forest) that there is considerable doubt as to how long the now much smaller industry can remain viable. Those in the industry who agreed to this may well have already conceded that they have only a short term future but may…

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    4. Edwina Laginestra
      Edwina Laginestra is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Jack of all trades

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Thanks Tom and Rod for an informative article. I certainly see the biggest problem coming is the lack of funding for park research and management.
      Mark, I always read your comments with interest on these articles, obviously due to your profession but also your passion. I'm interested in these articles as Tasmania is my favourite (affordable) place to visit, not just for the forests but for its culture, food, climate (I know that might sound strange to some), etc. I nearly always find something different…

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    5. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Edwina Laginestra

      G'day Edwina

      I don't disagree with you that "many people see logging as unsustainable and it needs a new way" and that this includes some scientists.

      However, there has been so much misinformation perpetuated around logging in Tas and elsewhere, that I would contend that these sentiments are based primarily on the perspectives of forest activists driving a no-logging agenda because that is essentially what is reported in the ,mainstream media. The reality is that such sentiments are often a…

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    6. Chris Watson

      jack of all trades

      In reply to Rod Keenan

      Rod,

      That is an interesting comment you make about moving on and working in les contested parts of the forest estate. A glance backwards into the not too distant past shows that many areas that weren't previously contentious now are and the environmental movements goalposts are constantly changing.

      I believe that this is one of the fundamental issues with Tasmania's forest conflict - insatiable demand for more reserves that are more emotionally based than scientifically justified.
      I think the real issue here that needs to be addressed is how much reservation is enough to preserve biodiversity whilst still allowing a community to function and use its natural resources.

      There must be a balance and if a forest resource can be used sustainably and ecosystems are maintained then any opposition to such use is really ideological - which is what we are seeing in Tasmania.

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    7. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Chris Watson

      Well said Chris. You've got to the heart of the matter. If you read the Coalition's media release after this WHA decision was announced, they said that their efforts to partly revoke the extension was about trying to restore the balance for the good of Tasmania.

      Yet, one of the leaders of the environmental movement is already talking about getting another 800,000 ha of Tas forest (Tarkine area) World Heritage listed. This would largely kill off the state';s mining industry which has operated in parts of that area for 100 years.

      Most of the strongly opinionated posters on sites such as this don't care about this because it won't directly affect them, but I wonder what sort of a place Tasmania will be to visitors when it does nothing but tourism and social welfare.

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    8. Edwina Laginestra
      Edwina Laginestra is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Jack of all trades

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Thanks Mark

      There is a lot of information there and I am in total agreement regarding poor information from MSM (as is just about everyone who would like to see as much information as possible about so many environmental controversies). But they like their narratives, and conflict is so much more exciting than the good news stories (as you point out). And yes, the focus is definitely on the clearfelling, and that is what many people object to although there are acknowledged advantages but many companies…

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    9. Dick Adams

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Edwina Laginestra

      If you take a step back and look at it logically, the best indicator into the impacts of clear falling practices, is the fact a significant proportion of land that was previously clear fallen is now World heritage. It is so for all the values you mentioned.

      The fundamental reason clear falling at a level the overall forest can sustain is not detrimental, is that it mimics a natural process - wildfire, which euc forests have evolved with for a long time.

      You really need to take a landscape approach…

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  10. Amanda Barnes
    Amanda Barnes is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Voter

    Portugal condemned Australia’s request as “feeble”. Pretty much sums up this government doesn't it. What is amazing to me is how completely impervious to international ridicule this government is despite so much evidence to the contrary.

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  11. Ross Barrell

    Aikido Student

    Great article. It's about time the Abbott government took it on the chin for some *very* dubious choices. I don't feel a sense of relief so much as as ense of vindication.

    Nice work UNESCO.

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  12. grant moule

    Consultant

    Good news. I read about this on the iPhone ABC news app. However, I noticed this news article very quickly disappeared from their website! (I wonder who requested it's disappearance...?)

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  13. Jill Sampson

    visual artist

    Good decision and thank you for this article. It cleared up some of the questions I had about the decision.

    I totally agree that Australia cannot lock up and leave any of our wonderful wild places. Our First Australians managed Australia's natural resources for an incredibly long time. While the changes over the past two centuries have had their own extreme impacts.

    I live on the farm I grew up and my family spend a lot of time and money managing the invasive weeds. This farm is only 500…

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  14. Tony Simons

    Director at Bedlam Bay Pty Ltd

    Great to see the fraudulent Abbott/ Hunt proposal tossed out.

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  15. David Arthur

    resistance gnome

    Could it be that the Federal government merely took the delisting proposal to the World Heritage committee as a "contractual obligation"?

    Perhaps they were never serious about resuming logging, but floated the idea as an election promise to get Hodgman elected?

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    1. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Margaret krupinski

      Margaret

      With all due respect, the link you've provided about worldwide deforestation is a different issue to that in Tasmania where forests are being harvested and then regenerated and so does not involve any forest cover loss.

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