Australia's proposal to remove 74,000 hectares from Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area is 'unusual' without corresponding addition, official tells Senate inquiry; government claims land has been disturbed by forestry, devalues remainder of site

CANBERRA, Australia , May 6, 2014 () – An attempt to chop tens of thousands of hectares from Tasmania's world heritage zone is unusual, a Senate inquiry has been told.

The government wants to strip back the boundary of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, claiming the 74,000 hectares devalues the rest of the protected land because it's already disturbed by forestry.

About 170,000 hectares of Tasmanian forest was added to the protected area in June 2013 as part of the historic agreement struck between green groups and the timber industry after decades of feuding.

If the proposal to UNESCO is approved, nearly half that listed area would be stripped of its protections.

The move is a coalition election promise as part of its economic growth plan for Tasmania, but the Greens say no new environmental evidence supports the decision.

Department of Environment deputy secretary Kimberley Dripps told a Senate inquiry on Tuesday the decision to reduce the area was made by cabinet as part of an election commitment.

The department had not conducted any new field work, had not sought external advice and had not peer-reviewed internal decisions.

For UNESCO to approve the proposal, it must enhance the outstanding universal value of the entire property.

"It is unusual, if not unprecedented, for that to be achieved by reduction in area of a property unless there's a corresponding addition," Dr Dripps said.

The government says previously logged areas were not sufficiently analysed in the 2013 assessment and jeopardised the overall integrity of the property.

Greens leader Christine Milne told the inquiry the World Heritage Centre had been lobbying for the 2013 extension and had granted it based on the same evidence held by the government.

Due to an election commitment, the departments were in the position of trying to find excuses to get rid of it.

"The Liberal Party developed an election policy to tear down world heritage forests and hand them over to the logging industry," Senator Milne later told reporters.

But Dr Dripps said the values of alternative uses for the land had to be considered.

"There's a range of tensions regarding conservation and economic activity in Tasmania," she said.

A decision on the government's boundary modification proposal is expected after June 15, but it could be up to three years before a final decision is made.

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(c) 2014 Australian Associated Press

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