Thousands attend rally opposing Australia's's application to remove World Heritage listing of 74,000 hectares of Tasmanian forests; Wilderness Society claims federal government is proposing to log southern hemisphere's equivalent of California redwoods

SYDNEY , June 16, 2014 () – Thousands of Australians rallied on Saturday against the proposed logging of protected forests in rugged Tasmania before a Unesco World Heritage meeting where the issue will be discussed.

The conservative government has asked Unesco to revoke its World Heritage listing for 74 000ha of forest, claiming it is not pristine, and open it up to the timber industry.

The annual World Heritage Committee meeting started yesterday in Doha, with up to 5 000 people protesting against the move outside Tasmania's state parliament in Hobart.

The area slated for delisting is part of 120 000ha added last year to the Tasmanian Wilderness area under the previous Labour government - culminating a long battle waged by environmentalists.

"The Abbott government is attacking the notion of World Heritage by proposing to log iconic Tasmanian forests already accepted as World Heritage," said Wilderness Society official Vica Bayley. "With ancient trees up to 100m tall, these forests are the Southern Hemisphere's equivalent of the Californian Redwoods."

Australia's timber industry has an annual turnover of $19.7 billion (R210bn) each year, and contributes around $7.5bn to the country's GDP and employs more than 66 000 people, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott wanting more forest available.

"We don't support, as a government and as a coalition, further lockouts of our forests," he said earlier this year. "We have quite enough national parks, we have quite enough locked up forests already. In fact… we have too much locked up forest."

The government claims the area it wants delisted is already "degraded", having been logged before. Opponents say only 8.6 percent of it has been disturbed with the rest pristine old-growth rainforest.

The opposition Greens Party has labelled Abbott the "dig it up, cut it down prime minister" with the government's environmental credentials under close scrutiny since coming to office last September.

In December, the government approved a massive coal port expansion and the dumping of dredge waste in the Great Barrier Reef, a move that alarmed Unesco. The fate of the reef is another issue the World Heritage Committee will examine in Doha.

It is under pressure not just from climate change and the destructive coral-eating crown of thorns starfish, but agricultural run-off and rampant coastal development linked to mining.

Unesco is considering downgrading the reef's status to "World Heritage in Danger" in the absence of Australia showing "substantial" progress in dealing with the problems. - Sapa-AFP

Cape Argus

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