Tasmania’s old growth and high conversation value forests are a UNESCO World Heritage site, and no wonder: They constitute over 1 million hectares and are one of the last expanses of temperate rainforests in the world. The forests are also home to many iconic species, more than a few of which — the swift parrot, the loggerhead turtle, the Tasmanian devil — are endangered.
You’d think every single one of us would be doing all we can to preserve such a precious resource. But last year, the Australian government proposed a “minor modification” (.pdf) to the boundary of the Tasmanian wilderness. The administration of Prime Minister Tony Abbott wanted to delist as a World Heritage Site a huge swathe — 74,000 hectares — of the forests and open them up for logging. The previous Labor administration had added 172,500 hectares of forest to be protected; the Abbott administration claimed a good share of these had been degraded by logging or were the site of plantations and, therefore, should not be given special status.
Had the Abbott administration been able to go through with its plans, Australia would have been only the second developed country (the other being Germany) to have sought to remove a site, or part of a site, from World Heritage Status.
At its annual meeting in June in Doha, the Unesco World Heritage Committee labeled the Australian government’s proposal “feeble.” The proposal was said to be “extremely sparse in the material that has been provided” and not comparable in “quality to the clearly argued position in the proposal for additions that were made last year.”
In the Guardian, world heritage expert Alec Marr said that the World Heritage Committee had seen through “the deception of the Australian government’s efforts” and commended “the high quality science and professionalism of the advisory bodies.”
Highly aware of the need to protect the Tasmanian forests, more than 70,000 Care2 members signed a petition demanding that Unesco preserve the forests’ status as a World Heritage Site. Care2 member Abby Gee started the petition because, as she wrote,
[...] even the Tasmanian forestry industry association doesn’t want changes to the current world heritage listing boundary.
World heritage sites such as these Tasmanian forests are places that are important to and belong to everyone (not corporations), irrespective of where they are located. They have universal value that transcends the value they hold for a particular nation. No matter your political views, these forests must protected and defended vigorously.
Thousands of Care2 members who signed Abby’s petition clearly thought the same.
Many of us may never have the chance to travel around the globe and the see rare creatures and the one-of-kind plants that live only in Tasmania’s forests. But that doesn’t mean we value them any less. Signing Abby’s petition was a way for each of us to state how much the continued existence of those hectares of trees and fauna and wildlife means for all of us, everywhere.
The Tasmanian rainforests are far from the only still-pristine ecosystems that face imminent threats. In Australia, we need to take action to stop a highway extension from being constructed through the Beeliar wetlands and to fight against legislation that would impose mandatory jail terms for environmental protesters. Start a petition and, whether you get a couple hundred signatures or a couple thousand, you are making a difference by letting it be known that, if a tree in a protected heritage site is cut down, someone will know that it was felled and will take action to prevent the loss of more trees.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons