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Australia Wants to Log in a World Heritage Rainforest

At the same time, a ton of new nominees are up for vote, including the 'Cave of Forgotten Dreams.'
Lake Pedder from Mt Eliza, Southwest National Park, Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. Image: JJ Harrison

In what sounds like fun but—judging from what I've streamed live—is actually pretty tedious, a UNESCO committee is meeting in Doha, Qatar this week to determine the newest additions to the list of World Heritage sites. The same committee will also weigh an unprecedented request by the Australian government to de-list Tasmanian rainforest to open the region for logging.

The long list of nominees includes sections of the original Silk Road, and the "Decorated Cave of Pont d'Arc." Also known as "Grotte Chauvet-Pont d'Arc" or just the Chauvet caves, the caves' famous artwork was preserved for posterity by a collapsed cliff wall 20,000 years ago, as well as by Werner Herzog's documentary, "The Cave of Forgotten Dreams."

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Oddly, the committee will also consider a request from the Australian government to remove 74,000 hectares of Tasmanian forest from the World Heritage list, in order to open the area for logging.

The committee, which comprises members from 21 countries, is set to announce its decision on Thursday or Friday, according to France's The Local.

The case for the cave paintings is pretty obvious: The paintings at Chauvet are estimated to be 36,000 years old, which makes them some of the world's oldest paintings. They're twice as old as the famous cave paintings in Lascaux, France, which have had UNESCO protection since 1979.

On the other side, you have the Australian government, which is making the unprecedented case for de-listing a World Heritage siteThe Tasmanian Wilderness is one of the last expanses of temperate rainforest left in the world, but the government has requested that 117 patches of “disturbed and previously logged forest” be removed from the protected World Heritage status and be opened to logging.

Framing the request as a "minor boundary modification," the Australian government has stated that "this will reduce the property area by 4.7 per cent and result in the removal of a number of pine and exotic eucalypt plantations as well as areas that have been logged."

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has called out the government's claims. As reported by The Guardian, the IUCN's report “criticised the government's proposal for providing 'relatively scant information' to support its case and said the way the boundaries had been drawn for the proposed excision appeared 'somewhat arbitrary.'”

"A Senate inquiry published last week concluded that less than 5 percent of the 74,000ha had ever been disturbed, and degraded areas did not justifying the delisting in any case," said the IUCN.

As the world's largest conservation organization, the IUCN's report will likely have a big impact on the committee's decision. Plus, regardless of what you think warrants UNESCO World Heritage status, protecting a rare ecosystem from economic encroachment is sort of the point of the program.

The UNESCO list is already 981 sites long, and will likely crest 1,000 this year. Given that the rising ocean is probably going to claim hundreds of them in the future, we should enjoy the peak while we're there.