Is it a World Heritage Site?
No. It’s not included in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area, covering around 20% of Tasmania’s land mass including areas such as Cradle Mountain (shown on the interactive map).
While some campaigners often refer to its “world heritage values” this does not mean it has a world heritage listing. Like much of Tasmania, it contains high-value cultural end ecological landscapes but has some areas of low conservation value.
Activists have admitted that only around 90% of the area is worthy of high conservation status, and rainforests account for between 100,000 and 190,000 hectares of the Tarkine area, depending on who makes the claim. Nominations for world heritage or national heritage listing have been rejected multiple times. In 2013, conservation groups agreed that some areas within the river and highway boundary did not meet the high conservation value forest definition for reserve under the Tasmanian Forest Agreement.
In 2004, the Federal Government considered a request to list the Tarkine area on the Natural Heritage List. In 2013, the Federal Government decided that only 36,000 hectares should be listed. The remaining 403,000 hectares were assessed against eight criteria by experts and were not considered suitable for listing.
For the record, the Tasmanian Minerals, Manufacturing and Energy Council does support listing high conservation areas that meet the specific criteria of such protected areas – this may include rainforests and National Parks within the Tarkine area. We would be happy to be part of those constructive discussions to continue the balance.
Is the Tarkine a National Park or Conservation Area?
It is not a National Park, although the area contains one. The vegetation landscape of the total area is diverse, from sand dunes to rainforest to mines and forestry, with a lot of historical land use, including grazing. It contains the Arthur Pieman Conservation Area and the Savage River National Park, as well as many regional reserves or nature recreation areas. Within these reserves are many species that deserve care and protection from all of us, including responsible mining practices in any neighbouring area.
Is the Tarkine a Rainforest?
It is not a rainforest, but it does contain rainforest.
According to the National Heritage List nomination, the area includes 190,000 hectares of rainforest. Bob Brown has quoted 100,000 hectares of rainforest. So again the amounts stated often vary, but overall this highlights that rainforests within the Tarkine even at the 190,000 hectares in the National Heritage listing, represent at most 40% of the total Tarkine area.
Therefore, a stunning photo of the Tarkine’s flora in one spot does not represent the flora in all places.
The findings in the “Final Assessment” document for National Heritage listing stated the following:
Nominator’s Claim: The largest single tract of rainforest in Australia.
Assessment Response: Although the Tarkine does not contain Australia’s largest tract of rainforest (which is the tropical rainforest located mostly within the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area (Hugall et al 2002:6112)), it does contain the largest tract of cool temperate rainforest with a low level of disturbance and therefore is of outstanding national significance for its biogeographical importance to Australians.
Cool temperate rainforest is uncommon worldwide, with remnants in Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Siberia and western North America. Tasmania’s cool temperate rainforest represents the best-developed and most floristically complex form of this vegetation association in Australia, and the most extensive occurrences of it are in the northwest of the state (Jarman et al 1987:9 and Read 1999:163). The cool temperate rainforest within the Tarkine has a high level of connectivity, and creates a large tract of rainforest. In contrast, the rainforest in the south and southwest of Tasmania is less continuous and often occurs in a mosaic with eucalypt forest and woodland, scrub, heath and buttongrass moorland. Although cool temperate rainforest also occurs in Victoria and New South Wales, its distribution there is fragmented and mostly confined to gullies or cloud forest (Jarman et al 1999:145).
Source: National Heritage Listing Final Assessment
How much of the Tarkine is under mining operation?
Firstly, it’s important to recognise that mining requires compliance with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) to provide legal protection for Outstanding Universal Value through a long and detailed process including a diverse range of heritage, environment, and safety management plans in addition to any business case from geological exploration. Preparing the information for approvals is a long and detailed process requiring on-site assessments to occur, but most sites are either deemed unfeasible by the proposer or they may not pass the stringent compliance requirements.
There are currently 465ha of open-cut mines within the prescribed Tarkine area. That’s not 465,000, just 465ha. 0.12% of the approximate Tarkine land area. Over the past 150 years, there have been at least 173 mineral extraction sites.
Unfortunately, Dr Bob Brown said in a recent report, that “Right now, 90 per cent of the Tarkine / Takayna is under mining tenure.” As you can see from the evidence and numbers, this is far from true.
How has mining impacted the environment on the West Coast?
In many photos of the area you will see old mining equipment that vegetation has taken over. By today’s rehabilitation standards, that equipment should never have been left there, but in many cases, removing it now would cause more disruption as the forests have re-established.
Like most industries, you evolve practice when you have better information and when the evidence informs better practice. This has evolved across all aspects of mining, workforce and community including the adoption of benchmarking such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Today’s compliance and approvals process requires a full plan from mine construction across a lifetime of operations through to remediation and rehabilitation of the site. Much like in a rental property, a bond is held to ensure that the remediation will be completed and can be funded as part of the mine shutdown plan.
The industry is also focusing on remediation of waterways. For example, Savage River has seen biodiversity return after many years of work by the mine operators in conjunction with the Department of Natural Resources and Environment. Preliminary reports on the Savage River Rehabilitation Project are being completed and will be proudly shared with the Tasmanian community in the coming months.