WET TROPICS WORLD HERITAGE
Stretching 450 km along Australia's far northeast coast, the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area is 894,420 ha. forming an extraordinary strip of scenic country of mostly rainforest-clad ranges with high rainfall and pristine wilderness areas. Its boundary traverses stunning coastline adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, through undulating plateaux at 800-900 metres and the rugged eastern escarpment of the Great Dividing Range, including Queensland's highest peak, Mt. Bartle Frere at 1622 metres. The magnificent scenery includes fast-flowing rivers and waterfalls and deep gorges.
The area is home to more than 3000 vascular plants species which have been evolving over the past 100 million years. Vegetation within the area is mostly rainforest, but includes species-rich mangrove, wet schlerophyll and tall open forests.
The biological value of the Wet Tropics is extraordinary. In 1995, it was one of only 13 of the 97 World Heritage-listed areas to meet all four listing criteria:
- outstanding examples representing major stages of the earth's history
- outstanding examples representing significant ongoing ecological and biological processes in the evolution of our plants and animals
- exceptional natural beauty
- significant habitats for the conservation of biological diversity
The diversity and density of fauna and flora within the Wet Tropics is astonishing. It is the most diverse habitat for flora and fauna in Australia. Many of the plants and animals are unique to the area and some are rare or threatened. Although it occupies less than one thousandth of the Australian continent, the area contains over 1200 rainforest tree species, 65% of Australia's fern species, 36% of its mammal species, 50% of its bird species and approximately 60% of its butterfly species.
Indigenous Cultural Heritage
The Wet Tropics is also recognised for its unsurpassed cultural heritage value for its indigenous people. At the time of first contact in the nineteenth century, the area now called the Wet Tropics was the home of 16 different tribal groups of Aboriginal people. They lived as clans of 20-25 individuals and a number of clans would make up a tribe of about 250 people. Thatched huts were constructed for homes in the Wet Season, either in clearings or on the edges of the forest. In winter they made use of blankets formed from the bark of fig trees. Their diet was primarily vegetarian and derived almost entirely from the rainforests.
WET TROPICS OVERHAUL?
In July this year, Queensland Environment Minister Brian Littleproud expressed enthusiasm to "restructure" the Wet Tropics Management Authority (WTMA). This proposed overhaul of the WTMA threatens to undermine the integrity and effectiveness of the WTMA as the lead agency responsible for preserving World Heritage values of the area. The WTMA is now under siege on several fronts, from massive funding cuts to political puppetry, scrapping fundamental conservation programs and revisiting the Draft Management Plan which has already taken eight years to produce.
WHAT'S THE REAL AGENDA?
Mr Littleproud has stated that the WTMA needs to be restructured because no-one on the Board of Directors is answerable to himself or his Federal counterpart, Senator Robert Hill. Directors are State or Federal Government appointees, while the Board as a whole is answerable to Ministerial Council. Any suggestion that the Board is not accountable to Government is not only inaccurate, but throws into question the motive behind the proposed overhaul. It's no secret that Mr Littleproud has pushed for Atherton Mayor Jim Chapman to fill a vacancy on the Board as Chairperson. Mr Chapman actively campaigned against World Heritage listing of the Wet Tropics. Maintenance of the Board's independent advisory role is crucial to ensuring that the Wet Tropics is truly protected. Are proposals to restructure the WTMA really about accountability, or political self interest by the present State and Federal governments?
DEATH BY A THOUSAND CUTS?
Funding of the WTMA and associated conservation programs, such as the Daintree Rescue Package and the Mahogany Glider Plan, is "subject to Budget considerations". Adequate funding for the WTMA is essential to effective World Heritage management. The lack of commitment on behalf of both Environment Ministers to continue WTMA funding is entirely inadequate and demonstrates a lack of environmental responsibility on the part of both governments.
THE DRAFT PLAN RE-REVISITED AGAIN?
Restructuring is accompanied by the threat of revisiting the Wet Tropics Draft Management Plan. The Plan is already a significant compromise between conservation and development of the Wet Tropics. Any further watering down of its recommendations would make a farce of World Heritage listing and Australia's international obligation to protect the area. After an exhaustive planning and public consultation process, tax-payers money would surely be better spent on getting on with the job. Both Environment Minister's have stated their commitment to "early finalisation of the draft plan" - let's hold them to it and make sure that the conservation imperative isn't further compromised.
RAINFOREST OR ROAD NETWORK?
Mr Littleproud has said that the people who live "down south" have a "warm and fuzzy feeling" about management of the Wet Tropics and that "locals have a more practical approach to it". He further stated that locals believed the plan was going to limit their capacity to build more infrastructure within and adjacent to the Wet Tropics. The proposed changes could lead to more roads, powerlines and tourism infrastructure being built in the area. The draft plan already provides for such infrastructure along existing corridors and many locals have requested that more stringent protective and management measures be adopted.
For more info call Cairns and Far North Environment Centre (CAFNEC)on (070) 321 746, or The Wilderness Society - Cairns on (070) 518 967 See Action Pages for how you can help protect Wet Tropics World Heritage
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