Case Study by: Austin Perez
Australia’s island state of Tasmania has established an extensive network of national parks and reserves to protect its distinct natural landscape and biodiversity. Its geographical isolation for long periods of geological time has allowed for the evolution of some of the world’s most unique flora and fauna. The Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service and The Tasmania Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water, and Environment report that the total amount of reserved area in Tasmania is 3,064,500 hectares, which is 45% of the state’s total terrestrial area. Of this, 45% of Tasmania’s forests are also protected within its reserve system. Approximately 1.4 million hectares of this protected area makes up the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, a UNESCO World Heritage Area established in 1982 and extended in 1989. In addition, Tasmania has also protected 7.7% of its state coastal waters by establishing 135,000 hectares of Marine Protected Areas. This commitment to protecting its wild nature by establishing a network of reverses that protects 45% of its land area makes Tasmania an excellent representation of Nature Needs Half.
Tasmania protected areas map © Tasmania Parks & Wildlife Service
The discovery of valuable minerals on Tasmania in the late 1800s and the development of hydroelectric energy in the early twentieth century posed a serious threat to Tasmania’s natural environment. The mining boom and industrial development led to heavy exploitation of Tasmania’s natural resources, including a significant depletion of its forests for timber resources. Then, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the proposed flooding of Lake Pedder for the construction of a hydroelectric dam project sparked a wave of environmental activism in Tasmania. Many Tasmanians opposed the hydroelectric dam project because of the environmental impact that it would have on Lake Pedder and the surrounding ecosystem, and the citizens’ response in opposition to the dam project inspired a new-found enthusiasm for wilderness conservation that prompted the enactment of the modern legislation that would help establish Tasmania’s network of nature reserves.
Dove Lake in Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park
Tasmania first established a statewide policy for the development and management of its reserves with the passage of the National Parks and Wildlife Act of 1970, which also formed the Parks and Wildlife Service. Reserves now are declared under the Nature Conservation Act of 2002, which has mostly replaced the 1970 Act and both regulates the conservation and protection of flora, fauna, and geological diversity within Tasmania and also defines the values and purposes of each class of reserve that can be established in the state. Classes of reserves in Tasmania include national parks, state reserves, conservation areas, and private nature reserves. The reserves are managed under the National Parks and Reserves Management Act of 2002, which entrusts the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service with the duty to ensure that reserves are managed in accordance with the management objectives for each reserve class and to provide for the development and implementation of management plans for reserved land. These policies, along with the Regional Forest Agreement (1997) and the Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement (2005), have resulted in the establishment of the Tasmanian reserve system that now protects 45% of the state’s total land area and 45% of its forests.
© Tasmania Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water & Environment
Tasmania’s geographic isolation and climate variation has allowed for the evolution of a very unique and diverse population of flora and fauna with a high proportion of endemic species. Much of Tasmania’s flora has an ancient ancestry that is related to plant species found in South America and New Zealand, dating back to the historical geological period when Tasmania was connected to the Gondwana supercontinent approximately 50 million years ago. The extremely diverse vegetation of Tasmania includes dry grasslands, abundant ferns, tall eucalyptus forests, and large areas of cool temperate rainforests. The Huon pine, a native conifer species endemic to Tasmania, has been recorded to live for up to 3,000 years, making it one of the oldest tree species on earth. The Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans) can reach heights of greater than 100 meters, making it the tallest flowering plant on earth and one of the tallest growing tree species in the world as well. The fauna of Tasmania is similarly unique and fascinating. Tasmania is home to 12 endemic bird species (including the Yellow Wattlebird), 3 endemic frog species, and the Tasmanian devil, a carnivorous marsupial found only on Tasmania. Several other remarkable species such as the echidna, platypus, and Eastern grey kangaroo also live on the island of Tasmania.
Tasmanian Yellow Wattlebird © Tasmania Parks & Wildlife Service, photography by Dave Watts
Tasmania has often been the front line of the conservation “struggle” in Australia, and conflicts still remain between proposed further development of the forest and other resources and a strong and continuing push to protect more of the island’s wild nature.
The logging of Tasmania’s native forests has been one of the most bitter and protracted of nature conservation battles in Tasmania, and 2 ½ years ago this conflict culminated in the Tasmanian forestry industry approaching nature conservation NGOs in Tasmania to negotiate a resolution to the conflict over native forests logging. These negotiations recently reached an agreement – the Tasmanian Forest Agreement of 2012 – that would provide for the protection of an additional 500,000 hectares of Tasmania’s native forests (including rainforests, wilderness areas, and giant Old-Growth Eucalypt forests) as dedicated nature conservation reserves. At this present time, the lower house of the Tasmanian parliament has passed legislation to enable the protection of these native forests, and the legislation is now awaiting debate in Tasmania’s upper house of parliament.
Huon Pine © Australian Plants Society — Tasmania, Inc.
By creating a reserve network that protects 45% of its total land area, 7.7% of its marine coastal environment, and 45% of its forests, Tasmania has established a steadfast commitment to conserving the state’s incredible landscape and biodiversity. And, with the development of the Forest Agreement of 2012 to provide for the protection of an additional 500,000 hectares of the state’s native forests, Tasmania is demonstrating its continued dedication to expanding the amount of area to be protected for wild nature. If the legislation currently before the Tasmanian parliament succeeds and is placed into effect, over 50% of Tasmania’s terrestrial environment will become protected in some form of dedicated nature conservation reserve, thereby perfectly illustrating the essence of Nature Needs Half.
Special thanks to Dr. Phill Pullinger for the contributions and expertise that he provided in the preparation of this case study. Dr. Pullinger is the Director of Environment Tasmania, and a leading advocate for the expansion the Tasmanian reserve estate.