Updated: 06/24/2014 10:19 | By Agence France-Presse

Australian greens hail Tasmanian Wilderness decision

Environment groups on Tuesday hailed a UNESCO decision to reject a bid to revoke World Heritage status for parts of the Tasmanian Wilderness as "a strong rebuke" to the Australian government.

Australian greens hail Tasmanian Wilderness decision

Approximately 5,000 Tasmanians attend a rally to oppose the delisting of Tasmania's World Heritage forests in Hobart, Tasmania on June 14, 2014 - by Rob Blakers

Prime Minister Tony Abbott believes too much forest is locked up and favours more access for loggers, and asked the UN cultural body to delist 74,000 protected hectares (183,000 acres) in the southern island state.

But delegates at UNESCO's World Heritage Committee meeting in Doha turned down the controversial request, saying it would set an unacceptable precedent.

It was the first time a developed country had asked for a delisting.

In a joint statement, the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Wilderness Society, Environment Tasmania and the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre said it was a win for common sense.

"The World Heritage Committee delivered a strong rebuke to the Australian government by rejecting its request to delist Tasmania's new World Heritage forests so they could be logged," they said.

"The World Heritage Committee's decision also sends a clear message to the Tasmanian state government, which wants to log other iconic forests, such as the Blue Tier, Tarkine, Bruny Island, Tasman, Reedy Marsh and the North-East Highlands."

Former Greens Party leader Bob Brown, a prominent Tasmanian environmentalist, described the decision as a "global diplomatic humiliation" for the prime minister.

"The World Heritage forests safe as World Heritage Committee rejects embarrassing govt bid. Global diplomatic humiliation for Abbott," he tweeted.

The area slated for delisting was part of 120,000 hectares added last year to the Tasmanian Wilderness area under the previous Labor government -- the culmination of a long battle waged by environmentalists.

The government claimed the area it wanted delisted was already "degraded", having been logged before. Opponents said only 8.6 percent of it has been disturbed, with the rest pristine old-growth rainforest.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt said the government accepted the decision, while calling it a "minor boundary modification".

"The committee has not approved the Australian government's request," he said in a statement.

"Australia accepts and will consider the decision of the World Heritage Committee."

Hunt said the zone the government wanted excised included plantations and areas that previously had been impacted by forestry operations and other infrastructure.

"We believe that areas impacted by forestry compromise the integrity of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area," he said.

One of the last expanses of temperate wilderness in the world, the Tasmanian Wilderness area covers nearly 20 percent, or 1.4 million hectares, of the state.

It was the second Australian-based decision UNESCO made at its annual meeting.

Last week, it voiced alarm at a "serious decline in the condition" of the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, another World Heritage-listed area.

It gave Australia until February next year to submit a report on what it was doing to protect the natural wonder or risk it being put on their list of endangered sites.

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