THE Gillard government is to pursue a World Heritage nomination for 170,000 hectares of contested Tasmanian native forest, in the face of blanket opposition from the Coalition.
Environment Minister Tony Burke said the nomination, made with forest industry blessing, would protect iconic eucalypt forests including ''absolute giants'' if approved by the World Heritage Committee.
Coalition forestry spokesman Richard Colbeck said he would ask the committee to defer a decision, and to avoid embarrassment Mr Burke should withdraw the bid. The nomination would expand the existing 1.4 million hectare Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area beyond an original proposed 130,000 hectares in the state's forests peace package to include some areas already in national parks.
It follows years of angry disputes between environmentalists and the industry over these trees - and comes more than 40 years after campaigning began for their listing, according to former Australian Conservation Foundation director Geoff Mosley. ''[It] will protect some logistically critical forests such as those in the Styx and the Upper Florentine,'' Mr Mosley said.
''It is a gradual step in the right direction.''
Mr Burke is lodging the nomination despite lacking approval from the Tasmanian Parliament's upper house, the Legislative Council, which has sent the forest peace legislation to a committee for review.
The Tasmanian Premier, Lara Giddings, withheld backing for the nomination, saying the state would further consider its position once the Legislative Council had made a decision on the peace package.
The Forest Industries Association of Tasmania confirmed that it would honour the nomination clause after Mr Burke agreed to release nearly $10 million in balancing funding to ensure it also gained from the peace package.