Tourists visiting Aussie World Heritage site face restrictions after controversial act

There are concerns Tasmania's widespread burning program could harm the state's reputation as a travel destination.

Visitors to Australia could have their access to a popular UNESCO World Heritage site restricted after authorities controversially set fire to neighbouring land on Wednesday. Locals fear the morning’s clear blue skies will soon be choked with smoke across regions of Tasmania after the state government's logging agency began its annual burning program.

While logging company Sustainable Timber Tasmania (STT) says the practice promotes “natural regeneration” and is crucial in “reducing fuel loads” on land it has cleared, conservationists refer to the practice as “fire bombing” and warn it kills endangered species including the state’s iconic Tasmanian devils. One was found dead in a burrow after a burn in 2023.

Jenny Weber from the Bob Brown Foundation told Yahoo News STT had logged right up to the edge of an access road to the Hartz Mountains National Park, an easy 60km drive from the capital, Hobart. “It's obscene that people going to a World Heritage site to visit the beautiful wild Tasmania are going to be impacted by Forestry Tasmania burning. It's just not acceptable.”

Three large plumes of smoke above Dover in Tasmania.
Forest near Dover was set on fire as part of a planned burn program in Tasmania. Source: Bob Brown Foundation

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The burn program began in April across selected state-owned forests in the state's north and south. STT says it only lights fires when weather conditions are favourable and that it tries to minimise the impact of smoke on its neighbours.

In a Facebook post STT warned visitors it was considering carrying out planned burns on Hartz Road, Geeveston, which is located near the World Heritage site. "This period of restricted access will be in place in the interest of public safety," it said.

Why the forest was burned

  • Planned burns are lit by STT, a state government-owned business

  • They are usually conducted using helicopters

  • They are lit after a forested area has been logged

  • The fires are lit to remove debris and allow for regeneration through aerial sowing

What does the 'fire bombing' look like?

Pictures shared with Yahoo News by the Foundation highlight the scale of the program. They show land where carbon-rich forests once towered close to the coastal town of Dover on fire, and emitting huge plumes of orange smoke into the atmosphere. Video below shows black clouds dominating the sky as a chopper soars above the flames.

Asked if she thinks tourists visiting Tasmania are interested in seeing the state's cleared forests and burning program, Weber's answer was a simple "no".

The smoke plumes from a distance. Forested hill and cleared land in the foreground in Tasmania.
STT argues the fires are important in reducing fuel loads. Source: Bob Brown Foundation

Are giant fires what tourists to Tasmania want to see?

Tourism Australia sells Tasmania to the world by highlighting its “captivating” environment and “diverse” cultural experiences. But Weber is concerned that logging forest close to famous tourist sites is undermining the state’s reputation.

“Wild places and forests are the number one reason people come to Tasmania,” she said.

“But today, you’d be driving past smouldering logged areas that are emitting huge mushroom clouds of smoke. It's shocking, obnoxious behaviour.”

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