The Comprehensive Regional Assessment (CRA) process, implemented by Commonwealth and State Governments, requires an assessment of all forest values for designated forested regions. These assessments are used in the development of a Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) for each region. The Regional Forest Agreements are to ensure that the full range of obligations and interests of governments are met in relation to the protection of Australia's forest values and the sustainable use and development of its forest resources.
Australia is a State Party to the World Heritage Convention 1972, which means that it has an obligation to ensure that its natural and cultural heritage of outstanding universal value is identified, protected and maintained for the benefit of future generations. Identification of World Heritage values in forested areas and their protection and maintenance is an important obligation being met as part of the CRA process.
A thematic approach to identification of World Heritage values
Governments have adopted a thematic approach for the identification of World Heritage values in Australia's forested areas as part of the CRA process. The thematic approach is regarded as complementary to other approaches for the identification of World Heritage; its use should not be interpreted as replacing these other approaches or influencing the ways in which they are used.
The thematic approach is based on a methodology developed by Domicelj, Halliday and James (1992) for identification of World Heritage cultural values. The approach provides a systematic, comparative and efficient means of identifying places that meet the Criteria and Operational Guidelines of the World Heritage Convention (see Attachment 1). The use of a thematic approach is consistent with an international trend towards systematic assessment of World Heritage value.
Implementation of the thematic approach involves developing themes of outstanding universal value and then identifying potential places to represent them. Each potential place is tested by working through a series of elimination steps, which include tests drawn from the Criteria and Operational Guidelines of the World Heritage Convention. This sieving process discards any places that do not meet particular tests of significance, integrity and authenticity. Places that meet all tests are suitable for a formal assessment of potential World Heritage value. Places that meet all tests and also meet the requirements of a separate, formal assessment against the Criteria and Operational Guidelines of the World Heritage Convention are likely to have World Heritage value. A summary of the thematic approach is provided in Attachment 2.
Application of the thematic approach
Implementation of the first steps of the thematic approach has been carried out with the assistance of a World Heritage Expert Panel. The Expert Panel was convened by governments in 1996 and asked to provide advice on significant themes relating to World Heritage natural and cultural values for all terrestrial areas of Australia. It was also asked to identify the subset of the themes relevant to forested areas of Australia and, further, to advise governments of forested places that may require assessment as possible best global expressions of these forest themes.
Australian themes of outstanding universal value were identified by the Expert Panel within the broad context of the history and evolution of the continent and the development of its unique landscapes, biota and human cultures. In some cases, particular aspects of the themes were regarded by the Panel as exceptional in their own right in a global context. These aspects were described as "sub-themes" of outstanding universal value.
The Expert Panel provided its advice on themes of outstanding universal value and places that require further assessment as possible best global expressions of the themes at meetings in Melbourne on 13 and 14 June 1996 (World Heritage Report 1996), and in Canberra on 13 March 1997 (World Heritage Report 1997a) and 14, 15 and 21 October 1997 (World Heritage Report 1997b). A summary of the Australian themes and sub-themes of outstanding universal value identified by the World Heritage Expert Panel is available in the record of the Panel's meetings (for example, see World Heritage Report 1997b, Attachment 5, pp. 92-98).
One of the themes of outstanding universal value identified by the Expert Panel was “Evolution of landforms, species and ecosystems under conditions of stress”. This theme was identified within the context of the unique, long-term isolation of the Australian continent following its separation from other land masses during the break-up of the supercontinent Gondwana. The more recent geological history of the Australian continent was regarded by the Panel as central to an understanding of the co-evolution of Australia’s past and present landscapes, flora and fauna and, latterly, human societies.
This theme was also associated with the changing environmental conditions as the newly-isolated continent moved slowly northwards as a result of global plate tectonic events. With this northwards movement came greater climatic variability as the continent was influenced by altered atmospheric systems. Other important environmental factors included lower nutrient soils, increased incidence and intensity of fires, and the interaction of surface water and ground water in a landscape of predominantly low relief formed as a result of exceptionally-long periods of weathering and erosion.
Sub-themes of outstanding universal value identified by the Expert Panel in relation to this theme are concerned particularly with the ways in which Australia's landforms and vegetation evolved in response to continental isolation and these environmental conditions. The related sub-themes included:
Scleromorphy - the development of a diverse range of scleromorphic characteristics (including hard, thickened leaves and pronounced cuticle development) by large sections of the Australian flora in response to low nutrient soils and a highly variable climate;
Arid landscapes and adaptations - development of outstanding arid land forms and arid-adapted biota in sandy deserts, including longitudinal dune systems with the longest dunes, on the most arid, non-polar continent in the world;
Alpine vegetation - evolution of globally-unusual alpine vegetation that has developed in response to maritime conditions and poor soils; and
Eucalypt-dominated vegetation - evolution of the eucalypts under conditions of high climatic variability, nutrient deficiency and a variety of fire regimes including those with very short between-fire intervals and those with extreme fire intensities, and their subsequent taxonomic and geographic expansion to dominate most of the woody vegetation of an entire continent.
Places that are both forested and within designated RFA regions were identified by the World Heritage Expert Panel for further assessment to evaluate whether they are best global expressions of the sub-theme of eucalypt-dominated vegetation (see World Heritage Report 1997b, pp. 42-47, and Table 8, pp. 48-49). The eucalypt sub-theme and its representative places thus require further assessment within the context of the CRA process. Places identified by the Panel in relation to the other themes and sub-themes are either non-forested or are not directly associated with RFA regions, and their further assessment will need to take place in other contexts.
Australia is unique in that almost all of its present-day, woody vegetation communities are dominated by only two groups, the eucalypts and the acacias (Beadle 1981). Both the eucalypts and the phyllodinous acacias have a very restricted natural distribution outside the continent (Barlow 1994). The outstanding universal sub-theme of eucalypt-dominated vegetation recognises the international significance of the eucalypts and the woody vegetation communities that they dominate on the Australian continent.
The eucalypts are widely regarded as globally outstanding and as an exemplar of the unique character and diversity of the Australia biota (eg, see Blakers 1987, Busby 1992, Mosley and Costin 1992, Kirkpatrick 1994). Factors important in contributing to the outstanding universal value of the eucalypts include their ancient Gondwanan origins and their subsequent evolution which parallels the geological and ecological history of the Australian continent, their success in dominating the majority of woody ecosystems throughout an entire continent, the diversity of their growth forms which range from the tallest hardwood forests in the world to prostrate shrub forms, the wide diversity of the communities which they dominate, and their unique ecology.
Representation of the sub-theme of eucalypt-dominated vegetation
In considering possible representation of the sub-theme of eucalypt-dominated vegetation, the Expert Panel was careful to keep in mind that a natural place must meet one or more of the criteria specified in paragraph 44 (a) of the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention (UNESCO 1999) and fulfil the conditions of integrity specified in paragraph 44 (b) in order to qualify for World Heritage listing (see Attachment 1 for a summary of the criteria and conditions of integrity).
The Panel also took a wider view of the genus Eucalyptus. For example, it commented that a best global representation of eucalypt-dominated vegetation in Australia "would necessarily be based on a series of areas. The areas would, together, represent the major types of ecological relationships exhibited by the genus Eucalyptus (sensulato) [i.e. in the broad sense] including such taxa as Eudesmia, Corymbia and Angophora, the major structural types and the floristic variation in the genus." (World Heritage Report 1997b, p. 40).
The places identified by the Expert Panel in relation to possible representation of the eucalypt sub-theme are listed below in Table 1. Each of the identified places was regarded by the Panel as likely to be of sufficient size and natural condition to fulfil the conditions of integrity, either alone, or in association with adjacent listed World Heritage Areas. In identifying possible places the Expert Panel considered only “forested” areas as defined in the National Forest Policy Statement (Commonwealth of Australia 1992) and did not consider other areas with eucalypt-dominated vegetation such as woodlands or mallee. It should be noted that for some regions, governments have agreed that any potential world heritage nomination can be achieved from within the CAR Reserve System.
Further assessment of the sub-theme of eucalypt-dominated vegetation
A process for further assessment of the sub-theme of eucalypt-dominated vegetation has been put forward and is outlined in Attachment 3. In general terms, the process involves describing outstanding universal values of eucalypt-dominated vegetation, and identifying the attributes that contribute to their global significance. The outstanding universal values and their associated attributes can provide the basis for subsequent documentation and assessment of the global significance of places identified in relation to the sub-theme.
As part of the process of further assessment of the sub-theme (see Attachment 3, Figure 1) an expert workshop was held in Canberra on 8 and 9 March 1999. The expert workshop was asked to develop a description of the outstanding universal values of the sub-theme of eucalypt-dominated vegetation and to identify an agreed list of significant attributes that contribute to these outstanding universal values. The workshop was attended by experts selected from amongst Australia's foremost authorities on eucalypts and eucalypt-dominated vegetation. It was also observed by representatives from all governments involved in the CRA process. Terms of reference for the workshop are listed in Attachment 4. A list of workshop participants is included in Attachment 5. The experts who participated in finalization of the content of the workshop report included: Professor Jamie Kirpatrick (Chairman), Dr Mike Austin, Dr Bryan Barlow, Dr Ian Brooker, Dr Mick Brown, Dr Malcolm Gill, Dr Gordon Guymer, and Professor Pauline Ladiges.
Table 1. Forested places identified by the World Heritage Expert Panel in relation to the sub-theme of eucalypt-dominated vegetation (World Heritage Report 1997b)
Forested places identified by the Expert Panel in relation to the sub-theme of eucalypt-dominated vegetation
The Carnarvon Ranges, including Carnarvon National Park
Natural eucalypt forest areas on the inland slopes, and eucalypt and Melaleuca-dominated areas on the coastal plains, adjacent to the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area
Cooloola National Park, adjacent to the Fraser Island World Heritage Area
Eucalypt-dominated areas adjacent to the Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves World Heritage Area, including Bunya Mountains National Park
Kakadu National Park World Heritage Area
The Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area
The following sections of the report provide a summary of the findings of the expert workshop concerning outstanding universal values of eucalypt-dominated vegetation, and significant attributes that contribute to these values.