Locally known as the WHA, this was created during the controversy in the 1970s and 1980s over proposed dam sites to be built on the Franklin River. The state government agreed to the creation of the WHA, little realising, that ultimately the declaration of the area as World Heritage would lead to its protection from dam building. There was a long protracted struggle which saw many people arrested and international media attention. The most famous event became known as the Franklin Blockade. Eventually the state government was forced by the federal government to abandon the dam scheme (see Conservation).
World Heritage is a title granted under an international treaty as part of UNESCO. The treaty was created to protect sites of international significance and was initiated in 1972. In August 1973, Australia became the 7th country to sign the convention - today more than 130 countries have joined.
World Heritage covers a broad range and includes buildings, monuments, cultural sites and natural areas. To become World Heritage, a site must satisfy any one of 11 criteria, 6 of these are cultural, 4 natural criteria and one for cultural landscape. A simpler description that is often used is that the site must be the best example of its type in the world and hence internationally significant. The Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area satisfied a record 7 of the 11 criteria when it was nominated in 1982. The inscription from UNESCO recommended that all possible measures be taken to protect the integrity of the area. It was acknowledged that this was a wilderness area of outstanding value. Since then, only one other site in China has satisfied as many criteria - the Tasmanian WHA is still recognised as being one of the most outstanding wilderness areas of the world.
There is strong support from UNESCO and federal legislation to support the preservation of wilderness in the WHA. These two legal requirements have a large effect on how the area is managed. Today, most effort is aimed at preserving the area as it is - this means that Minimum Impact Bushwalking (MIB) is now official policy and marking of new tracks and exploring new places is being discouraged by management. Ultimately these changes effect the freedom bushwalkers have previously had and proposals are aimed at further restrictions. It is important for bushwalkers to realise that these changes result from the WHA legislation and not from individual public servant decisions. If you want to make changes then work at getting the legislation altered rather than criticising the managers.
The original nomination in 1982 included three national parks - Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair, Franklin-Lower Gordon and South West Tasmania. In 1989, the boundaries were re-assessed and enlarged by a further 600,000 hectares. Currently the WHA covers 1.38 million hectares of land (3.4 million acres), this is about 20% of Tasmania. While there are some small special reserves, most of the WHA is composed of four large national parks.