Protecting Wilderness and National Parks

About Wilderness

The Colong Foundation promotes the idea of natural areas exist for nature's sake and wilderness as a place where nature has primacy, a place where nature can flourish in glorious diversity. 

Wilderness cradles a genetic store house of unimaginable wealth for future generations, as illustrated by the Wollemi Pine. Due to their size, diversity and the old growth forests they contain, wilderness provides the opportunity for ecosystems to adjust to the duress of climate change. Their intact soils and groundwater systems provide higher water yield and quality than disturbed catchments. It provides the opportunities for personal rediscovery through 'ruc sac sports'. It has inspired philosophers, and has given us art that enriches our lives. It grants effective preservation to Aboriginal sites, such as Eagles Reach in the Wollemi. 

Early conservationists considered wilderness and effective national parks management as inseparable, and Myles Dunphy sought wilderness management for all parks, which is even why Royal National Park is the way it is now. Wilderness aims to protect and, when necessary, rehabilitate indigenous ecosystems.

There are many wilderness definitions but they all have one thing in common — that wilderness is land free from development!

It is the only land category that excludes development and high impact use but it may include damaged areas because there is no pristine wilderness left on mainland Australia.

The definition preferred by the Colong Foundation is:

"Wilderness comprises the last substantial remnants of the ecologically complete environment that once covered the earth."   Alex Colley O.A.M., of the Colong Foundation, 1996.

The 2008 Protected Area Management Categories Guidelines developed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines wilderness (Category 1b) as:

'Wilderness areas are usually large unmodified or slightly modified areas, retaining their natural character and influence, without permanent or significant human habitation, which are protected and managed so as to preserve their natural condition.’

A further definition of a wilderness is an area that is, or can be restored to be:

  • of sufficient size to enable the long term protection of its natural systems and biological diversity;
  • substantially undisturbed by modern society; and
  • remote at its core from points of mechanised access and other evidence of society.

This more complex definition was developed for the National Wilderness Inventory. This inventory is a data base of wilderness values across the continent and can be used to monitor the loss of wilderness through development and land clearing. A criticism of this definition is that it is based on remoteness from access. Unfortunately most wilderness is not remote from access by 4WD vehicle. Maps of such ‘remote’ areas can be ‘inverted road maps’ featuring vast areas of desert, while many forested wilderness areas were reduced in size simply because of the presence of 4WD dirt roads.  

As Myles Dunphy said,

"The only way to conserve valuable wilderness is to place an embargo on roads in relation to it" (1934).

Wilderness protection is a basic environmental requirement. But without active Government support the work toward wilderness protection grinds to a halt. It follows that failure to recognise, protect and manage valuable wilderness is a sure indicator of a Government’s poor overall environmental performance.

Wilderness Identification in New South Wales

The Wilderness Act enables individuals and community groups to nominate areas for wilderness assessment.

Following nomination, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS):

a) Consults with affected land owners and Government bodies;

b) Assesses the wilderness values of the proposed area for up to two years;

c) Releases an Assessment Report for public comment and review; and then

d) Reports to the NSW Minister for the Environment, who usually refers any positive recommendations to Cabinet for determination.

For more information on what is wilderness go to: