Protecting Wilderness and National Parks

What is wilderness

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.

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 complex definition was developed for the National Wilderness Inventory operated by the Australian Heritage Commission. 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.

The main criticism of technical definitions based on remoteness from access is that most wilderness is not remote from access by 4WD vehicle. Maps of such ‘remote’ areas are essentially ‘inverted road maps’ featuring vast areas of desert, while many forested areas are excluded simply because of the presence of 4WD dirt tracks.

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):

  • Consults with affected land owners and Government bodies;

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

  • Releases an Assessment Report for public comment and review; and then

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