Protecting Wilderness and National Parks

A wilderness vision

All wilderness in NSW is adequately protected and managed by 2020

Background: In 1986, the Wilderness Working Group found that about 4.4 per cent of New South Wales remained in a wilderness condition, however western NSW was not considered in any detail. At present about half has been protected under the Wilderness Act, 1987, or a little over 2 million hectares.

Wilderness assessments completed to date have relied on third party nominations. These assessments initiated from the community characteristically are not constrained to NPWS reserve boundaries.

In 1995 the NSW Government proposed sixteen wilderness areas for reservation, embracing the core old growth forest areas of eastern NSW and of these fourteen have been declared. The NPWS identified wilderness in the Deua Valley and the proposed Pilliga area have not been declared.

In 1999 the NSW Government made a further commitment to significantly expand wilderness protection. This led to 270,000 hectares being protected in 2002, which was just a quarter of the size of the area proposed by environment groups.

In summary, several key wilderness areas on the east coast and ranges areas remain unreserved, including about a third of the wilderness area formally identified wilderness under the Act. Some declared areas are fragmented by private enclaves and all have easements of Crown land through them. The wilderness areas of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area are declared under the Act, with the exception of private enclaves and the Murruin wilderness proposal and additions to the Nattai Wilderness, the first wilderness protected in NSW.

The vast wilderness areas that may exist in the Western Division have not been formally identified and have not been nominated by third parties. Only the Mootwingee Wilderness has been protected in this region that comprises two thirds of the state, and that area is proposed to be cut in two by a road easement.

In addition to identifying and assessing wilderness areas, the Wilderness Act places an obligation on the Director of national parks to provide funds for acquisition, scientific research, protection, management, maintenance and education in regard to wilderness. The Director of the National Parks and Wildlife Group has tended to neglect these duties, particularly fostering scientific research into wilderness.

Wilderness protection should remain a priority if Government is to fulfill its obligations to manage protected areas under the Convention on Biological Diversity. Unfortunately the Forestry and National Park Estate Act, 1998 prevents the operation of the Wilderness Act on all Crown lands and State Forests.


1.1 Declaration of Deua Valley and Pilliga wilderness areas are the first priority.

1.2 Completion of the wilderness estate on the east coast and ranges
Declaration of over 300,000 hectares of wilderness in southern NSW, including the Coolangubra and Tantawangalo in the South East Forests, and Tabletop and the Main Range in Kosciuszko National Park should be the next priority.

Declaration of the Murruin wilderness in the Blue Mountains, and the coastal wilderness areas of the Moors (Myall Lakes), Sandon and Wooli catchments (Yuraygir) merit expedited protection.

Further north are Carrai, Mann River, Timbarra and Cataract wilderness areas, while on the western slopes, the Pilliga and Bebo are outstanding candidate areas that should be declared.

Many existing wilderness areas are incomplete and require either voluntary acquisition or resolution of forestry and mineral resource issues to fully protect the NPWS identified wilderness. To this end the Dunphy Wilderness Fund should be re-establishedwith a budget allocation of $20 million spread over five years.

1.3 Western Division Areas
Assessment of potential wilderness areas should use the tools developed by the Wilderness Unit that examine the naturalness of candidate areas according to Wilderness Guidelines revised and made appropriate for the conditions of Outback NSW.

Third parties should nominate candidate areas. Landholders in the Western Division should then be consulted to raise their awareness of the importance of arid and semi-arid wilderness. Once a wilderness assessment has identified a particular wilderness, consultation should include discussion of voluntary land acquisition and conservation agreement options.

1.4 Cross Border Wilderness Management
The Wilderness Unit should prepare and regularly review memoranda with parks agencies in adjoining states and territories. The Mt Ballow, West Donnybrook, Bald Rock and Lost World wilderness areas straddle the Queensland-NSW border. Future wilderness declaration and management of these areas is contingent on sympathetic cross border management in Queensland.

The cross border management of the Genoa wilderness straddling the Victorian border provides a model for these arrangements.

2. The Dunphy Wilderness Fund
From 1996 to 2004 the Dunphy Wilderness Fund voluntarily acquired 77,000 hectares of private land at a cost of only $142 dollars/hectares to protect wilderness. A further $1.5 million dollars in donations were raised and every dollar went toward acquisition of wilderness land.

The Dunphy Wilderness Fund was never established as a statutory fund as required under the Wilderness Act. Given the value for money, the past performance of the fund in additional fund raising, high naturalness and the provision of environmental services in the lands acquired the Dunphy Wilderness Fund should be re-established.

There is about 200,000 hectares of private wilderness yet to be purchased, more if wilderness in Outback NSW is taken into consideration. The private enclaves of wilderness within national parks should be a key priority as acquisition of these areas can greatly enhance the ecological integrity of core areas of national park.

An allocation of $20 million, in addition to the recurrent funding of the NPWS budget for 5 years would permit acquisition of 75,000 hectares of wilderness land at $200 per hectare.

3. Wilderness Unit
A Wilderness Unit is required to provide advice to the Director on acquisition, scientific research, protection, management, maintenance and education obligations under the Wilderness Act.

Detailed information on nominated, identified and declared wilderness should be maintained on a NPWS wilderness inventory to assist in wilderness management efforts.

The Wilderness Unit should prepare the following for each wilderness area in NSW:

  • Maps of the wilderness areas as nominated, identified and declared;
  • Arguments for inclusion of controversial areas, easements, enclaves and tracks;
  • Plans for excising, by negotiation, wilderness capable lands from State Forests to overcome the impediments of Forestry and National Park Estate Act – these areas generally adjoin national parks and are often too rugged to log;
  • Maps and details of visitor usage, visitor feedback, visitor impacts, pest species, and a log of the on-going efforts at wilderness restoration;
  • Publicly available list of all permits, leases and licences affected by the NPWS identified wilderness;
  • Draft caveats for all leases and licences affected by identified wilderness, and take steps to ensure that the activities of government agencies are consistent with the provisions of the Wilderness Act;
  • Delineate alternative routes for the Bicentennial National Trail and describe of areas for use by 4WD vehicle users and horse riders in non-sensitive Crown lands and State Forests;
  • A summary map publicly available on the internet to show the wilderness in relation to the surrounding park land and how it is managed;
  • Information on particular wilderness areas available locally through perimeter signs and brochures.

4. Fostering community support through education and research
Wilderness management, including fire management, should be based upon principles of ecological sustainability and the best scientific knowledge. It should be evidence-based but flexible and adaptive (recognising that knowledge is evolving and an ecological risk management approach may be necessary if knowledge is incomplete).

The wilderness unit should facilitate public education on the benefits of wilderness protection, including the ways in which the public may assist in its management, and to encourage appreciation to encourage public support for wilderness. A range of information materials, programs and studies should make up this program.

The marketing and promotions unit should prepare media releases and public information kits explaining the positive values of wilderness to the community and on minimal impact wilderness visitation.

A Discovery Ranger program should be developed for wilderness areas. The scouting movement, and bushwalking and environment groups, should be asked to assist with the discovery ranger program.

5. Wild Rivers
Establish a Wild Rivers working group to re-examine existing reports on NSW wild rivers and consider legislation and administrative measures to protect wild river values outside the existing National Reserve System.


A Wilderness Vision for Australia:

All wilderness in Australia is adequately protected and managed by 2020  

1. Wilderness

The Commonwealth to commission a Working Group to investigate ways of advancing wilderness protection in Australia, including but not limited to:

  • An examination of the current status of wilderness in Australia and to make recommendations on any action it considers necessary for the protection and management of such areas;
  • Review legislative and administrative measures for dealing with wilderness protection and management in Australia;
  • Review any other matters relevant to wilderness management in Australia;
  • To offer advice on the implementation of its recommendations.

In undertaking these recommendations, the Working Group could consider:

  • The best way to identify all wilderness areas within the National Reserve System capable of restoration to a wilderness condition given appropriate management action;
  • Whether wilderness should be a criterion for National Heritage listing, given that it is probably Australia’s most endangered natural resource;
  • Within Commonwealth reserves, World Heritage Areas and National Heritage List Areas the appropriate means of developing a schedule of designated wilderness areas by zoning scheme, gazettal or declaration as 1b category reserves, as appropriate, to set these areas aside from development and fragmentation for all time;
  • For areas not part of the National Reserve System develop a priority list of wilderness areas it considers to be a ‘matter of national environmental significance’  
  • How best to amend the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to protect wilderness values (the head of power being the Convention on Biological Diversity [Note: A Federal statute precedent for wilderness under this Convention exists];
  • Examine the Strategic Planning, Bioregional Planning and public inquiry powers under the EPBC Act as means of recognising, protecting and managing wilderness, through such measures as moratorium provisions for these large intact natural areas;
  • Amendment of the bioregional approach to building the National Reserve System (NRS) and Caring for Our Country program so that these initiatives may best refocus on improving the protection and ecological integrity of the large intact natural areas (wilderness), as only these areas can hope to retain biodiversity in the long term;
  • Whether for controversial areas in the NRS, alternatives to 1b category wilderness designation that may constrain certain “actions”, such as certain technology-based visitor facilities, to certain “disturbed” areas outside wilderness (i.e. designation of facilities for visitor use to areas outside wilderness through development control criteria or zoning);

2. Wild Rivers

Classify 'wild and heritage rivers' as a reserve type under the National Reserve System.

The Commonwealth to commission a Working Group to investigate ways of extending Australia's wild and heritage river systems using the inventory results compiled by the Commonwealth in the late 1990s. The review could cover legislation, and methods (including stream values, extent and width, responsibility for dedications, role of national parks and other approaches such as those implemented in Victoria).