Protecting Wilderness and National Parks

The Wilderness Resurgence Statement


The Wilderness Resurgence Statement, Blackheath, 28 March 2004

We, the undersigned participants of the ‘Wilderness Resurgence’ seminar at Blackheath, 28thMarch, 2004 assert that:

  •  Large, natural, wild areas have a right to continued existence into the future. Such areas are the remaining ‘original and best of Planet Earth’, the product of millions of years of evolution, and are only slightly modified by modern technological society. In many cases they have been (or are still) the lands of indigenous people, who may have influenced these areas, but did so without destroying their ecological integrity. The intrinsic, eco-centric values of these areas need to be recognised as having critical importance.
  •  ‘Wilderness’ is a valid term to describe such large, natural areas. The term ‘wilderness’ refers to the ‘more-than-human’ natural world, and acknowledges its independence and intrinsic value – its right to exist. The term wilderness accepts that wild nature is not just a resource for human use.

  International Union for the Conservation of Nature defines wilderness as:

 ‘A large area of unmodified or slightly modified land, and/or sea, retaining its natural character and influence, without permanent or significant habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural condition’ 
(IUCN 1990).  We acknowledge and support this definition.

  •  Wilderness has disappeared in most regions of the world, and has been very substantially reduced in Australia. In NSW, the NSW Wilderness Working Group in 1986 estimated that only 4.4% of this state remained in a wilderness condition, and we note that the wilderness values of the western division of NSW are still poorly known.
  • The remaining wilderness areas in Australia are a tribute to (and a celebration of) the connection to the land of the Aborigines (the First Australians). The term ‘wilderness’ as we use it here today acknowledges the long-term history of Aboriginal involvement in the land. Compared to the wholesale destruction and fragmentation of native vegetation in the last 215 years (under European ‘management’) – traditional Aboriginal land practices have only ‘slightly modified’ (in reference to IUCN definition of wilderness) such areas. It is thus appropriate to refer to large, natural areas of the bush in Australia as ‘wilderness’.
  •  Co-management of wilderness areas with Traditional Owners can acknowledge the rights of traditional custodians, while also protecting wilderness values (and recognising how little of it remains in NSW). We urge all groups to work towards this goal. We also support programs like the Indigenous Protected Area program that can complement a wilderness protection system, and support other indigenous efforts to conserve and protect their lands.
  • Greater Blue Mountains wilderness is made up of the mostly declared (and hence protected) wilderness areas of Wollemi, Kanangra-Boyd, Grose and Nattai, as well as the yet to be declared Yengo and Murruin wilderness areas, which need urgent declaration under the NSW Wilderness Act.
  • The threats to wilderness everywhere continue to increase. The processes of clearing, fragmentation, climate change, road-building, residential expansion, inappropriate tourism, mining and forestry continue to undermine the ecological integrity of many areas. The wilderness areas in the Greater Blue Mountains are especially pressured by their closeness to Australia’s largest city, Sydney, while paradoxically providing its residents with a valuable opportunity to experience wilderness.
  • There have been a number of attempts to exploit wilderness and to attack the very concept, both overseas and in Australia. Such movements are given names such as ‘access for all’, ‘wise use’ or ‘multiple use’ and seek to justify mining and logging of wilderness, or inappropriate recreational use by (for example) vehicles and horses. These movements are grounded in a shallow view that says nothing has value unless humans can directly consume or exploit it for profit. We oppose multiple use and commercial activity in wilderness (aside from activities such as photography), both from a philosophical point of view, and due to the environmental impact they cause. We support human access to wilderness provided it is low impact (e.g. walking, canoeing etc). There may need to be management of even low-impact access at certain popular locations in wilderness.
  • Wilderness is the wild end of a spectrum of land use that stretches from wilderness to the city. It is misleading to assert (as some Postmodernist academics do) that to speak of ‘wilderness’ is to create a ‘dualism’, which ignores other areas that are not wilderness. There is a need for nature conservation action right across the whole spectrum, and this is the aim (and practice) of the conservation movement in Australia. However, wilderness as the least modified wild end of the spectrum deserves a special focus to protect such areas before they disappear.
  • Criticisms of the term ‘wilderness’ in our view simply play into the hands of those who seek to exploit wilderness as just a resource, and threaten the continued long-term existence of large natural areas in a future of increasing threats.
  • In a world where extinction rates (due to human action) are up to 10,000 times the natural level, and where experts estimate that half of the world’s species could be extinct by the end of the 21st century – we believe that wilderness remains of essential importance. If we are to solve the global environmental crisis and live harmoniously on Earth, then we need to identify, declare and protect our wilderness. As human pressures on the wild increase, and natural places become more and more scarce, the value and importance of wilderness grows as each year goes by.
  • Wilderness is both a source of hope and a teacher. It gives future generations the chance to see what the world outside the urban and agricultural landscape was like. It gives us hope that modern humans can learn to live in harmony with the wild.  It teaches us perspective and humility. Wilderness in the Greater Blue Mountains and elsewhere needs our care and activism – perhaps now more than ever.
  • It is time for a resurgence of activism to protect wilderness, as well as to connect such areas together in a ‘Wild Country’ network across the landscape.

Therefore, this seminar calls on the NSW Government to: 

  • re-establish the Wilderness Unit in the newly formed Department of Environment and Conservation
  • reserve the remaining unprotected wilderness areas in NSW; including Murruin; Yengo; Tabletop; Brindabella; the Deua headwaters and the central Deua Valley; the Badja extension to the Tuross wilderness; the western side of the Shoalhaven Gorge (West Ettrema addition); North Ettrema; Mummel Gulf; Tuggolo; Cataract; Stockyard Creek; Chaelundi; Timbarra; Bald Rock; Pilliga; Mt. Kaputar additions and Bebo.

The seminar calls on the State and Federal Governments to:

  • adequately fund management of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, including the voluntary acquisition of private land located within the outer boundaries of the property, especially those within wilderness areas through the Dunphy Wilderness Fund and other means.
  • develop a Strategic Plan for the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area that provides the highest possible protection for the Area by:

(a)    effectively responding to the four categories of identified strategic threats/ problems to the outstanding universal values of the World Heritage Area

- uncontrolled or inappropriate use of fire; 

- inappropriate recreation and tourism activities;

- invasion by pest species; and 

- loss of biodiversity at all levels;

(b)  including adequate protection and management of wilderness areas and catchment areas that are fundamental to protecting the World Heritage Area;

(c)  developing a procedure to pursue the establishment of a broad buffer zone around the World Heritage Area that would protect the property. This should protect its integrity and outstanding universal value from inappropriate development proposals, such as quarries and mines. It should also ensure that adjoining lands are managed in sympathy with the World Heritage property;

(d)   including recognition of the likely severe environmental impacts of human-induced climate change, and the development of measures to solve these.