Policy No: 18

Introduction | Definitions | Policy


Wilderness has been regarded as untamed, trackless, seemingly limitless landscape. Modern man has relentlessly expanded his ability to destroy native vegetation, to move the very land itself, to annihilate species, to introduce plants and animals to areas outside their natural range, and to conquer Earth's vastness by mechanised transport and global telecommunication. Consequently, fear of the Wilderness has declined, to be replaced by a growing concern for its survival because of its dual role in large scale nature conservation and the provision of the best opportunities for self reliant passive recreation, solitude and spiritual refreshment.

The National Parks Association of NSW shares this concern, which has led to belated attempts to slow the relentless over-development, and retain some of what is left of the original wilderness continuum. Environmental advocates have created enough popular demand to compel governments to reserve national parks and nature reserves in NSW, under the National Parks and Wildlife Act. Balancing this with other land uses however, has meant that many large areas of natural land are still unprotected from human interference. To enable wilderness not protected under the NP&W Act to be protected and managed, the NSW Wilderness Act was passed in 1987.

The fragmentation of the wilderness caused by the settlers' clearing, roads, homesteads and villages is in many areas of such a degree that a judgement must be made as to which remnants really retain the essential qualities of wilderness. How then shall we define wilderness areas and the limits of wilderness criteria? The NPA's concept of wilderness as a quality rather than an area facilitates definition, as it is not tied to a minimum size. (The total existing environment may be regarded as its own continuum, in which wilderness quality varies from place to place). The word "essentially" , qualifying naturalness as a criterion (1.6.1), further frees the concept, this time from the rigid demand for purity before declaration. This reflects the fairly well accepted view that, provided imperfections, which are man-made, can eventually be erased restoring wilderness without adverse impacts, such an area can qualify to be included in the quite small proportion of the State which can rightly claim to retain the characteristics of wilderness.

It should be noted that the definition differs little in substance from the internationally agreed definition of a national park (IUCN 1994), which reads:

"A national park is a natural area of land and / or sea, designated to (a) protect the ecological integrity of one or more ecosystems for present and future generations; (b) exclude exploitation or occupation inimical to the purposes of designation of the area; and (c) provide a foundation for spiritual, educational, recreational and visitor opportunities, all of which must be environmentally and culturally compatible."

This means that the bulk of the larger national parks and nature reserves, which is essentially free from roads, clearings, buildings etc. and remote from or substantially buffered from outside influences, in fact constitutes wilderness, whether or not it has been declared so. National parks are essentially about conserving wilderness. This policy's basis is the need to conserve wilderness quality wherever it exists, and rejects the notion that wilderness should be regarded as an issue separate from other forms and aspects of nature conservation. Wilderness quality is a degree or measure of conservation value, and its conservation should occupy a high position in a broader national program aimed at general conservation of environments and wildlife (both within and outside reserves), preservation of biodiversity, and comprehensive, adequate, and representative (CAR) reservation of all ecosystems.

DEFINITIONS For the purposes of this policy:

Wilderness is the quality of extensive naturalness in an area of land or water essentially free, and relatively remote from, disturbance or change caused, either directly or indirectly, by European settlement, and sufficient in size for long term protection and full functioning and diversity of its natural systems.

Wilderness areas or wildernesses are areas of terrestrial, subterranean, subaquatic, or submarine lands which have wilderness quality.

Declared wildernesses are wildernesses declared in New South Wales under either the National Parks and Wildlife Act, 1974, or the Wilderness Act, 1987.

The above wilderness definitions should be read in conjunction with the following:

The Wilderness Act, 1987: under S.6 (1) the "Director" (Director-General NP&WS) is permitted to identify an area as wilderness if:

(a) the area is, together with its plant and animal communities, in a state that has not been substantially modified by humans and their works or is capable of being restored to such a state;

(b) the area is of a sufficient size to make its maintenance in such a state feasible; and (c) the area is capable of providing opportunities for solitude and appropriate self-reliant recreation.

In the 1994 IUCN categories of protected areas, wilderness is "a large area of unmodified 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".

Definitions contained within studies and reports such as:

Robertson, Vang and Brown, 1992: "Wilderness in Australia" Land Conservation Council (Vic.), 1991: "Wilderness" Helman, Jones, Pigram and Smith, 1976: " Wilderness in Australia"

Biophysical means the combined biological (living) and physical (landscape: rocks, soil, water etc.) components of natural systems.

Passive recreation is recreation which has a minimal impact upon the natural environment and wildlife and upon the enjoyment and seclusion of other people.

Self-reliant recreation is recreation which depends solely upon the personal efforts and capability of the individual, without the aid of tracks, mechanical or animal transport, telecommunications, or other facilities.

Tracks are foot tracks. Access ways for vehicles must be classified as roads, not "tracks".

Roads are any formed access ways provided for the passage of conventional vehicles on land, and include rudimentary four wheel drive bush "tracks", so called.

Identify or identification have the meaning conveyed by S.6(1) of the Wilderness Act.


To preserve and properly manage all viable remnants of Australia's wilderness should be a high priority national objective, fully supported by all states and territories. The following applies specifically to NSW, but in principle could be applied anywhere.

The dual purpose of declaring wilderness is to maintain native species and biophysical systems in full biodiversity, allowing them to evolve with a minimum of human interference, and permitting self-reliant, minimum impact, recreation.


1.1 Reserved wilderness

All lands and waters of wilderness quality within national parks and nature reserves should be proposed, identified, assessed, and declared as wilderness under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974.

As it is the Association's view that all areas of national parks and nature reserves where the criteria for wilderness (see 1.6) apply should be declared as wilderness under this Act, it follows that a substantial proportion of the NP&WS Estate should be so declared.

1.2 Non-reserved wilderness

All lands and waters of wilderness quality within the State, located outside the NP&WS Estate, and which cannot immediately be made part of the NP&WS Estate, should be proposed, identified, assessed, recommended to the Minister by the NP&WS, and then declared by the Minister under S.8(1) of the Wilderness Act Herein lies one essential reason for the Wilderness Act: to protect areas which, for one reason or another, have not been reserved under the NP&W Act. Any person or organisation can propose a Wilderness area under the Wilderness Act, and this must be considered by the Director-General of NP&WS within 2 years and the Minister advised. The other main reason for the Wilderness Act was to ensure proper recognition and management by NP&WS of wilderness under their control, the provisions of S.59 of the NP&W Act being less secure than the corresponding provisions of the Wilderness Act.

1.3 Transfer of tenure

Wilderness outside the NP&WS Estate, but declared under the Wilderness Act, should eventually be acquired by the NP&WS and reserved under the NP&W Act, and also declared as wilderness under S.59 of that Act.

The Wilderness Act should be regarded as a means of protecting and managing wilderness until such time as it can be preserved as wilderness under the NP&W Act. Unfortunately the Wilderness Act permits the Minister to consent to proposed developments by statutory authorities in declared wilderness if in his opinion the area will not be adversely affected. (S.15, Wilderness Act) The Wilderness Act should be strengthened to: - require the government to protect and properly manage all wilderness in NSW within a reasonable time frame; - provide for interim protection in the pre-gazettal period; - require plans of management for areas under conservation agreements and wilderness protection agreements; and to - make all draft plans of management subject to public comment, all such comments to be considered by the NP&W Advisory Council. 1.4 Marine Wilderness, Wilderness islands and seashores

Legislative provision should be made for marine wilderness.

Islands and seashores identified as having wilderness quality should also be declared under the two relevant Acts.

Marine and estuarine areas, small islands and narrow coastal areas may have a wilderness quality, although this may depend on the existence of substantial surrounding natural environment (sea and/or land) of similar quality, which must be protected and managed as a protection zone (see 1.6).

1.5 Criteria

Wilderness should be identified on the basis of three criteria: naturalness, remoteness, and size. Opportunities for self-reliant, passive recreation should be taken into account.

1.5.1 Naturalness. An area proposed to be identified as wilderness should be essentially in its natural state. However, where a natural area, which otherwise satisfies wilderness criteria, includes man-made works which in expert opinion could be removed and the affected area allowed to revegetate naturally or be assisted to do so using plants from the local provenance, that area should not be summarily rejected for declaration as wilderness.

1.5.2 Remoteness. An area proposed to be identified as a wilderness should ideally be remote from influences of mankind, to the extent that these influences cannot be seen, and preferably not heard, from any part of the area, except in regard to areas where restoration, either natural or assisted, is in process. The influences of man can include actual works (buildings, roads, powerlines, pipelines, etc.), modification or destruction of natural conditions, intrusion [especially by motor vehicles, aircraft, horses, etc: see Wilderness Act S.12 (1)(e)], noise, and pollution. The quality of remoteness becomes absolute when none of these outside influences are perceptible from within the wilderness.

1.5.3 Size. As a wilderness should preferably be as large as possible, a lower limit of area should be set as a guideline for identifying wilderness areas (see definition). However, some flexibility may be desirable where a relatively small area has the other wilderness qualities to a high degree.

A size guideline which has received a fair degree of acceptance is the core 25,000 ha, with a 25,000 ha buffer (see 1.7 below), recommended in the 1975 report of Helman et al and adopted by CONCOM in 1986. This was estimated to be "at or near the lower size limit for long term conservation of almost all its contained species" (in South East Australia). Helman also recommended a core width of 10km.

1.6 Protection zone

Declared wilderness should preferably be surrounded by a natural, semi-natural area or at least rural areas, sufficient in width as to act as an effective buffer against influences unfavourable to maintenance of wilderness integrity. Alternatively or additionally, wilderness can be protected by controls over the use of adjoining land, waters, or airspace (see 2.2.6).

Protection areas of the latter type may be provided, for instance, by protection of upstream wetlands or whole catchments, thus protecting wilderness water quality; or by rural zoned land retaining its zoning and blocking urban development close or next to the wilderness.


2.1 Plans of Management

All management of declared wilderness should be in accordance with an adopted plan of management.

2.2 Ecological integrity

2.2.1 Primary management goals. Maintenance of ecological integrity and wilderness quality should be the primary goals of wilderness management.

2.2.2 Minimum intervention. Wilderness management should involve a minimum of intervention necessary to maintain the ecological systems and protect their biodiversity, and to carry out any special measures needed for rare, endangered, and threatened species. 2.2.3 Environmental fire management. Except for normal maintenance of known fire regimes, particularly those necessary to maintain habitats of rare threatened or endangered species, fire should not be used to manipulate environments in wilderness areas. Long unburnt areas should receive special protection, at least in part.

2.2.4 Protection fire management. Fuel reduction burning to mitigate bushfire risk to human life and property, or to stop the spread of fire to or from neighbouring lands, should be confined to strips at the wilderness boundary, or at the outer boundary of any protection zone(See 1.6). There must be no road servicing this or any other purpose within wilderness, although it may be permissible in the protection zone. A few permanent helipads could be established in the wilderness, in strategic places for fire suppression and other management purposes. Helipads constructed in an emergency within wilderness must be allowed to revegetate naturally.

2.2.5 Exotic biota. Introduced plants and animals should be controlled in wilderness, with the aim of eradication, using methods which have lowest biophysical impact and by minimising factors which facilitate invasion and establishment.

Risk to non-target fauna of using 1080 as a dog bait should be minimised by burying.

Aerial baiting is not permitted in national parks and wilderness in Victoria.

Precautions against invasion by exotics include; - compulsory washing of boots and the tyres of vehicles (especially management or research vehicles allowed to enter wilderness) to curb the spread of Phytophthora cinnamomi; - avoidance of downstream spread of exotics by watercourses; and - elimination of small or marginal infestations before they can spread.

2.2.6 External pollution sources. Measures should be taken to prevent air water or noise pollution and other influences from external sources affecting wilderness areas. This is especially important for coastal and marine wilderness.

Aspects that should be targeted include nutrients, sediments, pesticides, herbicides, and any other toxic pollutants which can impact marine organisms. Attention should be paid to both diffuse source and point source pollution. Bees should not be kept within 5km of a declared wilderness boundary.

2.3 Recreation

Management of human recreation in wilderness areas should reflect the nature and purpose of declared wilderness. Wilderness recreation should be confined to appropriate self-reliant activities such as bushwalking, approved climbing and caving, swimming, photography, painting, and nature study. Recreational intensity and impact (upon the environment, wildlife, and the seclusion and enjoyment of others) should be even lower than usually acceptable in a national park, and management of visitor numbers should be relatively more stringent. Visitors should be required to conform with a code of minimum impact on the biophysical environment and upon fellow visitors.

2.3.1 Motor vehicles. No motor vehicle of any kind (such as motor cars and motor bikes, motor boats, hovercraft, and low-flying aircraft) should be admitted to declared wilderness, whether it be terrestrial or aquatic, or in the airspace below 2000 feet above the highest point of the wilderness, except in genuine emergency circumstances, such as fire or rescue, or for essential management purposes using helicopters.

2.3.2 Roads. There should be no roads in declared wilderness. Existing roads should be closed and allowed to revegetate (see 1.5.1).

2.3.3 Horses and other introduced animals. (e.g. donkeys, camels, dogs, cats, ferrets, pigeons) should not be brought into declared wilderness for transport, recreation, hunting or any other purpose.

2.3.4 Tracks. No new walking tracks should be made in wilderness. Existing tracks should be allowed and/ or assisted, to revegetate naturally. Tracks should not be upgraded to counter deterioration due to overuse, but it is acceptable to close them if considered necessary because of deterioration from any cause. Guidebooks detailing routes in wilderness should not be encouraged or distributed by the NP&WS.

2.3.5 Structures. There should be no recreational structures in declared wilderness, including houses, huts and other building, signs, route markers, rock cairns, ski lifts, fixed pitons etc.

2.3.6 Camping. Only low key, low impact camping should be permitted in wilderness areas, with visitors required to observe minimum disturbance ethics, including removal of all introduced material they have brought in. Campsites should not be designated or advertised, and regular use of a particular site discouraged.

2.3.7 Commercial activities. No recreational tours or other commercial activities should be permitted in wilderness areas. An essence of wilderness should be its freedom from regular intrusion, particularly by large numbers of people.

2.3.8 Hunting and fishing of any kind should not be permitted in wilderness areas.

2.3.9 Visitor management strategy. As part of its plan of management, each declared wilderness area should have a visitor management strategy drawn up based on its individual nature, vulnerability, and carrying capacity (for wilderness use).

2.4 Non-recreational, non-management activities and installations Activities unrelated to the proper use and management of a wilderness or an emergency should not be permitted in declared wilderness. Examples of this category of misuse are:

2.4.1 Military purposes, including exercises and training, bivouacking, use of ground vehicles and overflight by aircraft;

2.4.2 Utilities, whether terrestrial, subterranean, marine, submarine etc. and such as buildings, transmission lines and poles, pipelines, water tanks, roads, TV repeater and other towers etc. Where considered essential, trig stations and navigational aids should be rendered inconspicuous by modern techniques and have no access roads;

2.4.3 Resource exploration for minerals, stone, soil, petroleum, groundwater, etc. should not be permitted in declared wilderness.

2.5 Monitoring

The biophysical and social impacts of all recreation, management and other activities if any), and of any installations, in wilderness areas should be under constant surveillance, with a view to adjustments of management control where any of these factors are found by the NPWS to have unacceptable impacts upon wilderness values.

2.6 Research

Any research which is undertaken in declared wilderness should: - require a permit from the Director of NP&WS; - be conducted on foot if possible; - cause minimal impact on the environment etc either by the work itself or by the logistical arrangements - access, camping etc. - use the wilderness only if non-wilderness sites do not serve the purpose as well.

2.7 Education

Education of the public in regard to the concept, purposes, and proper uses of wilderness should form part of the education system covering nature conservation generally, with particular regard to national parks and wilderness and the ethics of their use.


The Federal Government should facilitate State acquisition and management of wilderness areas financially and legislatively, and propose national standards of management. Constitutional change giving the Government power to protect and manage a national wilderness system should be sought from the people.


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