Nature conservation

Parks, reserves and protected areas

How wilderness is protected

History of wilderness in NSW

Wilderness was declared as early as 1982 in NSW but was given greater significance with the enactment of the Wilderness Act 1987. Significant increases in wilderness protection occurred in the late 1990s and early 2000s as an outcome of the Regional Forest Agreements processes undertaken at that time. By 2010, the state's declared wilderness reached some two million hectares, which is approximately 2.5 per cent of NSW and 30 per cent of all OEH reserves.

In 1996, the Government established the Dunphy Wilderness Fund to acquire private land to consolidate and protect wilderness areas. The Fund was established in honour of Myles Dunphy (1891-1985), a tireless advocate of the wilderness cause.

From 1996 to 2006 the Government contributed $11 million to the Dunphy Wilderness Fund to acquire 60 freehold and leasehold properties covering 70,000 hectares of land with wilderness values. The fund was administered by environmental non-government organisations (NGOs) and Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH). NGOs raised $1.5 million in public donations in support of the program. Purchases through the fund included very large and iconic properties, 'keyhole' properties within reserves and crucial links between isolated reserves, particularly along the Great Dividing Range.

The acquisition of private and leasehold land with wilderness values is now part of OEH's general land acquisition program, although donations can still be made to various NGOs to support wilderness protection, such as:

Proposing, assessing and identifying wilderness

The NSW Wilderness Act provides the legislative framework for the nomination, assessment, identification and declaration of wilderness and its subsequent management. The Act is administered by the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH).

Wilderness cannot be declared over freehold or Crown leasehold land, even if it is identified as having wilderness qualities, without the formal written consent of the occupiers.

The Wilderness Act allows for any person or group to submit a written proposal, or nomination, to OEH suggesting an area of land be identified as wilderness, declared to be a wilderness area or added to an existing wilderness area.

If OEH considers the proposed area warrants assessment, the lands are assessed to determine whether they meet the criteria set down in the Wilderness Act. Not all lands are required to be 'pristine' to be identified as wilderness - small areas of land capable of restoration can be included.

It is also possible for OEH to initiate proposals and assess areas independent of any public proposal.

If the area is found to meet the defined criteria for wilderness, it is identified in a wilderness assessment report, which is placed on public exhibition and comments from the community are invited.

Some lands are excluded from wilderness nomination, identification and declaration. These are lands covered by Integrated Forest Operations Approvals issued under the Forestry and National Park Estate Act 1998 and lands covered by the Brigalow and Nandewar Community Conservation Area Act 2005.

How does wilderness identification affect landholders?

Wilderness identification:

  • does not prevent a property from being sold
  • has no influence on how private property is managed or on land management activities such as grazing
  • does not restrict the existing legal access to, or use of, private or leasehold land by its occupiers
  • does not have to be identified on a Section 149 certificate unless specified by the local council. Section 149 certificates are issued by local councils under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (EP&A Act) and provide information about the zoning of a property and relevant planning controls that apply to it. (contact your local council for more details)
  • is not considered by the State Valuer's Office when undertaking a property valuation. The State Valuer's Office advises that wilderness is not attached to property title and no allowance is made in the valuation for any special value OEH may place on the land.

Documents to download

Wilderness Assessment Guidelines
See further detailed information on OEH's wilderness assessment process.

Curracabundi Wilderness Assessment
This assessment centred on a group of national parks and reserves on the north coast of NSW between Gloucester and Walcha and identified some 38,500 ha as wilderness.

Declaring wilderness

Following public exhibition of a wilderness assessment report, OEH uses social, economic, reserve design and management factors to determine which parts of the identified wilderness will be recommended to the Minister for declaration as wilderness.

OEH then prepares a wilderness declaration report recommending areas to be declared as wilderness and suggesting boundaries. This report is submitted to the Minister with responsibility for the Wilderness Act, who has the authority to make the declaration.

Managing declared wilderness

Declared wilderness must be managed in a way that maintains its wilderness values as set out in Section 9 of the Wilderness Act 1987. Nearly all declared wilderness is within the national parks system and is managed by OEH. The aim is to protect these large natural areas, the functioning of their ecosystems, and their processes of evolution with a minimum of human interference.

Pest animal control, weed control and bushfire management all occur as part of wilderness management. Where possible, management strategies that minimise the side effects or unintended effects on wilderness values are employed.

Page last updated: 30 November 2015