Wilderness policy

Wilderness helps to conserve plant and animal populations. It provides benefits to people through recreation, particularly as part of a wilderness experience.

Views of the dramatic volcanic landscape from Governor lookout walking track, in Mount Kaputar National ParkThe purposes of wilderness for conserving biodiversity and for recreational experiences are important considerations in identifying, protecting and managing wilderness. For people to enjoy a wilderness experience, a wilderness area should remain substantially unmodified by modern human activity. The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), part of the Office of Environment and Heritage, will therefore manage wilderness to maintain or restore its natural values.

Policy

How is land identified as wilderness?

Naturalness

1. Wilderness areas will have native vegetation cover that is largely unmodified by human activity.

Size and boundaries

2. A wilderness area will usually be large enough to allow natural processes to be maintained. Whole water catchments will be included where possible. Boundaries will take into account landforms, communities and management considerations.

Development and restoration

3. Many forms of development and land use are incompatible with wilderness. They include:

  • four-wheel drive tracks, old logging or mining tracks
  • fence lines, minor tanks and bores
  • sparse, intermittent or seasonal grazing
  • past light, selective logging in limited areas
  • limited, more intensive developments, such as clearings
  • intensive development or disturbance
  • a disturbed site, the inclusion of which is important for the integrity of a wilderness area.

However, land with these activities and developments can be identified as wilderness, if there is a commitment to removing the incompatible activities or developments and restoring wilderness values. Removal may not be necessary if the developments have significant Aboriginal or historical values.

Recreation

4. A wilderness area must be able to provide opportunities for solitude and self-reliant recreation.

5. The objectives for protecting and managing wilderness are to:

  • identify and subsequently manage large areas that approach a wilderness condition, or which can be restored to that condition
  • conserve natural features and processes, with a minimum of human interference.
  • conserve Aboriginal and historic resources in wilderness areas, in accordance with the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (NPW Act), the Heritage Act 1977 and the Burra Charter
  • maintain opportunities for solitude and compatible self-reliant recreation and exclude activities that conflict with or diminish these opportunities
  • encourage public awareness and appropriate use of wilderness.

6. The Wilderness Act 1987 (Wilderness Act) provides the legislative basis for identifying, protecting and managing wilderness in New South Wales. Wilderness areas in national parks previously declared under the National NPW Act are now recognised under the Wilderness Act.

7. Wilderness outside parks can also be protected through wilderness protection agreements and voluntary conservation agreements.

Aboriginal and historic resources

8. Aboriginal and historic resources will be retained and managed in accordance with the NPW Act, the Heritage Act and the Burra Charter.

9. Aboriginal and historic resources will be managed with regard for the protection of wilderness values.

Fire management

10. Bushfire suppression will be implemented consistent with NPWS’s responsibilities under the Rural Fires Act 1997.

11. Prescribed burning is permitted where required for necessary management purposes.

12. Works associated with fire management will be implemented with minimal environmental impact and where practicable will be rehabilitated.

Impacts

13. The impacts of recreational, management and scientific activities will be reviewed and management prescriptions revised as necessary.

Introduced species

14. Control programs for introduced plants and animals will be implemented where necessary.

Public understanding of wilderness

15. Public understanding of the values of wilderness and the basis for wilderness management will be promoted.

Recreational use

16. Recreational use of wilderness will provide opportunities for solitude and self-reliance. Motorised transport is not permitted (paragraph 21). In addition:

  • horse riding is generally considered inappropriate in wilderness areas; however, horse riding can occur in some locations when permitted under the relevant park’s plan of management. Where horse riding in wilderness is permitted, trails will be identified by signs or other means
  • other forms of animal transport are not permitted in wilderness areas
  • mechanical personal transport must be powered by human energy (for instance, canoes are permitted).

17. Access to the whole or part of a wilderness area may be temporarily restricted if users are causing environmental impact that conflicts with the preservation of ecological integrity or other wilderness values.

18. To minimise damage to wilderness areas, NPWS encourages low-impact bushwalking practices such as:

  • hygienic and ecologically sound waste-disposal practices
  • use of portable stoves
  • leaving vegetation at campsites undisturbed.

Scientific research

19. Scientific research is permitted with the written consent of NPWS if:

  • it does not permanently diminish wilderness values and helps to conserve the area’s resources of the area

or

  • it is demonstrably significant and could not be undertaken in non-wilderness areas.

Signs

20. Where possible wilderness areas will be maintained free from signs, trail markers and other management devices.

Transport

21. Motorised transport operated by any agency, commercial interest or individual is not permitted in wilderness areas, except for management operations where:

  • the operation is necessary
  • use of the transport will not have any significant long-term impacts
  • the transport is the only feasible option available (for instance, during emergency operations).

22. Vehicle trails and helipads are prohibited. Existing ones should be closed and rehabilitated unless they are required for necessary management operations.

Policy adopted June 1989

Background

Wilderness is extensive in NSW and spans a range of altitudes and latitudes. It will help species to survive as the climate changes by allowing them to move between climatic zones.

Indigenous Australians have shaped the Australian landscape over the last 60,000 years and continue to do so. Aboriginal people maintain their connections to all NSW lands and coastal waters, including areas designated as wilderness. NPWS recognises that wilderness areas were occupied and have been used by Aboriginal Australians for up to 60,000 years.

The Wilderness Act 1987 (Wilderness Act) was passed as the bicentenary of European colonisation approached, and when the Bill was introduced in Parliament it was clearly concerned with the impacts of the previous 200 years. However, the Wilderness Act does not distinguish between the impacts on the natural environment from post-European colonisation and those from Aboriginal peoples’ uses of the landscape, referring only to land ‘modified by humans’. Consistent with the intent of the Act, NPWS interprets ‘modified by humans’ to mean changes caused by modern technological society rather than modification by Aboriginal people over the longer term.

Wilderness areas can have a wide range of conservation values and purposes, including natural, cultural (both Aboriginal and historic), scientific and recreational. This range of values will be taken into account in wilderness management.

Scope and application

This policy applies to all lands acquired or reserved under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (NPW Act). It does not apply to lands reserved under Part 4A of the Act unless the Board of Management for those lands has adopted the policy. However, the policy still provides guidance for staff in their dealings with Boards of Management.

Definitions

Identified wilderness: the Wilderness Act states that an area of land shall not be identified as wilderness unless:

(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.

Wilderness area means lands (including subterranean lands) declared to be a wilderness area under the Wilderness Act or NPW Act.