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 conservation of biodiversity and suitable recreational opportunities are important considerations when areas are identified, protected, and managed as wilderness. For people to enjoy a wilderness experience, a wilderness area should remain substantially unmodified by modern human activity. Therefore, the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) will manage wilderness to maintain or restore its natural values.


How is land identified as wilderness?

  1. 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 Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (NPW Act) are now recognised under the Wilderness Act.


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

Size and boundaries

  1. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.


  1. A wilderness area must be able to provide opportunities for solitude and self-reliant recreation.
  1. 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 NPW Act, the Heritage Act 1977 (Heritage Act) 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.
  2. Wilderness outside parks can also be protected through wilderness protection agreements and voluntary conservation agreements.

Aboriginal and historic cultural heritage

  1. Aboriginal and historic cultural heritage will be retained and managed in accordance with the NPW Act, the Heritage Act and the Burra Charter.
  2. Aboriginal and historic cultural heritage will be managed with regard for the protection of wilderness values.

Fire management

  1. Bushfire suppression will be implemented consistent with NPWS's responsibilities under the Rural Fires Act 1997.
  2. Prescribed burning is permitted where required for necessary management purposes.
  3. Works associated with fire management will be implemented with minimal environmental impact, and where practicable, will be rehabilitated.


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

Introduced species

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

Public understanding of wilderness

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

Recreational use

  1. Recreational use of wilderness will provide opportunities for solitude and self-reliance. Motorised transport is not permitted (see paragraph 21 of this policy). 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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

  1. Scientific research is permitted with the written consent of NPWS if either:
    • it does not permanently diminish wilderness values and helps to conserve the area's resources of the area
    • it is demonstrably significant and could not be undertaken in non-wilderness areas.


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


  1. 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).
  2. 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
Policy last updated June 2021

Scope and application

This policy applies to all lands acquired or reserved under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (NPW Act) except for lands reserved under Part 4A of the Act (unless the Board of Management for those lands has adopted the policy). However, NPWS staff can use the policy as guidance in their dealings with Boards of Management.


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