Wilderness areas are large, natural and mostly intact areas of land that form part of our national park system.

Point Lookout Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area New England National Park

Wilderness areas are an essential part of our national park system. These large well-connected areas protect our existing biodiversity in a functioning natural system.

Wilderness areas have cultural significance as they often contain Aboriginal sites and possible remnants of the Australian landscape as it existed before colonisation.

Wilderness areas also:

  • provide clean air and water
  • store carbon 
  • mitigate the effects of climate change on biodiversity
  • act as a storehouse of genetic material from which new food crops, drugs, clothing and other natural products may be discovered
  • allow scientists to compare less-modified natural landscapes with areas that have been changed by modern human activity
  • provide places of inspiration that offer solitude, spiritual significance as well as opportunities for self-reliant recreation activities.

Nominate, assess and declare

We administer the NSW Wilderness Act 1987, which provides the legislative framework for the nomination, assessment and declaration of wilderness and its subsequent management.

We acquire land with wilderness values through our land acquisition program. We may initiate proposals for an area to be identified as wilderness, declared to be a wilderness area, or added to an existing wilderness area.

Land does not have to be ‘pristine’ to be identified as wilderness - small areas of land capable of restoration can be included.

Members of the community can also propose an area of land be assessed for wilderness. You can submit a written proposal or nomination to us to nominate an area to become wilderness.

If we consider a proposed area warrants assessment, we visit the lands to determine whether they meet the criteria defined in the Wilderness Act 1987. When an area meets the defined criteria, a wilderness assessment report is developed and placed on public exhibition. An example is the Curracabundi Wilderness Assessment Report.

We then prepare a wilderness declaration report in which we recommend areas to be declared wilderness and suggest boundaries to the Minister for the Environment. The Minister has the authority to make the declaration.

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.

Some lands are excluded from wilderness nomination 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.

Protect and manage

When an area is declared wilderness it is protected under the Wilderness Act 1987 and must be managed to protect its wilderness values with a minimum of human interference (as set out in Section 9 of the Act). Many wilderness areas are remote and inaccessible to vehicles and access is usually only by foot.

Areas zoned wilderness have higher biodiversity and ecological variability compared to our other parks, and have an additional layer of management.

Our Wilderness policy describes the management strategies we use to minimise the side effects or unintended effects on wilderness values.

We protect and manage wilderness to:

  • conserve biodiversity and maintain ecological systems
  • limit damage to plants, animals and cultural heritage.
  • actively manage fire, pests and weeds, consistent with management practices applied elsewhere throughout the reserve system
  • provide social, recreational and spiritual support for humans
  • promote the public understanding and appreciation of wilderness as required under the Wilderness Act 1987.