Australia: Our national stories
Australian Heritage Commission, 2003
ISBN 0 642 23561 9
The Australian Heritage Commission began the National Wilderness Inventory program in 1986. It was initiated as a result of community concern over the rapid decline in the area and quality of relatively remote and natural land in Australia and in recognition of the need for wilderness resource information to assist scientists and administrators with wilderness conservation and management planning.
The program is designed to identify wilderness quality across the Australian landscape. It is a flexible decision-making tool which supports purposes such as monitoring wilderness loss, delineating wilderness areas, defining management options and predicting the effects of development on wilderness values. Since its commencement the program has had three principal thrusts:
- the development of an appropriate methodology for the systematic survey of wilderness quality across the Australian landscape;
- the completion of an Australia-wide baseline survey of wilderness quality; and
- the application of the wilderness database and geographic information system (GIS)-based analytical techniques to wilderness policy and management issues.
The first stages of the program focussed on assessing the appropriateness of the 'continuum' approach to wilderness quality assessment, and the development of GIS-based methods for implementing surveys in Victoria and Tasmania.
Continual refinements to implementation procedures have followed, including software conversion from the early custom-built GIS to the commonly used commercial ARC/INFO system. Since 1989 major efforts have been devoted to completing a nationwide baseline wilderness quality assessment. Between 1989 and late 1994 surveys were undertaken in South Australia, Cape York Peninsula, Northern Territory, remaining parts of Queensland, New South Wales, ACT and Western Australia.
Generally, the baseline survey program has been conducted co-operatively with state and territory governments. A number of special collaborative studies have also been linked to the baseline survey program. These include a remnant native vegetation mapping program with the then South Australian Department of Environment and Planning; wilderness assessment of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area with the Wet Tropics Management Agency; and land cover mapping and assessment with the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage.
The focus of the program is now shifting increasingly to policy and management applications. Indeed, the NWI has already made substantial contributions in these areas. For instance, the wilderness assessment process required under wilderness legislation in South Australia is underpinned by the NWI database and wilderness analysis procedures.
The results of the Victorian component of the NWI were used as the starting point for a Victorian Land Conservation Council investigation of wilderness in that state. NWI processes have contributed to the management planning process for the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. The NWI has also contributed to national estate regional assessment processes in Western Australia and Victoria. It is anticipated that the NWI will play an important part in national programs such as the implementation of the National Forests Policy Statement and developing the National Reserve System as well as in wilderness planning and management in all States and Territories where the program has been conducted on a co-operative basis.