Environment Law in the Northern Territory

Territory parks, reserves, wilderness areas and sanctuaries

 

 

Introduction

 This Fact Sheet explains how protected areas are established and managed under the Northern Territory law. It has information about:

  • Territory parks and reserves
  • Wilderness areas
  • Sanctuaries
  • Areas of essential habitat.

 All of these areas are regulated under the Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act.

How are parks and reserves created?

The Northern Territory can buy land for the purposes of establishing a park or reserve but this is not essential and parks and reserves can be established whether or not a person, other than the Territory holds the title, right or interest in respect to that land.

The legal process for creating a park or reserve is as follows:

  • The Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission prepares a report about the proposed establishment of a park or reserve
  • Notices are placed in the Gazette; a local newspaper, if any, circulating in the area concerned; and in a newspaper circulating throughout the Territory telling people about the proposed park or reserve and inviting people to give written comments (called representations) within 60 days of the notice
  • The Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission must give due consideration to any representations it receives. The Commission provides the report together with the representations to the Administrator.
  • The Administrator must consider the report.
  • The Administrator may then declare an area of land to be a park or reserve.
  • If land is declared as a reserve, the declaration may specify the purpose or purposes of the reserve.
  • The Administrator can also declare that all or part of a park or reserve is a wilderness zone.

There is no legal nomination process for members of the public to apply for a park or reserve to be created.

The status of land declared as a park or reserve can be revoked and the area within a park or reserve can be amended, but only by a resolution passed by the Legislative Assembly.

What is protected?

Within a park or reserve wildlife has legal protection and the land is generally protected from certain activities, by creating a regime where certain activities are prohibited unless in accordance with a management plan. The following activities can only be done in accordance with the management plan for a park or reserve:

  • excavation
  • building or construction
  • carrying out works
  • timber felling and taking

Parks and reserves can include coastal areas and the sea above any part of the seabed of the Northern Territory.

However, the status of a park or reserve does not protect land from exploration or mining. Exploration for, or recovery and processing of minerals in accordance with the conditions of the mining interest, right or power under the Mineral Titles Act, Petroleum Act or Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act is permitted in a park or reserve. Additional legal processes apply before exploration and mining can be approved in these areas. For more information, read our Fact Sheet on Mining in protected areas.

There are criminal offences relating to harm to wildlife within the park or reserve. For more information, read our Fact Sheet on Biodiversity conservation.

The Commission also controls a large number of activities which may take place in parks or reserves including making fires; depositing waste; trade and commerce; public events; the possession of weapons, explosives and traps; use of metal detectors, and chemical substances; interference with wildlife; disturbance of natural features; taking or pollution of water; fishing; introduction of plants and animals; public behavior; use of portable generators; and public meetings.

Management of parks and reserves

Parks and reserves are managed by the Parks and Wildlife Commission unless there is a joint management agreement. The Parks and Wildlife Commission must comply with the management plan for the park or reserve.

Joint management of parks and reserves

Parks and reserves can be managed under a joint management agreement between the Northern Territory and the ‘traditional Aboriginal owners’ of the land. The ‘traditional Aboriginal owners’ has the meaning in the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 or the person or persons who, by Aboriginal tradition, are responsible for making decisions about the park or reserve.

The joint management partners are together responsible for the management of the park or reserve and must comply with the joint management plan for the park or reserve.

The joint management partners must perform their functions in a way that benefits traditional Aboriginal owners and the wider community; protects biological diversity; and serves visitor and community needs for enjoyment and education. Land Councils have the function of ascertaining and expressing the wishes and opinions of the Aboriginals living in the park or reserve and protecting the interests of the traditional Aboriginal owners.

Management plans for parks and reserves and public participation

Management plans must be prepared as soon as a park or reserve has been declared. The Parks and Wildlife Commission is responsible for preparing management plans.

In preparing a management plan, the Commission must have regard to:

  • For a park, the use, appreciation and enjoyment of the park
  • For a reserve, the regulation of the reserve for the purpose for which it was created
  • For both parks and reserves, the preservation of the park or reserve in its natural condition and the protection of its specific features including protection of objects and sites of biological, historical, paleontological, archaeological, geological and geographical interest; the protection conservation and management of wildlife; and the protection of the park or reserve against damage.

The management plan must contain a detailed description on how it is proposed the park or reserve will be managed. This description must include existing or proposed proposed buildings, structures and facilities but exclude any excavation, works or operations related to mining interests. A management plan can also include the management of an area that is proposed to become a park or reserve but will not apply until that area becomes a park or reserve.

There is a process for public notification of new management plans and an opportunity for people to make comments on the plan. The process for preparing and approving a management plan is:

  1. The Parks and Wildlife Commission prepares a management plan.
  2. The Parks and Wildlife Commission must notify the public in newspapers about the management plan and invite people to make written comments (called representations) within 1 month of the notice.
  3. The Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission must consider any written comments that it receives.
  4. The Commission must give the management plan together with written comments from the public to the Minister for the Administrator.
  5. The Administrator may accept the plan of management or make alterations.
  6. The plan of management must be laid before the Legislative Assembly.
  7. If the Legislative Assembly does not pass a motion disallowing the plan of management within 7 days, then that plan comes into operation. If the Legislative Assembly passes a motion disallowing the plan of management, the Commission must prepare a new management plan.

Management plans can be amended but the public is not invited to comment on amendments to management plans.

Management plans can be revoked but only if the process set out above is followed. Existing management plans remain in force until new management plans come into operation.

Wilderness zones

When a park or reserve is established, the Administrator may declare that the whole or a specified part of the park or reserve is a wilderness zone. A wilderness zone is an area of a park or reserve that has to be maintained in its natural state and used only for the purposes specified in the management plan.

 In a wilderness zone, certain activities can only be done by the Parks and Wildlife Commission and only in accordance with the management plan. These are:

  • excavation
  • building or construction
  • carrying out works
  • timber felling and taking
  • establishing of tracks and using vehicles, aircraft or vessels

The status of land as a wilderness zone does not prevent exploration or mining. Exploration for, or recovery and processing of minerals in accordance with the conditions of the mining interest, right or power under the Mineral Titles Act, Petroleum Act or Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act is permitted in a park, reserve or wilderness zone. However, additional legal processes apply before exploration and mining can be approved in wilderness zones. For more information, read our Fact Sheet on Mining in protected areas.

Sanctuaries

Sanctuaries are areas of land that were originally established under the Wildlife Conservation and Control Ordinance. Sanctuaries established under the Wildlife Conservation and Control Ordinance continues to be sanctuaries unless revoked under the Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act. The Administrator can declare (by notice in the Gazette) the following to be sanctuaries:

  • any area of unoccupied Crown land in the Northern Territory; or
  • an area of land held in fee simple by the Corporation or in respect of which the Corporation holds a lease

The general public are prohibited from entering sanctuaries. It is an offence to take a firearm or trap into a sanctuary; to capture, take or kill an animal in a sanctuary; fish in freshwater in a sanctuary; or take protected plants from a sanctuary without a permit.

Areas of essential habitat

An area of land can be declared as an area of essential habitat where the area has been recognised as essential for the survival of wildlife generally or certain species of wildlife. Land that is declared to be essential habitat must be used and enjoyed in a way that is consistent with the declaration.

The declaration must describe the relevant area of land and specify the wildlife to which the declaration applies; give the reasons for making the declaration; give details of the objectives for, and proposed management of, the area; and state that the land must be used in a manner consistent with the objectives of the declaration. The declaration may also specify things, animals or plants that may not be taken into or out of the area; and activities that may not be carried out in the area unless authorised by the Director.

Overall, for land to become essential habitat, the Minister for Parks and Wildlife must decide, after a public process, that an area of land should be declared as essential habitat. The Minister then recommends to the Administrator that the area of land becomes essential habitat. The Administrator may declare (by notice in the Gazette) an area of land to be essential habitat if the land contains habitat that is essential for the survival of wildlife in that area.

Before the Administrator can declare land to be essential habitat:

  1. The Director of the Parks and Wildlife Commission must consult with the owner and occupier of the land where, in the opinion of the Director,  the owner’s interests would be adversely impacted by the designation of the area as essential habitat.
  2. The Minister for Parks and Wildlife must recommend the land be declared as essential habitat.

Before the Minister for Parks and Wildlife can make the recommendation to the Administrator, the Minister must go through a public notification process. The Minister must:

  1. Provide a written notice to the owner and the occupier of the land and any other person who, in the opinion of the Director of the Parks and Wildlife Commission, has an interest that is likely to be adversely affected by the declaration.
  2. Give public notice about the proposed declaration of land as essential habitat and invite people to make submissions by a specified date. The deadline for making submissions will be in the notice and will not be more than 28 days from the date of the notice.

The Minister for Parks and Wildlife must consider each submission and any other matter that comes to the Minister’s attention. The Minister must then determine whether or not to make a recommendation to the Administrator and the contents of the recommendation.

If the Minister recommends that the area be declared an area of essential habitat, the Administrator may (by notice in the Gazette) declare the area to be an area of essential habitat (as long as the Director has also consulted as set out above).

The Minister for Parks and Wildlife also has emergency powers to create areas of essential habitat. If, in the opinion of the Minister, there is an area of land in which there is a species of wildlife that is likely to become extinct if not immediately protected, the Minister may (by notice in the Gazette) declare the area to be an area of essential habitat. The Minister can also amend or revoke an emergency declaration.

Where a declaration of an area of essential habitat has the effect of imposing a restriction on the use and enjoyment of land, the declaration is a restriction for the purposes of section 35 of the Land Title Act.