With the establishment of the National Parks and Wildlife Service in New South Wales in 1967 a major programme commenced to establish a comprehensive reserve system for nature conservation as well as other purposes. As at 30 June, 1988 this system consisted of 68 National Parks, 185 Nature Reserves, 22 State Recreation Areas, 13 Historic Sites and nine Aboriginal Areas covering 3.7 million hectares or about 4.62% of the land area of New South Wales (NPWS 1988). Much of the conservation biology literature which examines the principles of reserve design (e.g., Soule and Wilcox 1980; Soule 1986; Simberloff 1986) focuses on the operational principles in designing reserve boundaries and size without canvassing the threshold question of exactly what is it that we seek to conserve in their establishment. All too often the absence of debate on the range of options and choices in defining the underlying philosophy of what we are seeking to conserve in nature reserves obscures the significant implications of the choices involved and makes subsequent consideration of the principles of reserve design complex and inconclusive. This paper seeks to raise debate on the underlying basis of nature reserve establishment programmes by examining the experience of the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service from 1967 until 1989, by posing the range of options available as driving forces for a nature conservation programme and by highlighting the significantly different priorities which emerge from these options.

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