Wild Rivers are rivers that are largely unchanged natural systems, where biological and hydrological processes continue without significant disturbance. They occur in a variety of landscapes, and may be permanent, seasonal or dry watercourses that flow or only flow occasionally, (Water and Rivers Commission, 1999). Wild Rivers are considered to be of high value because of their rarity, biodiversity or habitats, water quality and scientific value as benchmarks of natural catchment conditions. They remain generally undisturbed due to their isolation, rugged topography or land tenure.
Through a project with the Australian Heritage Commission, the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (then Water and Rivers Commission) originally identified 49 wild rivers catchments in Western Australia. New development and continuing pressures, such as grazing, tourism/recreation, and invasion by non endemic species, have the potential to degrade wild rivers over time. Since initial identification, the Upper Yule River has been DWERngraded, due to development in the catchment. Western Australia currently has 48 wild rivers, of which 37 are located in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions. See Water Note 37: Wild rivers in Western Australia (www.water.wa.gov.au/PublicationStore/83725.pdf).
Wild river catchments classified as Priority 1 (P1) or Priority 2 (P2) are both considered to be of high value and are generally managed the same way, because there are nominal differences between the classifications. P1 wild rivers are those with no or minor impact from clearing, altering the landscape, loss of vegetation due to grazing, road or track construction, introduced exotic animals, plants or plant diseases, increased fire frequency, unnatural erosion and sedimentation or alterations to waterway and riparian ecosystem. P2 wild rivers are those with some but not extensive impacts from the activities or processes listed above. Since their initial identification, the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation has not undertaken a programme to monitor the condition of wild rivers catchments.
The Department of Water and Environmental Regulation advises that activities in wild rivers catchments should be managed so they do not adversely impact on values, including water quantity and quality. Conservation guidelines for the management of wild rivers: Part C - A Code for the Management of Wild Rivers (Australian Heritage Commission 1998, www.environment.gov.au/node/20154) provides management principles.