Land in Tasmania was first set aside as 'reserves for scenic purposes' as early as 1863 under the Waste Lands Act of 1863. In 1885 an area of 300 acres was reserved at Russell Falls. Following the passage of comprehensive scenery preservation legislation in 1915 and the establishment of the Scenery Preservation Board, Mt Field and Freycinet became Tasmania's first national parks. In 1922, a scenic reserve and wildlife sanctuary were established between Cradle Mountain and Lake St Clair.
Before 1928, fauna was protected by the Crown Lands and Police Departments. In 1928 the Animals and Birds Protection Act was passed which led to the creation of a board to administer the Act.
The late 1960s and early 70s saw increasing community concern over a proposal to develop dams for power generation in the south-west wilderness which would result in the flooding of Lake Pedder. Following the flooding of Lake Pedder, the Government recommended a new system of managing the natural environment and particularly the establishment of a professional park service.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service commenced operations in 1971. The National Parks and Wildlife Act 1970 repealed the Scenery Preservation Act 1915 and the Animals and Birds Protection Act 1928. Under the new Act provisions were made for the establishment and management of national parks and other reserves and the conservation of flora and fauna.
The early years of the Service saw the creation of the Mt William, Maria Island and Asbestos Range (renamed Narawntapu) national parks and the proclamation of Macquarie Island as a nature reserve. The establishment of the Mt William National Park provided a secure habitat for the then endangered Forester kangaroo.
In the early 1980s the conservation-versus-development debate was on the boil again with the proposed Lower Gordon hydro-electric power scheme which would have flooded the Franklin River. Out of the controversy came the Franklin-Lower Gordon Wild Rivers National Park which was proclaimed in 1981. This was followed by World Heritage listing of the three large, contiguous western wilderness national parks in 1982. In 1983, an historic High Court decision prevented the construction of the dam. In 1989 significant additions were made to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, particularly with the inclusion of the Central Plateau Conservation Area.
In 1990, Tasmania's first marine reserves were established at Maria Island, Governor Island, Tinderbox and Ninepins Point.
In 1996 the Mole Creek Karst National Park was gazetted and the South Bruny National Park was gazetted the following year.
As part of the Regional Forest Agreement an additional 396,000 hectares of public land were added to Tasmania's reserves in 1997, including extensions to the Mount William National Park, Freycinet National Park and the creation of the Tasman National Park and Savage River National Park.
The most recent national park to be declared is the Kent Group National Park , gazetted in 2002, while Tasmania's marine environment received a significant boost with the declaration of marine protected areas at Port Davey-Bathurst Harbour and the Kent Group Marine Reserve.
In 2010, the significance of the convict probation era at Darlington, Maria Island, was recognised when listed as part of the 11 Australian Convict Sites World Heritage Property.
As of 2011, the Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Program is currently underway to remove rabbits, rats and mice from this remote sub-Antarctic island. The eradication of these animals is now the highest conservation priority for the reserve, and is the largest island eradication program for rabbits, rats or mice ever attempted, and one of the largest conservation projects in Tasmania.
A detailed history of the Parks and Wildlife Service and land management in Tasmania is available online.
The National Parks and Wildlife Advisory Council hosted a one day seminar, "With Every Step" on the Place and Meaning of Parks and Reserves in Tasmania. The procedings of the seminar provide a detailed account of the history of the Parks and Wildlife Service and land management in Tasmania. These proceedings are available online a [PDF 70 KB].