The major functions of the Department were protection of the environment of the State, management of the Crown Estate and the State's National Parks, Reserves and wildlife resources. Staff also maintained survey records and provided search facilities, conducted scientific studies, planned land use, advised on land use policy, preserved and protected sites of significance to the aboriginal and European heritage of Tasmania, provided a valuation and real estate advisory service, registered land transactions, and developed, reviewed and administered legislation relating to plant and animal health and quality standards.
The Department was created on 18 September 1998 by amalgamating the Department of Environment and Land Management with the Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries and the Government Analytical and Forensic Laboratory from the Department of Community and Health Services. The idea of consolidating all government laboratories overlooked significant operational differences and planning commenced almost immediately to return control of the forensic laboratory to the Department of Health and Human Services. The Parks and Wildlife Service was removed from the Department's control in August 2002 to the Department of Tourism, Parks, Heritage and the Arts. The Environment Division was amalgamated with the Department of Tourism, Arts and the Environment on 5 April 2006.