24 December 2020

Conservationists push to get 20,000 petition signatures

| Edwina Mason
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Wild horses grazing in Kosciuszko National Park.

Wild horses grazing on the vast plains of Kosciuszko National Park. Photo: Reclaim Kosci.

Amid the festive season rush, there’s another race of sorts taking place in streets, shopping centres and malls throughout NSW.

Its purpose lies way beyond the concrete and asphalt boundaries of our cities and towns – in the streams and rivers, water catchments, wetlands, bogs, bushland and habitats of the fragile high country of the Australian alpine region.

Formed by the splitting apart of the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana, for their 520 million years of existence, the quiet, brooding alps have always been home to native wildlife.

In the 230 years since white man first settled Australia, it has progressively come to house populations of introduced species, including wild horses – also known as brumbies – which historically, politically and ecologically continue to divide the nation.

Wild horses have long been in the sights of conservationists, including Honorary Associate Professor at the Australian National University’s Fenner School of Environment and Society, the late Dr Graeme Worboys, and protected area and connectivity conservation specialist Ian Pulsford.

READ ALSO The irony of the brumby and Snowy 2.0 sharing the same backyard

After various studies – one being as recent as March 2020, conducted in locations in the alpine region traversing the ACT, NSW and Victorian borders – the unfailing conclusion from Dr Worboys and Mr Pulsford was the need for urgent and effective action to end pest horse impacts, restore damage to water catchments, and help preserve Australia’s native species.

Wild horse culling isn’t new, but amid simmering debate about their presence, it does continue in three specific areas of Kosciuszko National Park as feed lures and horse yards are used to capture the horses, which are then largely rehomed.

Invasive Species Council CEO Andrew Cox.

Invasive Species Council CEO Andrew Cox. Photo: Supplied.

Invasive Species Council CEO Andrew Cox says that’s not enough.

“We are pleased that emergency post-bushfire horse removal began in July 2020, but to date only 312 horses have been removed,” he said. “Last year [in 2019] there were only 99 removed.

“Just to stabilise the horse population, you need to remove more horses than are foaled each year. To reduce the population, you need to remove many more than this.”

Mr Cox said an April-May 2019 official count put the number of horses in Kosciuszko National Park at 20,000.

“Their numbers and resulting impacts are continuing to grow,” he said. “This level of horse removal is totally inadequate to stem the horse population growth.”

Meanwhile, NSW Minister for Energy and Environment Matt Kean is sweating on the tightly held, post-bushfire spring population recount, plus final reports from the Kosciuszko National Park wild horse management scientific and community advisory panels to inform a new draft wild horse heritage management plan under the Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Act 2018.

As that clock ticks, Andrew Cox is pressing on.

“The promised new horse plan was due to be released for comment in February 2020,” he said. “It is now planned for early 2021, which is an unacceptable delay.”

The Invasive Species Council and its offshoot, Reclaim Kosci, are currently intent on rounding up 20,000 petition signatures by 13 January, 2021, to trigger debate in the NSW Legislative Assembly urging action on numbers of wild horses in Kosciuszko National Park.

The submission, supported by Member for Wagga Wagga Dr Joe McGirr, calls on the NSW Legislative Assembly to:

  1. Act urgently to reduce feral horse numbers in Kosciuszko National Park by supporting a horse management plan that incorporates the best scientific and RSPCA advice.
  2. Fund a program to restore the catchments, slopes, wetlands and mountain streams impacted by feral horses in Kosciuszko National Park.
  3. Repeal the Kosciuszko Wild Horses Heritage Act 2018.
Reclaim Kosci volunteers collecting petition signatures in Hornsby, Sydney.

Reclaim Kosci volunteers collecting signatures for the petition at Hornsby, in Sydney. Photo: Reclaim Kosci.

At last count, 2316 signatures had been collected.

That number should change dramatically as a recruitment campaign calling on volunteer coordinators to build public awareness of the petition moves into full swing during the holiday period.

Area coordinators will receive a one-off $1000 honorarium – provided by Invasive Species Council donors – for four to five weeks’ worth of work.

And far from claims Reclaim Kosci volunteers have been harassing shoppers, Mr Cox said they only operate where permitted, interacting with any member of the public in the same way that others do when promoting a good cause in public streets and shopping centres.

“Courteously and without interfering with other people,” he said. “Regardless of people’s perspective, everyone has been unfailingly polite.”

Mr Cox refutes comments made by former politician and brumby advocate Peter Cochran that the petition bares the hallmark of Minister Kean.

“This is not the case, nor was Kean’s office consulted during the petition process,” he said.

Mr Cox said Reclaim Kosci supports management of the horse population in Kosciuszko National Park via a range of effective and humane means, as per RSPCA and scientific advice.

“Poisoning has not been proposed as a management tool for feral horses by Reclaim Kosci, Invasive Species Council or NPWS [NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service] and is not authorised to be carried out in NSW,” he said.

“We do not seek to remove all horses from Kosciuszko National Park. It is not practically achievable. We want to see the horse population reduced using humane and effective means to a level where they no longer have a negative impact on the national park.”

Public exhibition of the draft Wild Horse Heritage Management Plan is expected in the first half of 2021.

The plan will take into account the new population survey – once finalised – and advice provided by the community and scientific advisory panels.

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Helen McRorie3:37 pm 09 Jan 21

I agree with Andrew Cox’s submission. It is very important to protect the fragile alpine ecosystem of the Kosciuszko National Park. I am glad to see that Dr Joe McGirr is supporting this endeavour.

Bronwyn Evans3:37 pm 29 Dec 20

Why not instead use this money and the millions given to give them a permanent preserve.. The area isn’t pristine and is reclaimed grazing land presently being destroyed by Snowy Hydro.. If all the money used to eradicate and slaughter was used to set aside some of this reclaimed area which isn’t pristine and never will be.. They issue is resolved and our heritage Brumbies saved.. Humans are decimating the Fragile Alpine Environment for Ski Resorts.. Infrastructures and now an Airport.. parking.. Why the hypocrisy when Brumbies aren’t destroying Fragile environments but keeping reclaimed grazing areas free for wildlife

Get rid of the governments that want the brumbies gone and remove work being done that is doing so much worse destruction than the brumbies have done I am disappointed in my fellow human beings in destroying so much of our beautiful high country and heritage How is the government going to repair all the damage being done to flora & fauna and the eco systems being done by Snowy 2.0 its a disgrace to blame it all on the brumbies

Jenny Somerset3:04 am 28 Dec 20

Why are they destroying the park by building another power station which is damaging flora and fauna a great deal more than the horses. Where is the draft plan on control of deer pigs and rabbits

Patricia Williams10:54 am 27 Dec 20

What do they have in mind? Must be a plan to build something. Well take a good look at the damage wild pigs do. They breed large litters’rip up the ground’ damage grass and trees’. Dont worry about protected frogs and others. The feral cats look after them. There is more behind this than we are being told.

Dominique Fletcher8:04 am 27 Dec 20

Absolutely horrible! The numbers are NOT as high as mentioned and brumbies certainly do much less damage than humans! If mosses and lichen are so important around some creeks why not use all that energy to put fences? Leave those animals alone they are part of the recent history of this country.

Sharon Quinn6:57 pm 26 Dec 20

Where are the 20,000 non existed horses if you can only remove 312 These are pregnant mares with foals at foot A cruel and unnecessary result When are you going to do a proper count and not guess It is obvious that this amount of 20,000 does not exist Feral deer and pigs do with much higher numbers than the horses They have survived for over 150 years in this area and all these grasses and wild life still exist which should be all extinct years ago

Horses are the least of the issues. Dedicate your efforts to Deer, Pigs, Foxes, Wild Dogs, Cats to name a few much more destructive & fertile pests than a few wild horses.

Angus MacDiarmid10:20 pm 27 Dec 20

Those species are also being managed. This story is about feral horses. Whose numbers are exorbitant and imperilling our fragile – and finite alpine ecologies. Try harder with your next comment.

I think Mr Cox needs to rethink his overstated comments re the numbers of brumbies in the Park . Having to pay people to collect signatures tells you of their desperate need to justify their agenda . Don’t see Invasive Species Council getting upset on all the ‘invasive construction’ going on in The Snowy ! Hydro Scheme is going unnoticed but the Brumbies are the issue of destruction. Who is paying who and for what ?

Nanette Dart8:01 pm 25 Dec 20

My opinion is that the Invasive Species council & it’s offshoot should concentrate on the Millions of Feral Deer, Pigs, and Rabbits that cause far more destruction of the habitat than the Brumbies. The biggest destroyer of Kosciuszko is Man.

When the official count was done there were, give or take 1200 horses sighted in the northern end of the Park. This was done by helicopter flying at 70 meters of elevation with 2 trained observers tasked with counting a transect of 150 meters ahead and beside the aircraft. Subsequently, using an algorithm designed in Scotland for use on savanna in the Serengeti National Park in Kenya, it was assumed that at least 75% of the animals were not sighted and so a number of 15,000 was adopted as the “official” figure for that region. The method was “peer reviewed” by the CSIRO in a document that is less than 2 pages long which called into question some aspects of the technique. A subsequent count by members of the Snowy Mountains Brumby sustainability and Management Group employed 2 observers in a fixed wing aircraft ( not as rich as Parks and Reclaim Kosci) flying the same pattern sighted the same approximate number, 1200 horses. Yet the media continue to claim the 15,000 figure

How true that is. It’s convenient to use a number count that gives them their justification. It is also true that when doing counts they chose transect ares of higher populations of brumbies as the said that going to lower populated areas would underestimate numbers but going to higher populated areas doesn’t over estimate! Such convenient manipulation of figures to dupe the public .

angus macdiarmid10:30 pm 27 Dec 20

Your science is so reputable you deserve a medal. A nobel prize. An order of Australia. We should rely on your science for all important science decisions. Especially when it comes to science. And maths. And opinions. We should really listen to yours. Or not.

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