A NSW Upper House inquiry has been established to interrogate the proposed aerial shooting of wild horses, or brumbies, in Kosciuszko National Park (KNP) and surrounding areas.
In making the announcement this week, Animal Welfare Committee chair NSW MLC Emma Hurst said the inquiry would examine the justification for this proposed method of controlling numbers of brumbies in KNP, giving consideration to urgency and the accuracy of the estimated brumby population, including the methodology used to determine this estimate.
The NSW Government has been examining alternative methods to reduce the number of wild horses in the national park, which environmentalists say are impacting scores of threatened native species, damaging the habitat, eroding and compacting soil and reducing water quality in the alpine streams and wetlands.
A November 2022 survey of KNP showed an estimated wild horse population of between 14,501 and up to 23,535, averaging out at 18,814.
These numbers have sparked outrage among environmental groups, who claim that wild horse numbers have surged by 4,000 in the past two years despite culling operations.
They’re accusing the government of mismanaging the park.
Ms Hurst says locals reported fewer than 3000 brumbies in the park and that statistical evidence was mounting that the NPWS counting methodology was flawed.
“That’s something the inquiry really needs to look into. Is the methodology being used creating an accurate count for the number of brumbies?” Ms Hurst said.
On 7 August, NSW Environment Minister Penny Sharpe proposed aerial shooting as a control method in addition to the legislated methods of trapping and rehoming, and ground shooting.
The government has asked the community to provide input on the proposed amendment to the Kosciuszko National Park Wild Horse Heritage Management Plan through to 11 September 2023.
Wild horse management is also the subject of a federal parliamentary inquiry, which is expected to report back on 29 September 2023.
Ms Hurst said the NSW Senate committee would investigate the animal welfare concerns associated with aerial shooting and the human safety concerns if Kosciuszko National Park was to remain open during operations.
‘In addition, the committee will consider the impact of previous aerial shooting operations in NSW and the availability of alternatives to aerial shooting,’ she added.
Aerial shooting of wild horses was halted in NSW two decades ago following the Guy Fawkes River National Park cull that became global news.
In October 2000, professional shooters culled 606 feral horses from the park as it struggled to recover from ongoing drought and bushfires.
The discovery of a dying horse the week after the cull triggered a public outcry and a wave of reports and investigations that ultimately put an end to aerial culling despite recommendations to the contrary.
While recent ground shooting culls in KNP have raised animal welfare and environmental concerns, public safety was also thrust into the spotlight as park users raised concerns at aerial shooting of other feral species, which resulted in a close call for two bushwalkers.
Ms Hurst said the committee welcomed submissions from interested individuals and stakeholders, including community groups, government bodies and members of the community.
The community consultation closing date is 11 September. You can have your say on the submission via the NSW Government website.