Brumbies ‘time bomb’ for Alps

The Australian - - THE NATION - RICKY FRENCH

Thou­sands of feral horses across the Aus­tralian Alps are rapidly de­stroy­ing frag­ile alpine ecosys­tems, threat­en­ing wa­ter catch­ments and bring­ing crit­i­cally en­dan­gered species to the brink of ex­tinc­tion, ac­cord­ing to 21 peer­re­viewed pa­pers pre­sented to the Aus­tralian Acad­emy of Sci­ence in Can­berra yes­ter­day.

More than 50 sci­en­tists will sign the Kosciuszko Sci­ence Ac­cord, which calls on the NSW govern­ment to re­peal the Wild Horse Her­itage Act 2018 and ac­knowl­edge the “ex­ten­sive, se­ri­ous and po­ten­tially ir­repara­ble dam­age be­ing done to Kosciuszko Na­tional Park by feral horses”.

The con­fer­ence is the largest show of strength from the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity since the bill be­came law in June.

The leg­is­la­tion, known as the “Brumby Bill”, was in­tro­duced by Na­tion­als Deputy Pre­mier and mem­ber for Monaro John Bar­i­laro. Its pur­pose is to “Recog­nise the her­itage value of sus­tain­able wild horse pop­u­la­tions within parts of Kosciuszko Na­tional Park and to pro­tect that her­itage.”

It trans­fers man­age­ment deci- sions on feral horses from NSW Na­tional Parks and Wildlife Ser­vice to a yet-to-be-ap­pointed com­mu­nity ad­vi­sor panel.

Sci­en­tists es­ti­mate there are more than 6000 feral horses in the park. Re­cent pho­to­graphs taken along the Snowy River show some horses are starv­ing to death.

Con­fer­ence spokesman Jamie Pit­tock, from ANU Col­lege of Medicine, Bi­ol­ogy and En­vi­ron­ment, said feral horse dam­age was so bad it could be mapped from space. “It’s spread­ing and it’s get­ting worse. The dam­age is par­ticu- larly fo­cused around head­wa­ters of ma­jor rivers that sup­ply wa­ter for three mil­lion Aus­tralians.”

Dr Pit­tock wants aerial culling put back on the ta­ble as a man­age­ment op­tion. There has been no aerial culling of feral horses in NSW since 2000.

“Aerial culling is the only con­trol method we have avail­able that is hu­mane and that will re­duce the num­ber,” he said.

“The cur­rent prac­tice of trap­ping horses live is in­ca­pable of re­duc­ing horse num­bers. They’re sim­ply not trap­ping enough horses. Re­hom­ing is a non­sense.

“Only 18 per cent of the mod­est num­bers be­ing trapped are be­ing re­homed.”

Mr Bar­i­laro said once a new man­age­ment plan was es­tab­lished, horses would be trapped and re­moved, with an em­pha­sis on re­hom­ing. While he has pre­vi­ously said lethal culling would not oc­cur, he now says “some of these horses will end up in abat­toirs, there’s no doubt’’.

“Horses will still be de­stroyed but they won’t be shot and left to rot on the for­est floor — they will go to an abat­toir,” he said.

Mr Bar­i­laro said the pub­lic would never sup­port the shoot­ing of horses.

A wild horse on the Snowy Moun­tains High­way

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