Those in search of nat­u­ral beauty fear a land tram­pled un­der hoof

The Weekend Australian - - THE NATION - RICKY FRENCH

They’ve marched 560km through a con­tested land­scape scorched by sun and strife, and to­day they shout it from the rooftop of Aus­tralia: Save Kosci! But is any­one lis­ten­ing? About 150 pro­test­ers will to­day gather on the sum­mit of Mount Kosciuszko to call on the NSW gov­ern­ment to scrap the con­tro­ver­sial Kosciuszko Wild Horse Her­itage Act 2018; leg­is­la­tion they say is turn­ing Kosciuszko Na­tional Park into a horse pad­dock. The Main Range was once the do­main of sum­mer­time cat­tle graz­ing be­fore stock was re­moved in the 1960s to en­sure clean water for the Snowy Moun­tains Hy­dro-Elec­tric Scheme water catch­ment. Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of the cat­tle-dam­aged land­scape took decades, and walk­ers say they want to en­sure Aus­tralia’s most fa­mous alpine na­tional park doesn’t again suf­fer.

Can­berra lo­cal Alan Laird be­gan the walk in Syd­ney on Novem­ber 3. “I’ve been us­ing the park for bush walk­ing and cross­coun­try ski­ing for over 40 years and hate to see the dam­age feral horses are do­ing,” he says. “It’s not a nec­es­sary sit­u­a­tion.”

But the is­sue of how to man­age the horses re­mains dan­ger­ously di­vi­sive. Laird says the walk­ers have been treated to gen­er­ous hos­pi­tal­ity along the way, but have also suf­fered abuse and in­tim­i­da­tion, in­clud­ing a car swerv­ing de­lib­er­ately to­wards the group.

“If you feel strong about an is­sue you push it as hard as you can,” he says. “Some peo­ple push their views by den­i­grat­ing the other side and some peo­ple use ra­tio­nal ar­gu­ments.”

Sci­en­tists say there were more than 6000 feral horses in the park in 2014. The pop­u­la­tion is es­ti­mated to be in­creas­ing by up to 20 per cent a year. The leg­is­la­tion, in­tro­duced by Deputy Premier and Na­tion­als leader John Bar­i­laro, and dubbed the “Brumby Bill”, bans the shoot­ing of feral horses but al­lows them to be trapped and trans­ported to abat­toirs. NSW Parks and Wildlife Ser­vice car­ries out ae­rial culling of feral deer and pigs: 140 an­i­mals were shot last month. Feral horses were re­cently de­clared a “key threat­en­ing process” by the NSW Threat­ened Species Sci­en­tific Com­mit­tee, an in­de­pen­dent com­mit­tee ap­pointed by the En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter. Thirty-four na­tive an­i­mal and plant species were found to be at risk from horses.

Says Re­claim Kosci cam­paign co-or­di­na­tor Al­i­son Swain: “It’s very con­flict­ing that the NSW gov­ern­ment on one hand wants to have her­itage-listed horses in the park and on the other hand is say­ing that horses are im­pact­ing on 34 en­dan­gered plant and an­i­mal species within that park.

“NSW has cre­ated a dan­ger­ous prece­dent for pro­tect­ing a dam­ag­ing feral an­i­mal within a na­tional park and it’s not a good way to go.”

A Vic­to­ria-based pro-feral horse or­gan­i­sa­tion yes­ter­day lodged an ap­pli­ca­tion for an in­junc­tion to pre­vent Parks Vic­to­ria from re­mov­ing more than 100 feral horses from Vic­to­ria’s Alpine Na­tional Park, cit­ing cul­tural her­itage grounds.

Aus­tralian Brumby Al­liance pres­i­dent Jill Pick­er­ing says the ar­gu­ments from Re­claim Kosci are ab­surd.

“The act is about re­tain­ing sus­tain­able her­itage brumby num­bers within spe­cific park ar­eas,” she says. “They should stop ham­mer­ing the pub­lic with their neg­a­tive opin­ions and join with us to make the act work for all.”

The ques­tion of what to do with the brumbies shows no sign of go­ing away and is set to be­come a hot topic at the NSW state elec­tion in March. The La­bor Party has promised to re­peal the brumby bill and re­turn to an ear­lier plan of re­duc­ing horse num­bers to 600 over 20 years.

Nei­ther ma­jor party will re­turn to ae­rial culling, the only con­trol method sci­en­tists say has a re­al­is­tic chance of work­ing.

SEAN DAVEY

Above, wild brumbies at Race­course Creek in Kosciuszko Na­tional Park, some of an es­ti­mated 6000 feral horses in the park, be­low right; con­ser­va­tion­ist James Fitzger­ald and Re­claim Kosci cam­paign co-or­di­na­tor Al­i­son Swain, be­low left

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