As the long debate over management of wild horse populations continues, the NSW deputy premier John Barilaro has launched an extraordinary attack on the state’s National Parks and Wildlife Service and NSW environment minister Matt Kean.
Campaign group Reclaim Kosci has condemned the comments and says that there is a risk that the public debate could be reduced to a ‘slanging match on talkback radio’ rather than a mature, policy focused conversation.
The following is taken from the Reclaim Kosci media release (13 August, 2020).
Mr Barilaro launched his attack on Ray Hadley’s 2GB radio show on Wednesday, saying he was “sick to death of the National Parks”, and denigrating the parks service as “National Sparks and Wildfires”.
“Everyone who cares about Kosciuszko is trying to have an adult debate about the best way to control feral horses in Australia’s greatest alpine national park, and the deputy premier of New South Wales attacks his own environment minister and the parks service with aggressive and even vulgar language,” Reclaim Kosci spokesperson Anthony Sharwood said.
“This was an outburst unworthy of the second most powerful politician in New South Wales.”
The Wild Horse Heritage Act, introduced in 2018 by Mr Barilaro, attempted to find a balance between protecting the environment from introduced feral horses and protecting the delicate alpine ecology and species in Kosciuszko.
Ironically, the recent steps to manage the explosion of wild horse numbers in Kosciuszko taken by NSW environment minister Matt Kean were in keeping with Mr Barilaro’s legislation.
“This issue should not be allowed to degenerate into a slanging match on talkback radio led by the very author of the legislation the environment minister is attempting to implement,” Mr Sharwood said.
“The reality is bushfires in the park in early 2020 further complicated the problem by forcing feral horses to flee into sensitive ecological areas to find protection and fodder.
“Horses are turning crystal clear mountain streams into mudheaps and if their numbers are not rapidly reduced, fragile creatures like the corroboree frog – which is celebrated in a Wiggles song – will soon only live in zoos.”
The most recent aerial survey of feral horses in Kosciuszko was conducted in 2019. It used globally-accepted wildlife estimation methods and estimated that there were around 20,000 horses in the park and 25,000 across the entire Australian Alps.
Feral horse removal has finally recommenced in fire-affected areas of northern Kosciuszko National Park, but the management process for the rest of the park has effectively stalled since before Mr Barilaro’s horse legislation was passed.
Given the delays in addressing wild horse numbers since 2016, and the growth in numbers since then, the NSW Government should be allowed get on with the job without the issue being politicised from within by a very senior member of its own ranks.
Cattle grazing was phased out of the park in the 1960s because politicians of all stripes and land managers understood the damage they caused and the need for action.
“Now feral horses are repeating the damage – but in larger numbers,” Mr Sharwood said.
“With around 20 per cent growth in numbers each year, the Kosciuszko horse management issue does not go away with each passing deadline. It only gets more challenging with further delays.
“We are calling for a new draft Kosciuszko horse management plan to be put on public display by minister Kean as soon as possible.”
HIGH COUNTRY ICON OR PEST?
- During the time of the legend of the Man from Snowy River, it is believed there were only ever 200 wild horses in the Australian Alps.
- There are now about 25,000 ferals, with numbers more than doubling in the last five years.
- The feral horses chew delicate alpine vegetation closely to the ground and trample streams and bogs with their hard hooves, destroying the delicate alpine landscape and silting up rivers which millions of Australians rely on for irrigation and drinking water.
- Feral horse numbers are highest in New South Wales, where NSW deputy premier John Barilaro pushed through the Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Act in 2018.
- This unprecedented legislation enshrines in law the rights of a feral animal to degrade a pristine, iconic Australian landscape which is as important and fragile as the Great Barrier Reef.
Please note: The statements used here come from Reclaim Kosci. If you would like to disagree with their estimates of horse numbers, please raise the issue with them. Thanks.
Reclaim Kosci describes itself as ‘a broad consortium of organisations seeking to protect Kosciuszko National Park from feral horse impacts and repair the damage’.