The long awaited draft Kosciuszko National Park Wild Horse Heritage Management Plan was released today. A wild horse management plan was attempted in 2016 but NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro opposed the plan and prevented it from being implemented. Instead, in 2018 he introduced the Wild Horse Heritage Act, which protects the brumbies.
The draft plan has been released for public comment until November. Compared with previous management plans, it does provide a breakthrough in that it has an emphasis on horse removal from certain areas, but it also allows for the retention of 3,000 horses in the park. In an ecological sense this is clearly unacceptable.
The plan proposes a “sustainable wild horse population” to remain in 32% of the park and aims to achieve a population target of 3,000 wild horses by June 30, 2027, which is down from the current number of about 14,000.
An area amounting to 21% of the park will become horse-free, with horses in that area now to be removed, while the remaining 47% of the park, which the plan says does not contain wild horses, will be maintained as such.
A quick analysis of the plan from Reclaim Kosci:
Interaction with Kosciuszko National Park Plan of Management
- Horse protection still trumps conservation planning. Bound by the Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Act, the plan ‘will prevail if there is any inconsistency with the Kosciuszko National Park Plan of Management 2006’. The proposed plan identifies expansive overlaps between environmentally significant places and horse retention.
- The plan acknowledges that it cannot ensure other environmental values are maintained while meeting the horse protection requirements of the Wild Horse Heritage Act 2018, e.g. it states that horse damage has been recorded in historic sites of Tin mines barn and Charlie Carter’s hut whilst identifying these as areas of horse heritage value.
Feral Horse Targets
- The aim to to bring the horse population down to 3,000 over 6 years
- This does represent a significant reduction in horse numbers from the 14,000 currently in the park
- There is no evidence that an in park population of 3,000 will not harm the environment
- 6 years is at the upper end of a timely reduction in feral horse numbers
- The plan proposes a science-based review after 30 June 2027, which will factor in monitoring and research on ecological health.
- The plan strictly excludes aerial culling of feral horses. It says aerial shooting would jeopardise any social license of removing horses from the park
- It does include ground shooting, aerial mustering and in-trap shooting
- It continues to allow for rehoming, where there is a demand
- Current control is on hold during plan consultation and finalisation (if the plan is not rapidly finalised, horse populations will continue to grow during this time).
Ongoing community involvement
- It proposes that a new ‘Wild horse advisory body’ will be established after adoption of the plan.
3 management zones have been identified:
- 32% horse retention areas – total of 3,000 horses retained
Horses to be retained across 221,258 hectares.
While it is good that the park will be majority horse free, horse retention zones overlap with important environmental assets, like critical habitat for threatened species (e.g. corroboree frog habitat north of Long Plain) and sensitive wetlands. This includes 9 assets of intergenerational significance recently declared by Minister Kean on national threatened species day.
Horses will be retained in areas where they are causing damage to areas of particular cultural significance to Aboriginal custodians, such as the headwaters of the Murrumbidgee and Goobarragandra rivers
Retention areas even overlap with areas considered wilderness such as Byadbo and Pilot (areas considered the most untouched, unspoilt parts of the park)
- 21% horse removal areas – zero horses
- 45% horse prevention areas – maintain zero horses
- There is no accompanying information of how the program will be financially resourced.
NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean says the draft plan is “trying to strike a balance between protecting the park’s environment and recognising the cultural heritage values of horses”.
“I recognise there are very strong and diverse views on this issue.”
James Trezise from Reclaim Kosci responded by saying:
“The Long Plain, Currango Plain and Snowy Plains in the north and Byadbo, Snowy River and Pilot areas in the south will have to suffer permanent horse populations.
“The plan falls short in rejecting the most effective control method – aerial shooting – necessary in rugged parts of Kosciuszko.
“Feral horses damage sensitive ecosystems and harm unique wildlife in Kosciuszko. They are a danger to motorists and a financial burden to NSW taxpayers.
“Trapping and rehoming horses has proven to be inadequate for feral horse control unless accompanied by other control measures.
“The real test will be whether the NSW Government can finally deliver a plan to reduce horses in Kosciuszko”.
The Victorian National Parks Association notes that the ‘Byadbo and Pilot wilderness zones along VIC’s border are where feral horses spill into the National Park from NSW. As long as Kosciuszko’s draft Wild Horse Management Plan maintains large alpine areas as horse refuges, feral horses in Victoria can’t be fully controlled’.
Making a comment
The draft plan is open for public comment until Tuesday, November 2, 2021.
Reclaim Kosci media release