Snowy Mountains brumbies: part of the landscape or destructive pest?

Brumbies in the Kosciuszko National Park. Photo: Stuart Cohen, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.

Brumbies in the Kosciuszko National Park. Photo: Stuart Cohen, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.

A SNOWY Mountains horse management group is concerned the NSW Liberal/Nationals Coalition Government has not honoured its agreement in initiating a new brumby management strategy for Kosciuszko National Park (KNP). 

A memorandum of understanding (MOU), signed by Liberals Peter Debnam and Nationals Andrew Stoner, and a coalition of NSW horse riders dated November 20, 2006, sets out the agreements reached by the groups. 

President of the Snowy Mountains Brumby Sustainability and Management Group (SMBSMG) Alan Lanyon said the most important clauses regarded the rights of horse riding for recreation, and care and protection of horses.

* Clause 2a states the removal of the prohibition against horse riding in Wilderness and Nature Reserves within three months of coming to government.

* Clause 2b concerns adopting a new plan of management in six months of government to reinstate horse riding to all reserve areas previously been permitted, prior to being classified Wilderness or Nature Reserves. 

* Clause 10 seeks to recognise brumbies as part of the cultural heritage of NSW, protection viable populations and outlawing shooting as a management tool. 

Mr Lanyon said the “issue had been trawled over for years” and there was “no more science to shed light on the issue”. 

Since Europeans came to the areas with their horses 160 years ago, he said the horses had adapted into the biodiversity. 

In a recent field trip to the southern end of the KNP with National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) rangers, Mr Lanyon said he found “no degree of damage” or population size that had been previously claimed – and estimated there was around 500 brumbies in the area.

According to Mr Lanyon, claims brumbies impact on the native biodiversity, by such factors as spreading weeds and compacting soil are just “generic claims”.

He said they do not compact soil, sufficiently break down weed seeds in their digestive tract, and are “herbivores, not carnivores”.

Mr Lanyon said the NPWS currently uses trapping strategies to control the brumby population, but he has concerns about how the trapped horses are treated. 

Mr Lanyon said there was a possibility aerial culling has taken place by the NPWS after finding horse carcases with bullets shot from obtuse angles.

But he “can’t say they have done aerial culling” as a management strategy, and just wants the NSW Government to commit to banning it.  

“We are prepared to look at other ways of population management,” he said. 

He suggests this could be having an agreed number of a sustainable population of brumbies in the Snowy Mountains, keeping the population in check with a humane trapping program. 

Mr Lanyon said the SMBSMG had contacted members of the NSW Government such as Member for Bega Andrew Constance, Member for Monaro John Barilaro and Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner with an open letter dated June 4, 2014 however issues raised in the MOU hadn’t yet been addressed.

Mr Lanyon said the best outcome for the SMBSMG would be if the NSW Government committed to a sustainable population which flowed on to a comprehensive management plan. 

A Community Interest Meeting will be held on July 12 at Lake Jindabyne Hotel from 1pm where Mr Lanyon said the issue of the future of brumbies will be well and truly canvassed.

Unimpacted creek line on Nungar Plain. Photo: Geoff Robertson, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.

Unimpacted creek line on Nungar Plain. Photo: Geoff Robertson, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.

Feral horse damage in the Pilot Wilderness Area. Photo: Geoff Robertson, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.

Feral horse damage in the Pilot Wilderness Area. Photo: Geoff Robertson, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.

Feral horses causing "extreme" damage

CONSERVATION groups are concerned feral horses are having a detrimental effect on the ecosystem in alpine areas such as the Kosciuszko National Park (KNP). 

Nature Conservation Council representative on the Southern Ranges Regional Advisory Council Dianne Thompson, whose father was a drover, said the environment had changed dramatically due to feral horses.

She has walked the Pilot Wilderness Area in southern KNP over three periods in the mid 1980s, then returned in 2013 and describes the difference as “shocking and extreme”. 

In November/December 2013 she led a nine day pack walk with nine walkers from the ACT National Parks Association in the southern region of KNP and the northern section of the Alpine National Park to show them the extent of damage. 

Their water filters were clogged due to so much sediment in the water, and she said there was damage and dung every 10 metres, so much they were “stepping over [dung] the whole time”.

The Observations of Pest Horse Impacts in the Australian Alps, March 2013 by Graeme L Worboys and Ian Pulsford stated impacts observed in their report due to feral horses include grazing, trampling, dust baths, soil compaction, soil erosion, stream bank destruction, stream course disturbance and incision, as well as sphagnum bog and wetland destruction. 

Ms Thompson said the destruction of creek banks and sphagnum bogs meant water quickly ran off, rather than being contained for slow release from sphagnum bog and river flats for use downstream in the Murray-Darling Basin. 

The 2011 Caring for our Australian Alps Catchments summary report for policy makers by Graeme L Worboys and Roger B Good estimated the average annual 96000gigalitres generated in the Australian Alps catchments could be worth $9.6billion a year to the economy, in 2005 terms.

The report states this water contributes to agricultural and other industries in the Murray-Darling Basin as well as electricity generation. 

Ms Thompson questioned whether “we have reached the point of no return for rehabilitation of this feral horse damage”. 

According to Ms Thompson, the current and long term methods of feral horse removal from the KNP such as trapping are not effective.

She said while aerial shooting is not used, it would be the “most effective and efficient” method of control, as it would be more cost effective and humane for horses.

Ms Thompson said only around 250 horses are trapped annually, and 80 per cent of those go to the knackery as there are not enough homes for them, despite efforts of the National Parks and Wildlife Service with rehoming groups.

As there are so many horses in the KNP, she said now there was no way to get them all out. 

The 2009 Aerial Survey of Feral Horses in the Australian Alps report prepared for the Australian Alps Liaison Committee by Dr Michelle Dawson stated in 2009 there were 7679 feral horses in the Australian Alps National Parks, extending from the ACT and into Victoria. 

In her report Dr Dawson estimated horse numbers have increased around 21.65 per cent annually since the 2003 fires in the region. 

Ms Thompson said given the existing damage of feral horses in KNP, there is “little realistic way of assessing the impacts and suitability” of recreational horse riding which is being trialled in the Pilot Wilderness Area.  

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