New report reveals feral horse damage in Australian Alps

Pest horse damage in front of 14 year old horse exclusion area at Cowombat Flat, Alpine National Park, Vic, in 2013.

Pest horse damage in front of 14 year old horse exclusion area at Cowombat Flat, Alpine National Park, Vic, in 2013. Photo: G Worboys.

Horses have gone feral in Australia’s alpine national parks and in the absence of effective control programs are damaging the mountain catchments and native animals and plants. They are incompatible with the natural values for which the national parks have been established.

A new report titled ‘Observations of Pest Horse Impacts in the Australian Alps’ was released in March 2013 by experienced park managers, Graeme Worboys (Adjunct Fellow at ANU) and Ian Pulsford. It assembles observations over 40 years about the extent of damage to the Kosciuszko and Alpine national parks. The impacts they observed included ‘grazing, trampling, dust baths, soil compaction, soil erosion, pugging, stream bank destruction, stream course disturbance and incision and sphagnum bog and wetland destruction’.

The report concludes that ‘urgent and effective action is needed to end for ever these pest horse impacts, to restore the damage to the water catchments and to help conserve Australia’s native species’.

Victorian feral horse policy now open for comment

Right now is a chance to influence policy on controlling feral horses. The NSW and Victorian government do not have any plan to effectively control feral horses in the alpine national parks. There are over 13,000 horses in the alpine parks and the numbers are projected to double every four years.

Two weeks ago the Victorian Government began the first round of seeking comments on its draft horse strategy. You have until Mon 22 July 2013 to make comments.  Surprisingly, the only proven and humane control methods – ground and aerial shooting – have already been ruled out in this consultation. All other methods are either still experimental (fertility control) or have not been able to reduce horse numbers faster than breeding rates (trapping and mustering).

We encourage you to make a submission supporting the use of a humane shooting program to prevent our alpine national parks being further degraded by feral horse impacts. This is essential not only for conservation but for the welfare of both native animals and feral horses.

As part of the consultation, Parks Victoria have set up a survey to test your awareness of the issues surrounding feral horse control. It’s a quick way to register your views.

For more information on feral horses and their environmental impacts in Australia, download the report ‘Observations of Pest Horse Impacts in the Australian Alps’ and visit the Invasive Species Council feral horse webpage.

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