Will 2020 see real feral horse control in Kosciuszko?

Feral Herald |
Newspaper clippings over the years reflect the sad state of feral horse control in NSW.
Newspaper clippings over the years reflect the sad state of feral horse control in NSW.

Sorting through faded newspaper articles from the early 2000s the stagnant state of feral horse management in Kosciuszko National Park is puzzling, but clear.

An article dated 24 July 2002 reads: The New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service says it will continue trialling removal methods to capture about 3000 brumbies in the Kosciuszko National Park.

Sound familiar?

For the past 20 years Kosciuszko’s horse population has continued to grow, proving existing management plans are ineffective.

It is estimated there are now as many as 20,000 horses in the park, up from a few thousand at the turn of the century. More and more horses have been allowed to change the landscape and contribute to the degradation of the already limited habitat available to unique indigenous species such as corroboree frogs, the broad-toothed mouse and stocky galaxias.

The timeline keeps drifting, but it is now expected a new horse management plan will be publicly exhibited in the coming months.

With the NSW environment minister Matt Kean showing promising signs as a conservation leader and our Reclaim Kosci campaign working constantly to back a science-based, humane management plan, will 2020 be the year we finally see a positive shift forwards and the natural environs of Kosciuszko protected from introduced hard-hooves?

Feral horses grazing on what little vegetation remains in Kosciuszko National Park after the 2020 summer bushfires.
Feral horses grazing on what little vegetation remains in Kosciuszko National Park after the 2020 summer bushfires.

Emergency post-fire horse removal proceeds

When NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean announced renewed pest control efforts following the unprecedented summer bushfires, Reclaim Kosci called on the NSW Government to ensure these measures included horses.

For the first time in decades the NSW Government has set ambitious goals to significantly reduce horse numbers in two critically sensitive conservation areas in northern Kosciuszko and completely remove horses from a third through trapping and removal (including rehoming) as part of the post-fire recovery efforts. The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service estimate there are 4000 horses in the targeted areas.

Removal commenced last week, with 12 horses already taken out of the park. More intensive control of other introduced species – including deer, pigs, goats and foxes – began back in March.

Implementation of these measures did not go without challenge. A small lobby group called the Snowy Mountains Brumby Sustainability & Management Group Incorporated lodged an injunction in the NSW Land and Environment Court against the removal.

The court rejected the group’s application and National Parks and Wildlife Service began proceeding with the removal plans.

This is an encouraging start, but time will tell whether the removal goals are achievable. They are being carried out under the guidelines of the outdated 2008 horse management plan that has seen horse numbers skyrocket in the park.

What’s more – it appears no removal is occurring in the southern and north-west sections of the park, where horses also occur.

What do the locals want?

During the Eden-Monaro by-election an independent poll asked 643 Eden-Monaro voters what should be done about feral horses, which are devastating Kosciuszko National Park’s unique plants and animals, and destroying its once pristine waterways.

  • 51 per cent of people polled were in favour of a significant reduction in horse numbers.
  • A further 29 per cent said horses should be managed so that current numbers do not increase.
  • 80 per cent believe action is required to manage horses.
  • A minority of just 13 per cent supported leaving the horses alone.
  • Just seven percent replied, “don’t know”.

Still waiting for a new horse management plan

Reclaim Kosci is now urging the NSW Government to prepare and release the new draft wild horse management plan by the start of September.

When the internationally criticised Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Act 2018 was introduced dictating that yet another new plan be developed, it overturned the widely supported, balanced 2016 draft horse management plan that had been prepared after an extensive three-year public consultation process funded by taxpayers.

In 2020, we’re calling on the NSW Government to demonstrate leadership, stop wasting resources and commit to the implementation of a plan that will effectively and humanely reduce the feral horse population in Kosciuszko to limit the negative impacts on the environment.

Horse impacts are growing and the excuses for action are wearing thin.

More info

  • Find out more about our campaign to protect Kosciuszko National Park from feral horses by visting our Reclaim Kosci website >>

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Help protect NSW!

Our expert team has written a list of policy asks detailing exactly what the next NSW government needs to do to stamp out some of the worst invasive species impacts across the state. But they will only become a reality if every key political candidate at the 2023 NSW state election hears about it from you!

Dear National Deer Management Coordinator,

Please accept this as a submission to the National Feral Deer Action Plan.

[Your personalised message will appear here] 

I am very concerned about the spread of deer and am pleased that a national plan has finally been developed. Without urgent action, funding and commitment from all levels of government it is clear that feral deer will continue to spread and damage our environment.

The feral deer population in Australia is growing rapidly and spreading across the country, damaging our natural environment, causing havoc for farmers and foresters and threatening public safety. Unlike much of the world where deer are native, our plants and wildlife haven’t evolved to deal with these heavy hard hooved animals with a voracious appetite.
With no natural predators and an ability to adapt to almost all environments, they could occupy almost all of Australia unless stopped. Despite this, state and territory governments have been slow to respond and in Victoria and Tasmania they are still protected by law for the enjoyment of hunters.

This plan should be adopted by all governments but must also be underpinned by dedicated funding and clear responsibilities. A plan without funding or accountability is a plan that will fail and Australia cannot afford for this to fail.

In order to prevent the spread of feral deer and reduce their impact on our native wildlife, ecosystems and agriculture, I ask that the following recommendations be adopted for the final National Feral Deer Action Plan:

1. All federal, state and territory governments should adopt the National Feral Deer Action Plan and declare feral deer to be a priority pest animal species.

2. All federal, state and territory governments should commit to:

  • Contain deer to the existing large population areas.
  • Reduce and eradicate smaller and isolated populations.
  • Protect important environmental assets such as world and national heritage areas.
  • Develop and fund regional plans and strategies to manage deer populations which involve land managers across all tenures.

3. In order to drive action and the success of this plan, there should be dedicated Commonwealth funding and support for:

  • A permanent national feral deer coordinator position.
  • A permanent federal feral deer action committee with representatives from the commonwealth and state and territory governments and the environmental and agricultural sectors.
  • An ongoing public education campaign on feral deer.
  • A network of regional feral deer coordinators to drive local action across tenures.

4. The expected outcomes for the plan need to be more ambitious, with clear interim targets including:

  • Within one year, all States and Territories should have in place arrangements to implement the National Feral Deer Action Plan, including allocating dedicated funding for implementation.
  • Within one year, feral deer management plans should be developed for key environmental assets of national significance, including the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, the Greater Blue Mountains, the Australian Alps, the Gondwana Rainforests and the Wet Tropics of Queensland.
  • Within five years coordinated landscape scale management should be in place where land owners, land managers, government and community are demonstrably working together.

5. A national feral deer containment map with three zones should be adopted. It should be more ambitious than the zone map in the current draft plan and there should be greater clarity in the naming of the zones. Improvements that should be adopted include:

  • Renaming the zones to better reflect the management intention to ‘Containment Zone 1’ (the current large population zone), ‘Containment Buffer Zone 2’ (the current buffer zone) and ‘Eradication and prevention Zone 3’ (the current small isolated population zone).
  • The NSW northern rivers area should be in the eradication and prevention zone as there are few feral deer currently in this region and eradicating isolated populations and preventing spread into this area is still possible.
  • The whole of South Australia should be in the eradication and prevention zone as eradication is the goal of the SA Government.
  • The Tasmanian region in the containment zone should be smaller to reflect greater ambition and potential for eradication of deer populations.
  • In eastern Victoria areas such as Wilson’s Promontory, Westernport islands and the Mornington Peninsula should be in the eradication and prevention zone.

6. There should be consistent laws and regulations across all states and territories that:

  • Recognise feral deer as a pest animal and treat them as such.
  • Establish a clear responsibility for all landholders and managers to be involved in feral deer control programs.
  • Set clear penalties to stop the wilful or negligent release of feral deer.
  • Prevent new deer farms in areas where no feral deer are present and phase out all deer farms in the eradication and prevention zone.
  • Enable enforcement of compliance, including on government land.

I support the follow principles being adopted in the final National Feral Deer Action Plan:

  • Feral deer are a pest and should be treated as such on all tenures, except on approved deer farms.
  • Federal, state and territory governments have a responsibility to fund the outcomes under this plan.
  • All land managers in areas where feral deer are present have a responsibility to be involved in feral deer control programs.
  • The focus of management efforts should be on eradication of isolated, satellite populations, protection of key environmental assets currently impacted and stopping the spread to new regions.
  • Feral deer control should be undertaken humanely, safely and professionally according to agreed protocols and all tools which meet this criteria should be adopted, including aerial control.
  • Funding for coordination, regional planning and community engagement is necessary for effective feral deer management.
  • Ongoing management and follow up control efforts are required to achieve long lasting results.
  • Rules and regulations should be consistent across jurisdictions and land tenures.
  • Recreational hunting is not an effective strategy for feral deer control and should not be relied upon.
[Your name]
[Your email address]
[Your suburb], [Your state]