The Invasive Species Council welcomes a Senate inquiry initiated by ACT Senator David Pocock into the management of feral horses and other hard-hoofed invasive species in Australia’s national heritage-listed Australian Alps.
‘This inquiry has the potential to be a game changer by putting a spotlight on the inadequate protection of Australia’s alpine region and wildlife from the damage caused by exploding numbers of feral horses and other hard-hoofed invasives like feral deer and pigs,’ said Invasive Species Council advocacy manager Jack Gough.
‘Right now thousands of feral horses are trashing and trampling our unique alpine wildlife, rivers and ecosystems and the NSW and Victorian governments are failing to rapidly reduce their numbers. We expect this inquiry will demonstrate both the opportunities and the necessity for federal intervention to address this.
‘We congratulate Senator Pocock for his vision and commitment and encourage all parties to support this important inquiry.
‘We can’t have both feral horses and thriving national parks. The future of unique Australian species such as the corroboree frog, sensitive alpine wildflowers and the headwaters of the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers are at stake if feral horse numbers are not brought down rapidly.
‘We need Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek to step in and say enough is enough. She has the power under Commonwealth environmental laws to force state governments to take more extensive and rapid action to protect the national heritage-listed Australian Alps.
‘Without action on feral horses and feral deer, the Albanese Government will not be able to meet their commitment to no new extinctions. Feral horses and deer threaten at least 35 state and nationally listed threatened species, including the mountain skink, the stocky galaxias, the northern corroboree frog and the mountain pygmy possum.
‘Feral horses and deer in the Alps are also a threat to nationally significant ecological communities, including the endangered Alpine Sphagnum Bogs and Associated Fens and the Ramsar listed Ginini Flats Wetland Complex,’ said Mr Gough.
Background notes for editors:
- Despite plans in place to reduce feral horse numbers, the latest government survey found that NSW’s feral horse population in Kosciuszko National Park has increased alarmingly from 14,000 to over 18,000 during the past two years – a 30% jump.
- In Victoria, the most recent government figures (from 2019) found there are over 5,000 feral horses in the Victorian Alps and the Invasive Species Council remain concerned that culling is not occurring at the rate required to reduce the population and protect Kosciuszko National Park.
- In 2008, under the previous federal Labor government, the Australian Alps National Parks and Reserves was declared to be a National Heritage Place due to its rich and unique biological diversity, spectacular and distinctive landscape and indigenous cultural heritage.
- Under Section 324Y of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, the federal Environment Minister can make regulations requiring certain actions to remove feral horses and other hard-hoofed invasive species to protect the National Heritage values of the Alps. State Governments must then comply with these regulations.
- In June 2021, then Environment Minister Sussan Ley wrote to NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean (letter available here, obtained under FOI) to notify him of ‘my intention to enact regulations to address the damage caused by feral horses to the biodiversity and heritage values of Kosciuszko National Park, a key component of the Australian Alps National Parks and Reserves National Heritage Place.’
- The letter also said: ‘I consider the NSW Government is currently failing in its obligations to protect the National Heritage values of the Australian Alps National Parks and Reserves National Heritage Place from feral horse damage. For this reason the Australian Government is considering the development of regulations under the Act that oblige protected area managers to take specific action on feral horses, including the responsible, evidence-based, and humane reduction and management of populations, to safeguard the unique biodiversity and heritage values of this nationally significant place.‘
- Without effective control, feral horse numbers are growing by approximately 15-20% per year in the Australian Alps.
- Australia’s alpine plants and animals did not evolve with heavy, hard-hoofed animals including feral horses that cause damage through selective grazing, food competition, trampling, track creation, pugging, soil compaction, wallowing and dust bathing.
- Water that flows from Kosciuszko’s mountain springs delivers almost a third of the Murray Darling Basin’s annual water yield, but feral horses are degrading the high water-holding capacity of alpine soils and vegetation which allow the slow discharge of water to keep streams flowing throughout the year.