Sharp rise in feral horse numbers a red flag for the Snowy Mountains

Media Release |

The Invasive Species Council is concerned by today’s announcement from the NSW government that there has been a 30% increase in the number of feral horses degrading and trashing the Snowy Mountains in the past two years. This is despite a year of action to reduce numbers by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service under the government’s 2021 management plan which aims to reduce feral horse numbers to 3,000 by 2027.

The government survey of wild horse populations in Kosciuszko National Park, using best practice scientific methods, found that the feral horse population has increased by 4,434 from 14,380 in Spring 2020 to 18,814 in Spring 2022.

Data released by the NSW government today also noted that 525 feral horses were removed from Kosciuszko National Park between July and December 2022, an increase of 191 on the 334 removed in the first half of 2022 (total removal of 859 in 2022).

‘This alarming rise in feral horses trashing and trampling Kosciuszko National Park should be a red flag for those in the government who care about the environment and are concerned about the future of the Snowy Mountains,’ said Invasive Species Council advocacy manager Jack Gough.

‘Our sensitive alpine regions have not evolved to cope with thousands of heavy, hard-hoofed feral horses damaging streams and wetlands and degrading vegetation.

‘The future of unique wildlife such as the corroboree frog and sensitive alpine wildflowers and the headwaters of the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers are at stake if horse numbers are not brought down rapidly.

‘The increase of nearly 15% per year in the past two years is consistent with previous growth rates in the absence of adequate controls. This suggests that the NSW government is falling short on their promise to significantly reduce feral horses in the Snowy Mountains to 3000 by 2027.

‘While we understand that, after years of inaction, initial control efforts would be slow to ramp up and appreciate that there was a small increase in the rate of removal in the second half of 2022, the rate is nowhere near what is needed to start to reduce numbers and protect this unique landscape.

‘To save the Snowies, whoever wins the upcoming NSW election will need to ensure there are resources and commitment to turn this around.

‘We are pleased to hear that the National Parks and Wildlife Service intends to commit additional resources to the management of feral horses in Kosciuszko National Park in response to these disappointing numbers.

‘With the population at this level, culling by highly trained professionals using protocols reviewed by the RSPCA is the only viable way of reducing feral horse numbers and saving our unique Australian forests, rivers and the native animals that live there,’ said Mr Gough.

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]