RSPCA says Berejiklian government’s plan ignores evidence and should be reconsidered
The New South Wales government’s plan to protect wild horses from lethal culling inside Kosciuszko national park will “veto evidence-based management” of their environmental impact, the RSPCA has warned.
Bidda Jones from the RSPCA, together with a group of experts who helped draft a management plan for the estimated 6,000 wild horses in the park, have issued a scathing critique of legislation to formally recognise the cultural and heritage significance of wild horses.
They say the bill would “make it impossible to conserve the unique environmental values” of Kosciuszko and urge the government to reconsider.
Last month the NSW government scrapped a recommendation from its own environment department to cull brumby numbers in the national park by up to 90% and instead introduced legislation to ensure they are protected.
Instead of culling, numbers will be managed by trapping and rehoming programs, supported by a government marketing campaign to promote brumby adoption.
The deputy premier, John Barilaro, whose electorate of Monaro includes the national park, told the parliament the horses were part of the “cultural fabric and folklore” of the region.
He said the bill was aimed at finding a way to “preserve a sustainable population in a way that minimises harm to the environment”.
But the decision has been widely criticised by environmentalists, academics and the Victorian government, which has its own plan to remove more than 1,200 feral horses from the Alpine national park, because of the environmental damage they cause.
The Victorian environment minister, Lily D’Ambrosio, told ABC radio on Monday that the horses were causing “significant damage to the ecosystem”.
“Through their legislation they will attribute the same values culturally to the feral horses as they do to the natural environment,” she said. “The two are incompatible, that is the reality. There is some cultural value to these horses in these alpine regions, however they are quite a destructive part of the environment.”
On Monday, the RSPCA and other experts said the bill would make it impossible to fulfil the goals of the 2016 brumby management plan they had helped the government to draft.
In a letter to members of the NSW government and opposition seen by the Guardian, the RSPCA and members of the NSW government-appointed independent technical reference group said recommendations were being “ignored” by the government.
It said the 2016 expert review found that wild horses were having “a significant negative environmental impact” in Kosciuszko and that “doing nothing is not an option”.
It also found that trapping and rehoming was not an effective non-lethal means of population control.
“The outcome for 70% of trapped horses was long-distance transport and slaughter in an abattoir or knackery, with only 30% of horses being ‘adopted’ for domestication,” the letter stated.
The government’s bill would see the establishment of a “wild horse community advisory panel” to advise the National Parks and Wildlife Service on brumby control policy.
The panel would include horse riding and alpine tourism groups, many of which oppose horse culling.
The experts fear that the appointment of the group, as well as ruling out culling, will mean the management plan is made redundant.
It called for the government to reconsider the bill and instead return to the “rigorous scientific and technical advice for future management of wild horses” recommended in 2016.
“There is very little detail in the bill about how wild horses will now be managed in [Kosciuszko],” the letter reads. “However, we note that the NSW government has indicated that the heritage management plan will specifically prohibit lethal culling of wild horses in [the national park].
“It will also limit any other management of wild horses to ‘highly sensitive alpine areas’ and such management will be limited to relocation and rehoming.
“We urge you to reconsider this approach and, at the very least, ensure that the bill includes the appointment of a new [expert group] to ensure that there is appropriate representation from the scientific community into future management decisions.”