Kosciuszko National Park is not a paddock

March 1, 2019
A horse exclosure plot constructed at a critically endangered northern corroboree frog breeding site shows the impact of feral horses on alpine grasslands. Credit: Ben Scheele

Kosciuszko National Park — a tiny, cold, wet island in an otherwise vast, hot, dry continent — is currently being destroyed. Its unique natural values are being ruined by feral horses, with the support of the New South Wales National Party.

According to Australian Academy of Science secretary for science policy Professor David Day, "feral horses are impacting Kosciuszko’s endangered alpine animals, its wetlands and streams and the headwater catchments of the Murray, Murrumbidgee and Snowy rivers”.

The state government’s NSW Scientific Committee listed “Degradation and loss by Feral Horses (brumbies, wild horses), Equus caballus as a key threatening process under the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Act in November 2018.

Estimates are that the park is now home to between 7000 and 9500 feral horses. Over the past five years, numbers have increased by 30%.

From the anemone buttercup to the corroboree frog and the galaxid fish, the broad-toothed rat and the pygmy possum — feral horses are pushing 34 threatened alpine species towards extinction.

Effective control of feral horses is desperately needed.

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Corroboree frogs rely on delicate, slow-growing sphagnum bogs for survival. The large, hard hooves of horses quickly destroy these delicate ecosystems. Credit: Thomas Reynolds

How has this shocking situation come about? In 2018, National Party Member for Monaro and NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro submitted the Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Bill 2018 to state parliament. The bill was passed into law.

This act protects a feral animal in a national park.

According to Barilaro, the act “recognises the cultural significance and heritage value of brumbies in the Kosciuszko National Park” and will identify how the “heritage value [of feral horses] will be protected” in “areas within the Kosciuszko National Park where populations will be maintained”.

Barilaro has been supported in his efforts by former Member for Monaro Peter Cochran, of Cochran Horse Treks.

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Peter Cochran of Cochran Horse Treks and former National Party Member for Monaro has a track record of anti-national park campaigning. Credit: Invasive Species Council

This is not Cochran’s first foray into anti-national park campaigning. He was also vocal in his opposition to the South East Forests National Park.

For Cochran, there is no reasonable rationale for “locking up” natural resources in national parks. Any talk of threatened species, ecosystem services or carbon storage falls on deaf ears.

Natural resource exploitation based on science denial and colonial myth-making is bread-and-butter for Cochran and his followers. He is not alone among National Party stalwarts.

National Party Member for Murray Austin Evans wants to revert the Murray Valley National Park to a state forest to allow a resumption of logging.

The Nationals seem to have identified that with feral horses, they may be on a winner.

Across the country, pro-brumby groups are mushrooming: Barmah Heritage Brumbies, Historical Singleton Brumbies, the Australian Brumby Alliance, Friends of Wild Horses Australia, among others.

Brumbies are the stalking horses of a National Party push to trash Australia’s National Park estate.

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The cattle that once destroyed the high country were removed in the 1950s.

The notion that these people’s ideas need to be treated with respect or deserve equal time is wearing thin. Efforts to inform are met with anger and aggression.

“Cull the greenies,” says one. “You are destroying our ANZAC heritage,” comments another.

The horse has been turned into a symbol by a certain kind of Australian who idolises an archetypal hero, one of the brave Aussies who tamed the rugged land.

There is a deep current in our settler Australian society that resists recognition of our murderous colonial past and our horrendous record of species extinction.

That resistance is playing out now in Kosciuszko National Park.

We need to be ready to defend Australia’s unique flora and fauna not just from the existential threat of climate change, but also from the threat of a National Party and its followers determined to undermine and destroy the decades of work behind the declaration and restoration of our National Parks and their vital natural values.

[For more information visit reclaimkosci.org.au.]

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