Protecting Wilderness and National Parks

Feral horse policy background briefing

Feral Horse Management in national parks

Colong Foundation's 2003 submission to the Draft Feral Horse Plan for the Alpine Area of Kosciuszko National Park 

Colong Foundation's 2007 submission to the Draft Feral Horse Plan for Kosciuszko National Park 

Media Releases on feral horse management in national parks

National Parks must curb feral horse population growth
2 December 2007

From what I heard this morning (ABC South East, 8.45 am) National Parks and Wildlife are about ready to cave in to the BUGs (Bush Users Group) vision of a managed herd of feral horses for Kosciuszko National Park. For national parks to concede to such an extreme demand during a public exhibition process would be a poor practice,” said Mr Keith Muir, director of the Colong Foundation for Wilderness.

“If National Parks and Wildlife are prepared to throw its draft horse management plan in the rubbish basket to stop BUGs from attacking them, then they must now quickly pull it out again to retain any credibility”, Mr Muir urged.

“National Parks and Wildlife stand to lose their credibility if they can’t stand up for their own science-based management proposals”, Mr Muir said.

“It they do not fight hard for the park, they will lose the battle. Kossie will become rapidly degraded through the spoiling effects of increased feral horse numbers. This mathematical certainty you can’t put way in a file drawer and forget. Horse numbers will grow and grow till the problem gets so big it will require more than the park’s entire budget to fix. Then you will find, when it is forever too late, that stronger measures were necessary all along”, Mr Muir said.

“I was, frankly, stunned to hear National Parks agree with BUGs regarding a managed herd of feral horses for Kosciuszko National Park”, Mr Muir said.

“BUG’s views are an extreme position because a managed herd of feral horses will cost more money and do more damage to the park”, Mr Muir warned.

Mr Muir believes that “Farmers all over Australia aggressively control feral animals on their farms. Parks are no different, except that National Parks and Wildlife manages for wildlife instead of stock. There are 300,000 feral horses in Australia and land managers struggle to contain these numbers all the time. They do not muck about, they shoot horses”.

“It is one thing for National Parks to say that feral horses will be hard to eradicate. It is quite another to say they will manage feral horse numbers in the park. National Parks must persevere with science-based management to reduce horse populations on the park by the quickest and most humane method”, he said.

“National Parks and Wildlife must manage the national park primarily for the benefit of wildlife and to start managing for feral horses is to lose the plot”, said Mr Muir.

Attack on Parks Service by BUGs Unfair

6 December 2007

“Recent efforts to maintain horses in Kosciuszko National Park by the Bush Users Group, (BUGs for short), are completely over the top.  BUGs have produced a form letter that claims National Parks’ use environmental degradation as a ‘lame excuse’ to justify its new draft horse management plan”, said Keith Muir, director of the Colong Foundation for Wilderness.

“The BUGs form letter states that National Parks and Wildlife ‘have had to resort to the lame excuse of environmental impacts in an attempt to justify their proposed [horse management] actions.  … Surely any alleged brumby impact could not be considered to be of a serious or irreversible detrimental nature.’

“Encouraging the public to support these aspersions as a form of submission on the draft horse plan is hitting below the belt.  Public servants cannot adequately defend themselves against such attacks”, Mr Muir said.

“The well researched National Parks and Wildlife draft horse management plan presents strong evidence that uncontrolled horse populations do degrade the park”, he said.

“The draft horse management plan is out for public comment until December 21st, and anyone can read it and make up their own mind on horse damage by going to ,” Mr Muir said.

“BUGs have offered little evidence that feral horse populations do only minor and temporary damage to the park.  The group’s agenda seeks to put an exotic animal, horses, before the needs of the park’s native flora and fauna.  Their vision makes as much sense as calling on farmers to breed up rabbits instead of stock”, he said.

“BUGs vision of sustained levels of feral horses would make Kosciuszko National Park a glorified horse farm.  More horses on park would also increase the risk of vehicle to horse collisions”, Mr Muir said.

“National Parks and Wildlife should work toward reducing horse populations in the park by the quickest and most humane method.  It’s a bit of a long stretch for BUGs to call for national parks to become some sort of wild horse dude ranch.  BUGs participated on the community steering group that oversaw development of the draft horse plan.  They have had a fair go”, said Mr Muir.

Kosciuszko Feral Horse Mismanagement Divides Two Governments

Wednesday 4 August 2004

Two environment groups today condemned the NSW Government for failing to control feral horses in Kosciuszko National Park, that failure has led the ACT Government to construct a horse fence on the NSW border in Namadgi National Park in order to exclude NSW feral horses from entering the ACT. The fence cuts the Bimberi wilderness in half, and flies in the face of cooperative management.

"At a time when other countries are removing fences between their borders to permit the migration of native animals, the ACT Government is building a fence along its border cutting the Bimberi Wilderness in two, " said Keith Muir director of the Colong Foundation for Wilderness.

"The ACT is being forced to build this fence due to the failure of NSW to control its feral horse populations in northern Kosciuszko National Park. This is a ludicrous example of how an ineffective feral horse control program in one state is impacting on one of Australia’s most precious and sensitive areas," Mr Muir said.

"NSW National Parks and Wildlife have been irresponsible in letting feral horse numbers increase in Kosciuszko. The NSW Government’s proposal to allow feral horse herds to roam across the park under a policy of so-called 'acceptable levels of environmental impact' has absolutely no scientific basis," said Mr Andrew Cox, executive officer of the National Parks Association of NSW.

"The fence will also act as a barrier to the essential need for native fauna to move freely across the landscape, particularly after fire. According to the ACT Government, two sections of the fence have already been constructed at Murrays Gap and Jacks Flat to fence out feral horses and more sections of fence are planned," said Mr Cox. "We believe that the actions by the ACT Government signal a breakdown in the Australian Alps Cooperative Management Program established between NSW, ACT and Victoria to avoid conflict in park management programs on issues like feral horses", Mr Cox said.

"We support ACT's goal to keep Namadgi National Park feral horse free, but that requires cooperation from NSW National Parks Service. NSW needs to put in place an effective and humane horse eradication program, not force the ACT Government to build a horse fence that harms and restricts native wildlife", he said.

Guy Fawkes Horse Plan Sets New Benchmark for NSW Park Management



19 December 2003

Environment groups today praised a newly released horse management plan for Guy Fawkes River National Park for its objective to rid the park of feral horses. However, the groups continue to be concerned about the limitations placed on the National Parks and Wildlife Service due to the NSW Government's ban on aerial shooting and its lack of commitment to eradication of feral horses from other parks such as Kosciuszko.

"The Guy Fawkes Plan released on Wednesday aims to remove all feral horses from the Park within 5 years, setting up checks and balances to ensure that this is achieved effectively, humanely, and with minimal impact on the sensitive national park environment. " said Fiona McCrossin, Assistant Director of the Colong Foundation for Wilderness.

"The Colong Foundation and the National Parks Association of NSW welcome the fact that Guy Fawkes, unlike Kosciuszko, has not sought to introduce the ineffective, inhumane and ecologically damaging method of roping and will only use mustering as a last resort. However, we believe that the Guy Fawkes’ plan to trap horses in yards and paddocks will be ineffective in reducing numbers faster than the horses will breed," said Ms McCrossin.

"The Colong Foundation and National Parks Association of NSW believe that the Guy Fawkes’ Plan is set to fail unless aerial shooting is reinstated as a control method. Aerial shooting of horses was banned by Environment Minister, Bob Debus in 2000," said Andrew Cox, NPA Executive Officer.

"Aerial shooting has been proven to be the most humane and effective method to control large numbers of horses, provided it is done by professionally trained shooters under RSPCA agreed protocols. This fact is acknowledged in the Plan. In the rugged gorges of Guy Fawkes, it will be the only way that most horses will be removed."

"We welcome the objective of the Plan to make Guy Fawkes free of feral horses. This is in stark contrast to Kosciuszko National Park and surrounding areas, where more than 2,000 feral horses have been without an effective control program for more than 10 years."

"We call on the Minister for the Environment to remove the state-wide ban on aerial shooting of horses and initiate a whole-of-park feral horse management plan, modelled on the Guy Fawkes Horse Management Plan, for other parks in NSW, including Kosciuszko." Said Mr Cox. 

"To exclude effective and humane methods of feral horse control for political expediency will do a disservice to NSW national parks and the feral horses themselves." concluded Ms McCrossin and Mr Cox.

Kosciuszko handed over to feral animals 

 20 June 2003

A new plan for managing wild horses in Kosciuszko National Park has been condemned as handing over one of the most endangered ecosystems in NSW to feral animals.

The Colong Foundation for Wilderness said today that the Horse Management Plan for Kosciuszko would result in the degradation of the threatened high alpine area for the sake of pleasing those who believe that feral horses have more rights than any other animal in NSW.

“ The government is spending millions of dollars on public consultation and independent scientific advice yet it continues to produce plans which minimise environmental protection and maximise degradation,” said Ms McCrossin.

“Kosciusko National Park is being overrun by feral horses. Despite a window of opportunity to reduce their numbers, after the summer fires and before spring, the government has again defied the policies of the Australian Veterinary Association and Environment Australia in rejecting the most effective and humane method for their removal – aerial shooting.”

“We are astounded that the government is allowing this infestation of horses to continue. The Plan acknowledges the environmental degradation that the horses are causing but does not follow the next logical step – an effective and humane plan for their removal. Instead it is relying on methods that just don’t work for this number of horses – roping, trapping and mustering” said Ms McCrossin.

‘I would love to ask Banjo Paterson about his views on a plan that endangers the very environment which he loved so much. Yes, he rode a horse, but I wonder what he would think of a government which is placing his beloved Snowy environment at such risk?” Ms McCrossin continued.

“So much of our natural heritage has disappeared due to ignorance of the impacts we inflict on our environment. We can no longer use ignorance as a defence for our actions. The facts are there. Feral horses place our precious land and waters at risk. The government needs to remove them. And they need to remove them now.” concluded Ms McCrossin

Environment groups welcome Chief Minister’s stand on feral horses

11 June 2003

NSW environment groups today welcomed the ACT Chief Minister, John Stanhope’s, stance last weekend regarding the necessity to humanely destroy feral horses to protect the Alps.

“Mr Stanhope's remarks regarding the essential need to protect the natural values of Namadgi National Park threatened by feral horses sets a strong example for the Carr Government," said Andrew Cox, Executive Officer of National Parks Association of NSW.

"The Chief Minister's decision is the right one because to do otherwise would allow horses to damage critical water supplies and wilderness areas," said Mr Cox.

"National Parks Association of NSW and Colong Foundation for Wilderness want real nature-based park management for our alpine parks, which means ensuring feral horses are excluded from not only the ACT but from Kosciuszko National Park as well," said Mr Cox.

"At present horse numbers in Kosciuszko National Park are continuing to rise because of the failure of current control programs, resulting in extensive environmental damage," said Ms Fiona McCrossin, assistant director of the Colong Foundation for Wilderness.

"A joint approach between NSW and the ACT is essential and the Colong Foundation will ask Mr Stanhope to approach Bob Carr with a plan to remove feral horses which are trampling the high country and compromising the fire recovery of the Alps.”

“NSW is not doing enough. Feral animals do not respect state boundaries and the only solution to keeping Namadgi National Park free of these damaging animals is to work with NSW on a joint eradication program,” Ms McCrossin said.

Hamstrung Committee Delays Decision on Kosciuszko Horses

MEDIA RELEASE 24 July, 2002


The Kosciuszko ‘Wild’ Horse Working Party that met last night at Jindabyne agreed to delay its approval of a final management plan to remove horses from parts of Kosciuszko National Park. But the committee is doomed to failure while the Minister for the Environment maintains a ban on aerial shooting – the most effective and humane method of horse removal.

The working party met last night, a week after public submissions closed on a draft plan to remove horses from the alpine areas of Kosciuszko National Park. It agreed to delay finalisation of the plan until a meeting in several months to allow members time to properly consider all the issues raised in the public submissions.

Despite that outcome, the National Parks Association of NSW (NPA) and the Colong Foundation for Wilderness consider that the working party will have no effective measure of removing horses faster than they can breed without the removal of a ban on aerial culling of horses in NSW imposed by Environment Minister, Bob Debus.

"The current situation allows local horse-lovers and those fixated on the stock grazing ways of the past to establish a horse mustering trial under the guise of environmental protection", said Andrew Cox, NPA Executive Officer.

"Horse mustering is ineffective, inhumane and environmentally damaging, and should be ruled out by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) who are meant to be protecting the area’s unique natural values," said Mr Cox.

"Nature conservation is the priority for Australia’s highest national park and the NPWS is failing in its management duties if it continues with the mustering trial."

"Valuable time is being wasted on preventing a further build-up of the 3000 horses in the park. As with other feral animals, its best to implement effective measures early and to reduce the numbers at a rate much greater than they can breed."

"There is no reason to maintain a ban on aerial culling, put in place after horse culling operations in Guy Fawkes National Park in October 2000," said Keith Muir, Director of the Colong Foundation.

"Since then an independent veterinary scientist has ruled that aerial culling is the most effective and humane method of removing large numbers of horses. Recently the animal cruelty charges made at the time were dropped."

"The working party is just tinkering around the edges, while wasting valuable resources and time. The draft plan in its current form is doomed to fail."

"NPA and Colong Foundation call on the Minister for the Environment to remove the ban on aerial culling of horses. The NPWS should reject horse mustering as a control option and quickly implement a plan to remove all horses from Kosciuszko."

Kosciuszko’s 3,000 feral horses won’t go unless culled

MEDIA RELEASE 23 July, 2002


The Colong Foundation for Wilderness, Total Environment Centre and National Parks Association of NSW said today that the draft Wild Horse Management Plan for Kosciuszko National Park is unworkable because it won’t remove the horses. Today's meeting in Jindabyne is considering adopting a flawed horse management plan that will establish a feral pest - horses - as "cultural heritage" and brumby running as a "traditional use".

"Kosciuszko National Park, is a national icon up there with Kakadu National Park. It should preserve our rare and sensitive alpine flora and fauna. The draft horse plan is inverted, focusing not on protecting nature but rather on maintaining horses in the park. It does nothing except trialing unworkable management methods in alpine areas above 1800 metres, while allowing over 1600 horses to breed up in an uncontrolled manner elsewhere in the park," said Mr Keith Muir, Director of the Colong Foundation for Wilderness.

"The Government is blundering in the dark by ignoring the independent advice of The Australian Veterinary Society and Environment Australia. These organisations stress that aerial shooting is the most humane method of removing large numbers of horses from our Parks. The Kosciuszko draft Wild Horse Management Plan, which did not even consider this method, is just going to waste precious resources," said Mr Muir.

"The proposed horse management trials would maintain horses in the national park at the expense of our native animals, alpine bogs and precious wildflower meadows", he said.

"A ban on aerial shooting of horses was introduced by the NSW Government in October 2000, as a knee jerk reaction to sensationalist media after 600 horses were shot in Guy Fawkes River National Park. This cull was done after eight years of ineffective mustering in that park from 1992. Over this time only 156 horses were mustered while the population continued to climb. In three months in Koscuiszko, only 13 horses were mustered", said Mr Andrew Cox, Executive Officer of the National Parks Association of NSW.

"The mustering programs will fail to control overall horses numbers, even in the unlikely event of being ten times as effective as past success rates. In this case you would need hundreds of brumby riders, and that would wreck the park. Even the scale of such a mustering program would not be possible", he said.

"The fate of the captured feral horses is uncertain but primarily based on the assumption that these horses are different to others. The Kosciuszko horses are as feral as any others in Australia. Feral horses are culled in drought affected areas, particularly the tens of thousands in inland Australia, so it makes sense to cull the horses in Kosciuszko, one of our most precious and sensitive national parks," said Mr Cox.

"There are many demands for National Parks pest species management resources, including wild dog or pig control. The draft horse management plan is an exercise in futility that will require a fortune to implement. The real cost will be in native species lost and an internationally significant national park ruined", he said.

For more information contact: Keith Muir, (02) 9261 2400 (wk) or 9550 3615 (ah)

Andrew Cox, (02) 9299 0000 (wk) or 0438 588 040 (mob)

Kosciuszko feral horses:

NSW Government must act now

Attn: Newsdesk, Chief of Staff, Environment Writer

MEDIA RELEASE July 19, 2002

" There are 3,000 feral horses in Kosciuszko National Park and the NSW Government needs to remove them now," said Fiona McCrossin, Assistant Director of the Colong Foundation for Wilderness.

"The Government needs to remove them because, while debate continues, the horses inflict huge damage on the delicate landscapes of Kociuszko National Park. They erode soils; compete for scarce food supplies; disperse weeds; and cause significant river pollution. These impact on Kosciuszko’s native animals and plants, already threatened by the multitude of uses that our society has inflicted on this rare and breathtaking environment. " continued Ms McCrossin.

" The Government is afraid of this issue. They have put it in the too hard basket. In doing so, they have ignored the findings of a Senate Inquiry; independent scientific reports and the policies of the Australian Veterinary Association and Environment Australia. All advocate aerial shooting as the most humane and effective method of removing large numbers of feral horses. "

" Currently, the only methods being proposed for the removal of feral horses from Kosciuszko are mustering, trapping and roping. These methods reek of a return to the rowdy brumby hunts of the past. These hunts may conjure emotive images to some, but must be looked at more closely as national parks must not become equestrian playgrounds. Brumby hunts involve considerable risk, both to the horses and the riders. Further, they will fail to do the job. In Guy Fawkes River National Park, it took eight years to remove 156 horses using these methods. In Kosciuszko we need to deal with a feral horse population of 3,000, which is constantly growing. " said Ms McCrossin.

" The Colong Foundation is advocating aerial shooting of feral horses because it is the quickest and most humane way to control this serious pest. All the shooters involved are trained by teams of instructors drawn from the NSW Police Service, NSW Agriculture, the Rural Lands Protection Board and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. The shooting would be monitored using the strictest protocols. "

" The Colong Foundation calls on the Government to remove its ban on aerial shooting of horses because it is the only effective method of removing the 3,000 feral horses in Kosciuszko. Perhaps then, the sensitive ecology of the area will begin the long road to recovery from the impacts these horses have wreaked for decades," concluded Ms McCrossin.

When Dr Anthony English, Head of the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, Sydney University reported on the shooting of horses in Guy Fawkes River National Park, he stressed that the "stark images of shot horses, and the emotive language used by some commentators, must be countered by effective education concerning the threatening processes confronting our native fauna." (Report on the Cull of Feral Horses in Guy Fawkes River National Park in October 2000)

Contact: Fiona McCrossin ph 9261 2400

 Guy Fawkes Horses:
just plain feral, study reveals

Attn: Newsdesk, Chief of Staff, Environment Writer

MEDIA RELEASE July 5, 2002

A report on the heritage values of feral horses in Guy Fawkes River National Park just released by National Parks reveals that they are no different from any other feral horses.

"Environment Minister, Bob Debus, should stand by his position of removing horses from the park", said Fiona McCrossin, Assistant Director of the Colong Foundation for Wilderness.

"Any suggestion that our national parks and wilderness areas should be used as an agistment paddock for feral horses must be met with strong and immediate opposition,"
Ms McCrossin said.

"Guy Fawkes National Park protects the second largest wilderness area in northern NSW and is to be expanded using land acquired by the Dunphy Wilderness Fund, a fund set up by the Premier Bob Carr to honour the memory of Milo Dunphy."

"The report found that the horses are not genetically distinct from any other feral horse in Australia. They are just one population of the "wild" horse or "brumby" among the thousands on this continent.

"Given that there are over 300,000 feral horses in Australia, the mind boggles. The Australian public can’t be expected to manage these animals as heritage items. Surely the funds should go to protecting Australia’s unique biodiversity; our monotremes, marsupials and native vegetation? If we start using our precious environmental protection dollars to manage feral horses, what next? Heritage rats, foxes, pigs, chickens?", continued Ms McCrossin.

"The report came hot on the trail of Wednesday’s court decision that the last aerial cull of feral horses in the area, in October 2000, involved no cruelty to the horses. This finding substantiated the policy positions of the Federal Government’s environment department - Environment Australia, The Australian Veterinary Association and Associate Professor Tony English Head of the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, University of Sydney, who agree that aerial culling is the most humane way of reducing large numbers of feral horses."

"These horses have to go. They are causing major environmental damage to the park’s native flora and fauna and to our rivers. Native animals such as the vulnerable brush-tailed rock wallaby and the red-legged pademelon cannot compete with such large, hoofed animals.

"The heritage study reveals that there is a strong local history of shooting the horses. The Colong Foundation calls for the reintroduction of aerial culling of feral horses in this and all other NSW National Parks," said Ms McCrossin.

Contact: Fiona McCrossin or Keith Muir ph 9261 2400

Horse Cull Court Settlement Vindicates National Parks

A settlement announced today over a long-running court case between RSPCA and the National Parks and Wildlife Service clears the way for the removal of remaining feral horses in Guy Fawkes River National Park.

The National Parks Association of NSW (NPA) and the Colong Foundation for Wilderness always believed that the NPWS acted responsibly and humanely in its cull by trained shooters of 606 feral horses in October 2000.

"The fact that at one horse of these 606 did not die immediately is unfortunate, but it was an over-reaction by the RSPCA to drag the NPWS through the courts," said Andrew Cox, NPA Executive Officer.

"The 12 charges by the RSPCA were dropped in return for the NPWS pleading guilty to a new charge accepting that at least one horse did suffer cruelty."

"As Dr Tony English, of the Sydney University stated in his report to the Minister for the Environment on the incident, 'the shooting was carried out in a humane way, under approved protocols designed to kill the horses as quickly as possible.' Other means of removing the horses were tried and found to be ineffective."

"Dr English continued, 'only 156 horse were removed by these methods, at significant risk to the people concerned, with major animal welfare problems as well.' "

"If the NPWS had not killed the horses, there would have been widespread suffering by the feral horses that were starving because of the lack of feed following large bushfires in the area. Native animals and plants were being threatened by the rapid increase in horse numbers," said Mr Cox.

NPA and the Colong Foundation now call on the Minister for the Environment to lift the NSW-wide ban on aerial culling of horses.

"The NPWS can get on with the job of removing the remaining 150 feral horses in Guy Fawkes River National Park," said Keith Muir, Director of the Colong Foundation for Wilderness.

"Aerial shooting is seen as an acceptable method of culling other feral species such as pigs and goats, and should apply to feral horses."

"The Australian Veterinary Association's policy (No. 5.17) states, 'strictly controlled helicopter shooting represents the most humane technique for large scale culling programs.' The Federal Government's environment department, Environment Australia, also has the same policy. It is quick and the animals are not subjected to the stresses of mustering, yarding and transportation," said Mr Muir.

Contact: Andrew Cox 9299 0000 or 0438 588 040

Keith Muir on 9261 2400