Protecting Wilderness and National Parks

Plans on display for horse riding in wilderness areas

Amendments are proposed to three plans of management that would allow horse riding in the wilderness areas of Kosciuszko, Deua (Far South Coast Escarpment) and Mummel Gulf National Parks. Copies of the three plan amendments are available at http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/consult/

These documents on the above link provide instruction on how and where to lodge your submissions. THE CLOSING DATE FOR COMMENTS IS 29th JULY, 2013.

Send copies of your submissions to the Hon Robyn Parker, Minister for the Environment (email office@parker.minister.nsw.gov.au, and protest this assault on wilderness, twitter.com/#!/robynparkermp and put a polite comment on her facebook page http://www.facebook.com/RobynParkerMP).

Also, please ask Minister Parker to require that all horse riding proposals to be subject to an adequate environmental impact assessment process due to the damage it causes to natural areas (see briefing note).

Submission guide

To assist you frame your submissions, use these notes or the Colong Foundation’s comments on each plan amendment that are available as PDF files below. Use of petitions or form letters would have little influence.

Horse riding in wilderness would be a betrayal of the Wilderness Act, 1987 and 80 years of wilderness conservation. The damage already being caused by these proposals is described below and see the horse riders' plans

Kosciuszko NP The plan amendment for this trial presents three options. Option 1 - a 500km bridle trail around the entire park (some trial!); Option 2- a southern option in the Pilot Wilderness, has a heavy pest horse population, but with surprisingly few weeds, a situation that will alter once horse riders introduce weeds to previously disturbed areas; and Option 3 - a route that passes through habitat of the critically endangered Northern Corroboree Frog and weed vulnerable karst landscapes and then into the remote Bogong Peaks wilderness. Oppose all three options.

Deua and Monga NP Horse tracks are already being cleared in these far south coast national parks. Chainsaws are being used to remove trees and spray paint marks the way. Three riding routes are proposed: One through the Woila Deua Wilderness where a trail has been blazed by marking the blue gums lining Woila Creek; another cuts through the Burra Oulla Wilderness where the route is blazed on granite torrs with orange spray paint; and in Monga National Park to the north, several large trees have been cleared away in the Buckenbowra Wilderness to open up a trail for horse riding. The Wilderness Act is being openly flaunted by horse riders who are issuing media releases about wilderness clearing. The trials should be cancelled due to this environmental vandalism.

Mummel Gulf NP Riders on the mid-north coast want to use two very steep trails to access the Mummel River in the middle of the wilderness. The riders already have access to the Bicentennial National Trail and camp at New Country Swamp. Three other trails are available for riding in the area. There is already enough access for horse riders.

Horse riding is not self-reliant recreation. Alex Colley, a conservationist who worked on wilderness for 60 years once famously said “horse riding would be a ‘self-reliant’ activity, if it weren’t for the horse". Riding is incompatible with the management principles of the Wilderness Act. The management band aids proposed by NPWS won’t stop the chainsaws, axes, paint, yards and weeds that will follow horse riding on these trails. The clearing of wilderness to make horse riding trails that has already taken place should justify rejection of the entire trial process.

Horse riders have more than enough wilderness and national park concessions. Riding is permitted on 3000 kilometres of trails across more than 110 reserves, including the Bicentennial National Trail that cuts through eight declared wilderness areas. In some parks, access for horse riding is off-trail.

Horse riding recreationists would still have access through 90 per cent of NSW that is not set aside for nature conservation if horse riding were banned in all national parks and reserves. 

The impacts of horse riding are well understood

In 1997 a National Parks and Wildlife Service position paper on horse riding in wilderness stated that ‘Horse riding is one such activity that is incompatible with the protection and management of wilderness values, and therefore is excluded from these areas.’ … ‘From experience throughout NSW, elsewhere in Australia, and overseas some of the principal environmental impacts of horse riding can be summarised as follows:

  • destruction of vegetation caused by horses trampling plants through wandering off trails or widening existing trails;
  • accelerated erosion of tracks, especially on highly erodible soils, through loosening and breaking up the trail surface by horses’ hooves leaving an unstable surface that may be readily removed by water during the next rain;
  • sedimentation due to accelerated trail erosion, causing siltation of water courses, impeding the flow of water, adversely effecting aquatic flora and fauna, and encouraging weed growth;
  • altered watercourse patterns where a proliferating track network may impose an altered or entirely new drainage pattern on the natural system and interrupt water flow, which can effect downslope vegetation communities significantly;
  • increased rates/risks of weed introduction and spread;
  • greater access via track proliferation, the number of unauthorized horse trails is often greatest near a park’s boundary and these provide for other damaging activities, such as motor bike riding, bicycle riding, and rubbish dumping;
  • water pollution from horse manure which finds its way into water systems and greatly increases the level of nutrient, bacterial and viral input causing potential health hazards; and
  • disturbance of native fauna by the noise of horses and riders, the disturbance of vegetation, and the fragmentation of habitat.’

Unfortunately an adult horse is not only a serious weed carrier, it is also a virtual mobile fertiliser plant, depositing 17-26 kilograms of dung and 5-7 litres of urine a day. Unlike vehicles, horse riders can go just about anywhere, so that the severe environmental impacts arising from horse riding can cover wide areas if such access were granted.

Scientific studies and observations confirm that horse riding causes significant soil loss and vegetation damage in park areas. These impacts arise because the average horse weight is seven times the average walker and being steel shod, the small hooves cause even greater damage. Horses are not ruminant herbivores, and their means of digestion permits the spread of viable weed seeds through their faeces. Seeds are dispersed for 10 to 14 days after ingestion and pass through in high levels for the first four days.

A MoU with a small horse riding lobby group should not be allowed to redefine wilderness out of existence
(see Horse riders wilderness plans). 

Copyright - The Colong Foundation for Wilderness Ltd

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