A spokesman for the department yesterday confirmed the removal of horses would go ahead.
It is understood NSW Parks and Wildlife Services officers will trap the horses by attracting them into temporary holding yards with molasses and salt licks. The trapped horses will then be trucked out of the park.
“Our aim is to re-home the horses and over 80 re-homers have received an invitation to re-home wild horses. Where re-homing is not possible, the horses will be transported to the knackery,” the spokesman said.
A survey conducted in 2019 found there were about 4000 feral horses in the area the NPWS intends to remove horses from. There are up to 25,000 across the alpine region of NSW, Victoria and the ACT, with numbers increasing about 20 per cent a year. It is understood only hundreds will be removed in the trapping operation.
Efforts to reduce numbers by culling or capture have been slowed or suspended because of pressure by interest groups and in Victoria by legal challenges.
Tom Bagnat, a former director of the NPWS with responsibility for alpine areas and a spokesman for the group Reclaim Kosci, said Mr Barilaro’s lobbying for the horses was driven by politics rather than science.
To move ahead with the removal of horses from the park without conducting an urgent survey would be a deliberate and reckless act.
NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro
“Mr Barilaro told me that himself in a meeting in his office in 2014 or 2015. He said some of his constituents did not want any action taken on the horses.”
Mr Barilaro did not address this when asked for comment, but said in a statement, “As stated in my letter to Minister Kean the local community do not agree with the results of the aerial survey last year. On top of that we’ve had devastating fires in this region and that has no doubt resulted in a significant loss of flora and fauna including brumbies.
“It would be reckless to go ahead with the removal of horses from the park without a recount following such a significant event.”
The chief executive of the invasive species council, Andrew Cox, said the numbers in the 2019 report were approximate, but that the survey was conducted using the best scientific methods and was peer-reviewed.
He said he believed that horse numbers had probably not been significantly reduced by the bushfires because they are such mobile animals. However, since the fires they were competing with natives species in a smaller area and doing even more damage as a result.
A plan to cull 600 horses in Victoria by shooting has been delayed after Omeo grazier Phil Maguire launched a court challenge. Mr Maguire claimed Parks Victoria did not have the right to conduct the cull without community consultation. A judge dismissed his case and ordered him to pay costs, but he had until Tuesday to lodge an appeal.
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Nick O’Malley is National Environment and Climate Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. He is also a senior writer and a former US correspondent.