A highly anticipated draft management plan for wild horses in Kosciuszko National Park has been released, and despite intentions for it to balance opposing views on the issue, people on both sides of the debate remain divided.
NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean announced that the draft plan had been released for public comment last week, saying the plan "strikes the right balance between protecting the fragile alpine ecosystems and recognising the cultural heritage of the wild horses".
The draft plan is a result of the Kosciuszko National Park Wild Horse Heritage Bill, introduced into state parliament in mid-2018 by then-Member for Monaro, John Barilaro.
It stated that a plan should be made to protect the heritage value of wild horses while ensuring "other environmental values of the park ... are also maintained".
An already contentious debate has become even more heated in recent years, in anticipation of the plan's release.
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Pro-brumby groups have consistently fought for the rights of wild horses to inhabit the park, arguing that they are not damaging ecosystems and that the horse population is thousands less than reported.
Environmental groups, on the other hand, are advocating for measures to reduce the wild horse population to further protect native species and habitats, particularly following the 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires, which impacted large parts of the park.
"For too long we have been deadlocked on this issue and unable to find a way forward, this has served no one's interest, least of all the environment," Mr Kean said. "This draft plan provides protections for one of the nation's most precious environments and all of the animals that call it home, but more importantly it provides that much-needed way forward."
Under the plan, wild horse numbers will be reduced from approximately 14,000 to 3000 by 2027, with horses able to remain in and around Long Plain, Currango and Tantangara - about 32 per cent of the park.
Horses will be removed from roughly 21 per cent of the park, to the north and east of those areas. Control methods such as ground shooting, rehoming or being sent to the abattoir will be utilised, however aerial shooting has been ruled out.
Roughly 47 per cent of the park is currently free of wild horses and will remain that way as per the plan.
Environmental group Reclaim Kosci welcomed the reduction in horse numbers set out in the plan, but said it also "locks in damage" to key areas in the park.
"Unfortunately, the plan aims to leave 3000 horses trampling a third of the park which will lock in long-term environmental damage for these areas," Invasive Species Council conservation director James Trezise said.
"We can have the current number of 14,000 feral horses in Kosciuszko National Park, or we can have healthy ecosystems and recovering native wildlife, but we can't have both."
Mr Trezise also argued that trapping and rehoming is "inadequate" compared to other population reduction methods, such as aerial shooting, which he said was "necessary in rugged parts of Kosciuszko".
Alan Lanyon, the president of the Snowy Mountains Brumby Sustainability and Management Group, said the figure of 3000 horses remaining in the park is a "fraud" number.
"That's a gross misrepresentation of fact," he said.
The group and other pro-brumby organisations have long-debated the population figure put forward by scientists. Mr Lanyon said his group recently conducted their own survey and found only 838 horses, predominantly in the northern end of the park.
He also said the group would be "arguing fairly strongly against" ground shooting as a control method, with trapping and rehoming the optimal outcome.
Lifelong Kosciuszko walker and author of the Brumby Wars, Anthony Sharwood, said the draft plan was "fair and balanced" and "meets people in the middle".
With almost 70 per cent of the park set to be free of horses, but populations retained in the northern end - where most tourist sites and recreational activities take place - he said the government has achieved a middle ground.
"I understand how deep passions run on both sides and there's something here for everybody, people need to look at this glass half full," Mr Sharwood said.
The draft plan will be open for public comment until November 2.
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