Barilaro's sympathy for brumbies is misplaced
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Barilaro's sympathy for brumbies is misplaced

While it is not hard to see where Deputy NSW Premier, Steve Barilaro, is coming from with his decision to abandon plans for the controlled culling of brumbies in the Kosciusko National Park that doesn't mean he is right.

The NSW Government's latest policy on an introduced species that is causing significant environmental damage in a very delicate ecosystem, is all about sentiment and avoiding the fall out that would come from distressing images of wild horses being gunned down on social media feeds and the evening news.

It has nothing to with the best science, the high country environment or even, ultimately, the best interests of the horses themselves.

By indicating he finds the current number of horses in the Kosciusko National Park, which has increased from 4,200 in 2009 to about 6,000 despite 450 being removed a year, acceptable, Mr Barilarlo is saying they have a legitimate right to be there.

This, his many critics suggest, is a view that has been coloured by the romanticisation of the creatures over many years.

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Brumbies play a key role in A. B. Paterson's classic ballad, "The Man From Snowy River", and are the stars of Elyne Micthell's "Silver Brumbies" series of children's books and the cartoons and movie that were based upon them.

One of the main reasons for the emotional appeal of the brumby is that both Paterson and Mitchell portrayed the horses as symbols of freedom; noble creatures running wild and living out their lives in a rugged, beautiful and challenging environment.

Unfortunately, as with all symbols, the gulf between the mythology and the reality is vast. Kosciusko's brumbies are not independent. They exist in a very specialised ecosystem that was never intended to cope with 300 and 400 kilogram, hard hoofed, herbivores travelling across the landscape at high speed in large mobs.

In addition to contributing to erosion and vegetation degradation across about 48 per cent of the park, the brumbies also compete with a wide range of smaller, and very vulnerable, marsupials for food.

The fear is that if horse numbers are not kept in check then these species, and the brumbies themselves, will be condemned to a slow death by starvation.

These are just some of the reasons why, in 2016, a draft Wild Horse Management Plan submitted to the NSW Government, recommended reducing the number of horses in the park by 90 per cent in the next 20 years, primarily through culling.

The latest approach, which appears set to be enshrined in law next week, effectively completely reverses this.

To suggest, as Mr Barilaro appears to be doing, that because of a "cultural significance" that dates back less than 200 years, the brumbies have a legitimate place in the high country , is akin, as one letter writer to this newspaper put it on Friday, to "having a national park for feral cats".

Yes, by all means pass legislation to ensure any culling is carried out in a humane and scientific manner. But please don't do this at the expense of the environment the park was established to protect.

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