In the aftermath of the fierce bushfires which swept through large swathes of the Kosciuszko National Park, the wild horse population of the fire-affected northern plains - around 4000 animals in total - will be removed.
Around 57,000 hectares at the northern end of the park have been prioritised for urgent measures to rid them of the horses. These area include the Nungar Plain, Cooleman Plain and parts of the Boggy and Kiandra plains.
Although the Cooleman Plain was only 10 per cent affected by fire, the National Parks and Wildlife Service estimates that almost 90 per cent of the remaining management areas were impacted.
"These areas contain a range of values including threatened species and sensitive ecological communities which are most vulnerable to trampling and other impacts of horses," a parks spokesperson said.
"They also include areas with a high risk of collision between horses and vehicles."
The horse will be removed through a "combination of methods". Trapping and aerial mustering are seen as the most likely methods.
"As many horses as possible will be re-homed. Some horses will go to the knackery," the spokesperson said.
The debate around the removal of the wild horses which have a totemic place in Australian folklore due to films like The Man From Snowy River, has been the subject of ongoing debate for years.
However, the bushfire crisis and the urgent need to reduce the feral animal impact within the fire-affected areas has quickly brought the matter to a head.
The NSW government's prevarication on the wild horse environmental impact issue has raised concern in the ACT, which has an adjoining water catchment. Environment minister Mick Gentleman had asked the Federal government to intervene but was unsuccessful
Separate bushfires swept through the Namadgi National Park and sub-alpine areas of the Kosciuszko during January and were only finally extinguished by the freak low pressure rain events of February 8 and 9.
Although some horses were burned by the bushfires, most escaped unharmed and now there is even less feed available.
Wild horses in the national park were given protection by the NSW parliament in 2018 under the divisive Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Act but with the caveat that "active management" of the population may be required to "reduce their impact on the park's fragile environment".
Separate community and scientific panels were due to provide a draft plan this month and present to the NSW Parliament in May but that has been delayed in the wake of the bushfire crisis which has burned more than 5.3 million hectares in NSW this summer.
However, the emergency measure to remove the 4000 horses acknowledges the scientific evidence around the impact made by the animals and how this is exacerbated during the bushland's fragile post-bushfire recovery period.
Andrew Cox, chief executive officer of the Invasive Species Council, said "the eyes of the world are watching" how bushfire-impacted wildlife in these areas are "fighting for survival".
"This announcement of urgent interim measures is a good sign of the government's genuine commitment to drive horse numbers down," he said.
"The fires that burnt 35 per cent of the park appear to have pushed the horses into a more concentrated area, increasing the trampling of wetlands.
"Horses are also returning to burnt areas following the recent rains. This will cause irreparable damage to burnt peat bogs and recovering alpine and sub-alpine vegetation."
The horse population in Kosciuszko is estimated to have increased from an estimated 6000 in 2014 to an estimated 19,000 in 2019.
Rehoming of removed horses has proved problematic for more than a decade. The largest number removed from the park was 658 back in 2011-12. Two-thirds were euthanised.