Australia has no Wild & Free-Roaming Horses & Burros Act
DAVIS, California; SYDNEY, Australia––“Now through February,” American Wild Horse Campaign currently warns via social media, “over 7,000 wild horses will be chased by helicopters, ripped from their families, injured, or in the worst case, killed.
“The survivors will be funneled into overburdened holding facilities, sometimes for the rest of their lives. These inhumane and dangerous roundups occur in the corners of the American West, far from the public’s eye.”
Much worse is underway in Australia, but the U.S. situation is not good.
U.S. horse advocates have issued similar warnings to that of American Wild Horse Campaign annually almost every year since the passage of the Wild & Free-Roaming Horses & Burros Act of 1971.
The Wild & Free-Roaming Horses & Burros Act essentially granted squatter’s rights to the then-estimated 27,000 wild horses and burros on property under jurisdiction of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
Elsewhere, on state-owned land, Native American reservations, military bases, National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges, and property managed by the National Park Service, wild horses officially remain feral non-game wildlife, with little or no legal protection.
Wild horse population growth
Despite increasingly aggressive wild horse roundups for removal from Bureau of Land Management property in recent years, augmented by growing use of equine birth control, the U.S. wild horse and burro population has increased since 1971 to more than 225,000, including about 83,000 on BLM land, plus 62,000 in BLM holding pens.
The Bureau of Land Management, now holding nearly ten times as many wild horses and burros as the 6,669 who were adopted in 2022, is continuing to gather more than 20,000 wild horses and burros per year, under pressure from ranchers, hunters, and environmentalists to suppress wild horse and burro competition for forage and water with cattle and wildlife, and to otherwise reduce the equine impact on the range.
Twice as many wild horses Down Under, & no legal protection
The same pressures afflict wild horses in Australia, but Australia has no equivalent to the Wild & Free-Roaming Horses & Burros Act.
Grim as the U.S. wild horse dilemma remains, with no quick, viable, mutually acceptable humane solutions in sight, as many as 400,000 wild horses and burros roam Australia at constant risk of being shot.
The risk of being shot intensified in October 2023 for wild horses in Kosciuszko National Park, on the New South Wales side of the Australian Alps, near the border of Victoria state, where legislation “grandfathers” a population of about 3,000 horses.
“Feral horses will be shot from the air”
“Feral horses in Kosciuszko National Park will be shot from the air, following a public consultation process, with the New South Wales environment minister, Penny Sharpe, declaring it essential for protecting the park’s threatened wildlife and ecosystems,” explained Lisa Cox for The Guardian on October 26, 2023
“Sharpe said the decision to amend the park’s management plan to allow aerial culling of feral horse populations came after 82% of 11,002 submissions from stakeholders supported the measure in addition to other existing control methods,” Cox wrote.
Declared Sharpe, “There are simply too many wild horses in Kosciuszko National Park. Threatened native species are in danger of extinction and the entire ecosystem is under threat. We must take action.”
Horses kill frogs?!
Said to be at risk are the obscure but critically endangered stocky galaxias fish and the southern corroboree frog, a formerly common species that crashed to as few as 30 living wild specimens in recent years, due to the combination of wildfires destroying habitat and the arrival of chytrid fungus, which has attacked and depleted amphibian populations around the world.
“In May 2023,” recalled Cox, “the federal threatened species scientific committee warned that feral horses ‘may be the crucial factor that causes final extinction’ of six critically endangered animals and at least two critically endangered plants.”
Having set a goal of reducing the Kosciuszko National Park wild horse population from about 14,380 in 2020 to 3,000 by 2027, the New South Wales government was shocked when a survey done in November 2022 found an estimated wild horse population of between 14,501 and 23,535, averaging 18,814 horses in Kosciuszko.
New South Wales Senate animal welfare committee chair Emma Hurst challenged the survey methodology, but to no evident avail.
Conservationists praise shooting horses
Sharpe’s decision to shoot wild horses from the air was praised by Australian federal environment and water minister Tanya Plibersek, Invasive Species Council advocacy manager Jack Gough, and the Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales.
“We believe this is representative of a broader shift in public sentiment as awareness of the impact of feral horses has grown,” Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales chief executive Jacqui Mumford told Cox.
Responded Australian Brumby Alliance president Jill Pickering, “We implore minister Sharpe to strengthen commitment to passive trapping and rehoming as the preferred method of [wild horse] population management, reserving lethal methods to high density areas and designated fragile zones identified in the NSW Wild Horse Act.”
Which means, essentially, that no major Australian organization is categorically opposed to shooting wild horses, whether from aircraft or otherwise.
Wild horses blamed for global warming
Reinforcing the edict to shoot wild horses is a paper entitled “Carbon emissions from Australian Sphagnum peatlands increase with feral horse (Equus caballus) presence,” by scientists Sarah Treby and Samantha P. Grover, published in the edition of the Journal of Environmental Management dated December 1, 2023.
Summarized Treby and Grover of their findings, “Horse-present peatlands were net carbon sources; horse-absent peatlands were net carbon sinks. Net carbon emission was 91% higher at bare soil areas than Sphagnum-covered areas. Soil bulk density, temperature, and carbon emissions were higher at peatland sites with feral horses. Water pH, carbon emissions, and turbidity were higher at peatland sites with feral horses.”
Environment ministers cannot do anything about sheep & cattle
All of the same would also be true, to a much greater extent, in the parts of Australia occupied by 78 million sheep and 29 million cattle, whose net contribution to carbon emissions in particular dwarfs that of feral horses.
Sheep and cattle, however, are excluded from Kosciuszko National Park, and are not under the jurisdiction of either New South Wales environment minister Penny Sharpe or her federal counterpart, Tanya Joan Plibersek.
Pressured to help Australia meet global standards for reducing carbon emissions that contribute to global warming, and to slow the loss of endangered species, more marked in Australia than in almost any other nation, Sharpe and Plibersek are powerless to do anything much about livestock, but wild horses make a convenient scapegoat, and shooting wild horses gives the appearance of actually doing something.
“Rotting horse carcasses in tourist spots”
Shooting wild horses, however, is not particularly popular with much of the Australian public, even if “82% of 11,002 submissions from stakeholders” received by Sharpe’s office, most of them form responses generated by anti-feral wildlife advocacy campaigns, did favor aerial gunnery on top of shooting horses from the ground, already underway.
“The summer tourism season opened in this long weekend with the grim discovery of around 150 rotting horse carcasses in popular tourist spots,” reported Edwina Mason on October 3, 2023 for the online newspaper About Regional.
“Hikers encountered scores of carcasses scattered alongside walking tracks,” wrote Mason, “while other campers simply left the park because the sight and smell of the dead animals was too traumatic.
“Wild horses, or brumbies, shot in recent months in New South Wales National Parks & Wildlife culling operations have resulted in an open graveyard of horse bones, skin, decaying flesh and entrails in Tantangara, Blue Waterholes and near Pockets Saddle campgrounds, three extremely popular tourist spots on the High Plains area.
“Locals Ian and Michelle Brown said they counted at least 130 dead wild horses near Currango and Blue Waterholes while trekking, with Ian discovering a further 20 dead horses on another trek near Pockets Saddle” a day later.
“In October 2000,” Mason recalled, “professional shooters culled 606 feral horses from Kosciuszko National Park as it struggled to recover from ongoing drought and bushfires.
“The discovery of a dying horse the week after the cull triggered a public outcry and a wave of reports and investigations that ultimately put an end to aerial culling,” until now, “despite recommendations to the contrary.”
Shannon Byrne testifies
On October 30, 2023, Mason reported that local rider Shannon Byrne had discovered two starving foals in Kosciuszko National Park two days earlier, apparently orphaned by shooting done from the ground.
Byrne tried to rescue both, but the weaker foal died.
“Mr. Byrne’s great-grandmother was the first white woman to cross the Snowy Mountains and his family have held land there since the 1840s. Having ridden in the mountains two to three times a week for most of his life, this bushman’s knowledge of Kosciuszko National Park is second to none,” Mason said.
Said Byrne, “Here it’s rough and there’s natural attrition that takes care of the horses, but even in the north of the park, there’s nowhere near the numbers like they’re saying. You’d be lucky if you found 1,000 horses up there now.”
“Horses didn’t cause extinctions”
Byrne, wrote Mason, “sees the weeds, bogged waterways caused by hundreds of deer, pig rippings, and 20 years of unfettered, unmanaged grasslands that now render some parts of the park a tinderbox.”
Fumed Byrne, “Look at the corroboree frog. Years and years of grass laying over forming a mat, creating an intolerably humid acidic environment, and frogs with a fungal disease they’re blaming on climate change.
“It’s catastrophic up here right now,” Byrne said, “and National Parks & Wildlife are killing what they’re claiming to save. They say in the 2019-20 Dunns Fire, 15 billion native animals were lost.
“The horses have been there their whole lives and didn’t cause the extinction of those animals, but a fire will come along and wipe them out overnight.”
“It’s not the brumbies destroying Kosciuszko National Park”
“It’s not the brumbies that are destroying this park,” Byrne continued. “We’ve all lived up here in harmony for the best part of 150 years, but National Parks & Wildlife have a lot to answer for.
“If they take the horses out, they’re still going to have 90% of the environmental damage,” Byrne told Mason.
Of aerial culling, Byrne said, “I don’t care what anyone says. It’s inhumane.”