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Despite biased media and dodgy science, wild horses gain support from politicians across Australia, especially MP John Barilaro


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MP Monaro, NSW, John Barilaro is one of a growing list of politicians who support brumbies remaining in the wild.  Photo: courtesy of the office of John Barilaro

Born and bred in Australia, MP John Barilaro is from the same region as the brumby.  He knows all about The Man From Snowy River first hand from his upbringing as a immigrant whose family arrived in the country nearly 15 years before the film was made.  He now represents the constituency of Monaro who still live the tradition of oneness with the land, which includes caring for all who depend on it, including the brumbies.

Although once a local issue for Barilaro since he came on in 2011 when it came to horse riders wanting ‘access’ to National Parks to continue enjoying the many heritage trails and whom had worked to create and maintain the trails and help trap the brumbies in the parks, the issue has since exploded.  Now a much broader debate is taking place he says around humane treatment and accuracy of government department and environmental reports on the alleged ‘damage’ the horses are causing.  He’s not alone as other MPs have joined the fight to support their constituencies who live in the rural communities they represent (including MPs Paul Weller and Gregg Barr in Victoria) , although we were able to catch up with Barilaro in a phone interview and hear what he had to say about the brumbies and his constituency in the high country of NSW.

Chestnut colt foal standing in front of author

Chestnut brumby colt foal with mum in danger of being gunned down by helicopters in Kosciuszko National Park. Photo: Mark Carroll

WHJ: Why an interest in brumbies?

 

JB: Brumbies are a part of the landscape here.  They have a fantastic heritage of having served the Australian Light Horseman in wars.  There aren’t many animals who have that kind of connection with human beings more than a horse.  And, there’s a lot of myth involved in the ‘damage’ wild horses are reported to be doing, it’s one-sided, and you can’t rely on the numbers of horses in the wild claimed by bureaucrats and there’s no way in world you could call yourself an environmentalist and say aerial culling is the appropriate way to respond.

 

WHJ: Aren’t you a part of the very bureaucratic system that is responsible for these  biased reports? You’re referring to your colleagues are you not?

 

JB: Yes, we rely on agencies to give us more information to make a decision however I believe the information from these agencies is quite biased about the horses damaging the flora, fauna and waterways. I’d like to see ‘ALL’ of the information and evidence which they’re not providing.”  The brumbies have been a part of the landscape for over 100 years and now play a role in the environment. There are areas across the world where wild horses have been reintroduced to reserves to rejuvenate and rebalance the biodiversity – such as Scotland, Italy, Spain.

 

WHJ: So where are they getting this information to begin with. It seems all over the place and not accurate?

 

JB: Scientists are part of the problem.  If the issue is numbers in the parks, then let’s get the numbers right and not guestimates which range from four to fifteen-thousand.  If you don’t have the true numbers then how you manage them?  The problem is also due to the influence of certain people in government and environmental groups in Metropolitan Sydney who have no real connection to what is going on and are making decisions on what is happening in a rural community.  As custodian of the region I am aligned with the majority of the people here in Monaro and we want a genuine debate on the issue.   I believe the minister Rob Stokes is open minded and wants that too. I’m also comfortable speaking for my constituency who have lived on this land for generations and have a heritage here with the brumbies and are overwhelmingly against the culls. It would be worthwhile to use tax dollars to find a better way to deal with this than take the easy way out and call for aerial culling instead of alternatives like fertility control. Why in Australia do we always try to reinvent the wheel instead of learning from others?

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Monaro MP, John Barilaro, (centre) out in the field in NSW high country speaking with his constituents who for generations have lived on the land alongside the brumbies and want them to remain. Photo: courtesy of office of John Barilaro

WHJ: What about the RSPCA calling the aerial culls kind?

 

JB: I have respect for a lot of what the RSPCA does but I don’t care if it’s one or 100 horses, there is no way that the RSPCA can claim that shooting horses from a helicopter is quick and painless- they can’t give that kind of guarantee and no one could possibly say it is humane.  I’ve seen the footage of these culls with horses left on the ground dying.   We’re going backwards by decades with this approach and if it means we allocate additional resources to trapping and rehoming to other places then let’s get all the alternatives on the table.

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One of thousands of brumbies, including pregnant mares and foals, who are shot multiple times and wounded and left for dead in government sanctioned culls across Australia. Photo: Libby Lovegrove

WHJ: Are you familiar with wildlife ecologist Craig Downer’s work ? He has just published an article in the American Journal of Life Sciences on the reintroduction of the horse and burro and their positive contributions to ecosystems through Reserve Design which is a natural containment area that results in self-regulation for controlling populations.

 

JB: No I haven’t but Craig is the alternative voice on behalf of the scientific community that we need to hear from on better dealing with the issue of the brumbies. If the government was truly listening to those like him then they’d be overwhelmingly against the culls. I’m hoping the new minister will be open to hearing from and meeting with Craig too.

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Renowned wildlife ecologist and wild horse advocate Craig Downer’s recently updated book, The Wild Horse Conspiracy.

WHJ:  These management ‘plans’ for the brumbies however are not laws.  To what degree can the brumbies really be protected- that make it a crime to harass or kill them- without laws in place that can’t be changed at the whim of elected officials as is currently the case?

 

JB: Brumbies have earned their place as part of the iconic bush heritage in my region, they are a quintessential Australian symbol and they must be protected. I will continue to passionately fight any move towards culling of these national icons. Ultimately, I believe that we should legislate against aerial culling.

 

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Written by maeleesun


Comments (7 comments)

  • Jeanette Woolerton
    July 14, 2014 at 10:12 PM

    From a purely ecological perspective, Sphagnum moss is consistently cited as being under threat by brumbies.
    Photogrpahs of dried creek beds and receding sphagnum are toted about as proof that the brumbies need to be ‘eradicated’…
    Yet, when researching this atra thoroughly, government environmental papers cite ‘global warming’ as the main contributor to decreasing sphagnum.
    Brumbies are not even mentioned.
    This is one of many examples where brumbies are being scapegoated with little or no refutable evidence to back the propoganda.

    Extract from
    http://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/b08acec6-6a27-4e71-8636-498719b253b4/files/alpine-sphagnum-bogs.pdf

    ”The Alpine Sphagnum Bogs and Associated Fens ecological community is home to a rich profusion of flora. It also provides significant habitat for several threatened fauna species, including the Southern Corroboree Frog. The Alpine Sphagnum Bogs and Associated Fens ecological community is a critical refuge for a number of endemic flora and fauna species, many of which are at risk of extinction as threats like global warming continue to marginalise their niche habitats. As warmer temperatures and other changing climatic conditions increase the pressure on water availability, the importance of this ecological community’s functional role in regulating water release and flow downstream
    also increases’

    I applaud John Barilaro. At last, a benevolent, educated politician who backs the brumbies AND the people!

    I support Craig Downer’s methods wholeheartedly and would like to see them implemented as soon as possible.

    I hope the Australian government rethink their heinous, outdated strategies urgently, in order to save international embarrasment (at least) and the precious lives of our most treasured, historically significant national icons.

  • Jeanette Woolerton
    July 14, 2014 at 9:28 PM

    At last!
    A compassionate, intelligent political perspective!
    John Barilaro is a beacon of hope in an otherwise bleak and beligirent political landscape.

    I, personally, have tried my best, with committed diplomacy, to respect and honour the environmentalist’s perspective of damage caused to Australian soils by large, hoofed animals.

    I have respected the fact, for indeed, in its’ indigenous, pre-settled state, this country did not house hoofed animals as such, so damage (via compaction) to the soil is, to a degree, inevitable.

    However, exhaustive research proves what we already know: that the damage by horses still appears to be marginal in comparison to that of cattle, motor vehicles, ski resorts (including chair lifts and the like) and other such infrastructures.

    In fact, all manner of human, economically/entertainment driven activities are extremely detrimental to our environment.
    What concerns me most is how little attention is paid to this blatant destruction.

    Even a spectacular landslide (which cost many lives on Mt Thredbo in 1997) took years (and countless taxpayer’s dollars) to ascertain who was responsible.

    In the end, all that activity did was prove the obvious: that the Government had failed it’s duty of care to the residents of the area.
    SEVEN YEARS LATER, the cause of the devastating landslide was established – a leaky mains pipe and a road built on a vulnerable slope of debris.
    A Supreme Court judgement handed down pointed the finger at government inaction at a looming disaster, allowing civil cases to commence action.

    All this destruction would have been unknown to the hapless brumby, peacefully grazing in the plains.
    I have also heard, time and time again, that the brumby is the major cause of sphagnum moss depletion and the reason for constricting/disappearing waterways in the Alpine regions.
    However, upon researching government literature, all I can find is another ‘statement of the obvious’ ….
    Global warming is primarily responsible for these losses, in fact, brumbies are not even mentioned.

    Extract from:
    http://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/b08acec6-6a27-4e71-8636-498719b253b4/files/alpine-sphagnum-bogs.pdf:

    ‘The Alpine Sphagnum Bogs and Associated Fens ecological community is home to a rich profusion of flora. It also provides significant habitat for several threatened fauna species, including the Southern Corroboree Frog. The Alpine Sphagnum Bogs and Associated Fens ecological community is a critical refuge for a number of endemic flora and fauna species, many of which are at risk of extinction as threats like global warming continue to marginalise their niche habitats. As warmer temperatures and other changing climatic conditions increase the pressure on water availability, the importance of this ecological community’s functional role in regulating water release and flow downstream
    also increases.’

    The callous vendetta against our trusted, loyal and steadfast iconic brumby begs questioning, as do (of course) the cruel and ineffective ways in which we supposedly ‘manage’ it.

    There is also literature to support the fact that cattle are being reintroduced to the high country, in areas that brumbies are being removed.
    The hypocrisy and untruths are blatantly transparent …
    There seems no valid reason to cull at all, let alone aerially (in an internationally non acceptable way).

    There are no factoral numbers, no evidence to suggest that the propoganda we are routinely being fed is based on anything but one-sided, biased heresay.

    There is nothing to suggest that the culling method is anything but barbaric, yet the very institution that is put in place to protect our animal bretheren (the RSPCA) are the same that condemn them to a horrific, unjustifiably cruel death.

    It is beyond comprehension and at this stage of the day, I am undeniably ashamed to be Australian.

    We need to implement Craig Downer’s strategies and implement them now.
    I for one, shall never give up on that premise.

  • Clive Edwards
    July 12, 2014 at 8:37 PM

    Well done John Barilaro and WHJ. We need more interviews like this and more MP’s to speak up. We MUST recognise and protect our national icon the Snowy Brumby.

  • Carrie
    July 11, 2014 at 11:56 PM

    Great interview! It’s so important to praise people when they take the right stance. I wish this fellow the best of luck in his effort to raise awareness about brumbies.

  • Mark Carroll
    July 11, 2014 at 8:00 PM

    It is great to hear from an elected official who has left his mind open to the whole brumby debate.Balanced studies are few and far between,tending to bias towards our brumbies.The brumby population is continually quoted as increasing in size as though we are plagued by them. This is misleading the public to believe we are over run with brumbies.Legislation to protect the high country brumbies is a must.They have integrated with the environment and must be left to play there part in the ecology of the mountain environment.

  • Leisa Caldwell
    July 11, 2014 at 7:20 PM

    Bravo! We are very lucky to have such a level headed and sincere politician with genuine interest in his constituants here in the mountains. We look forward to more parliamentary members showing the same integrity in the community.

  • July 11, 2014 at 8:07 AM

    Excellent article that pleas for wisdom and understanding as well as compassion for the the brumbies and the life community that includes them!

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