Running out of time to save the Alpine National Park

Friday 26 March, 2021

The high-altitude peaks and plains of the Australian Alps are rare, representing just 0.3 per cent of the area of this flat, dry and hot continent.

Alpine animals, plants and ecosystems have evolved and adapted over millions of years to survive in the high plains of the Alpine National Park.

Many don’t exist anywhere else in the world.

The risk of species extinctions is very real in the context of a warming and drying climate, increased fire frequency, weed invasion, predation and habitat destruction caused by introduced species.

 

Landscape affected by 2020-21 bushfires, Alpine National Park. Taken March 2021.

The fire impacted hills of Dinner Plain, just over one year after the Black Summer bushfires.

 

The Victorian Black Summer bushfires of 2019-20 have wiped out large areas of habitat in the Alpine National Park and the areas less-affected by fire now provide the critical intact habitats for threatened native alpine wildlife species such as the alpine she-oak skink, alpine tree frog and alpine spiny crayfish.

Rare and endangered plants on high treeless plains have never been so vulnerable.

On top of these pressures, horses, deer and other feral animals are causing more damage than ever before to these species and natural places. 

Each day that passes increases the risk that remaining native vegetation will be lost, with alpine waterways and wetlands becoming muddied trampled pits, destroying the water filtering mechanism and slow-release roles that peatlands play.

Native wildlife species are at extremely high risk of local extinction.

The removal of feral animals and weeds, and management of these unburnt refuges, will make this landscape more resilient to other climate-related threats and save the lives of countless native plants and animals.

The window to remove horses, deer and other feral animals is closing.


“The high numbers of feral horses in the Alpine area continue to cause damage to the unique Australian alps.

Increased knowledge and experience are allowing us to build the best approach to managing feral horse populations and reduce the threats they bring to our special high country native wildlife and habitats.
- a Parks Victoria spokesperson 

 

Parks Victoria is already taking critical action to remove weeds and other pest animals from protected areas and regularly undertakes programs to manage deer, pigs and other non-native species using a range of control techniques.

Feral horse management is a critical need in an integrated approach to reducing the total impacts caused by introduced animals in the Alpine National Park.

A number of legal challenges, limited interest in rehoming horses and worsening environmental conditions (increasing horse numbers and the Black Summer bushfires) have limited the planned outcomes of the 2018-21 Feral Horse Strategic Action Plan, due to finish in June 2021.

Alpine Tree Frog, Litoria verreauxii alpina, David Paul, Museums Victoria

The critically endangered Alpine Tree Frog (Litoria verreauxii alpina) is one of the native species that will benefit from feral horse control.
It relies on alpine sphagnum peatlands and ponds for feeding and reproduction. Trampling of these areas by heavy, sharp horse hooves creates a muddy morass unsuitable for feeding, and destruction of submerged vegetation containing frog eggs makes it impossible for them to reproduce.
Credit: David Paul, Museums Victoria.



On Friday 26 March 2021, Parks Victoria released a draft action plan outlining feral horse management intentions over the next ten years, aimed to increase the removal of feral horses from the Alpine National Park and improve the survival outlook for native alpine wildlife, plants and habitats.

The draft action plan outlines the preferred methods of managing feral horses, including trapping and rehoming, tightly managed shooting and construction of exclusion fences, with goals to improve environmental condition and improve threatened species survival.

 

"We have revised our management practices, bringing in additional methods to help reduce feral horse numbers while aiming to maximize the numbers captured and rehomed.

We are releasing the draft plan to provide people with the opportunity to review our updated approach and give us honest and constructive feedback.”
- a Parks Victoria spokesperson

 

The draft Feral Horse Action Plan 2021 is available for public feedback on the Engage Victoria website until Friday 23 April, https://engage.vic.gov.au/alpine-feral-horse-action-plan.


Exclusion plot at Cowombat Flat, Alpine National Park, showing protected vegetation inside the fence and feral horse damage outside. Cowombat Flat, Alpine National Park, March 2021.

 

These fenced enclosures show native plant communities inside the fenced area, with horse damage outside. 
Deer and other pest animals can easily get inside the enclosures - the fences only keep horses out.

 

 Exclusion plots at Cowombat Flat, Alpine National Park, showing protected vegetation inside the fence and feral horse damage outside.

Native Cat Flat, Alpine National Park, March 2021.

Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act-listed Psychrophila introloba, Herbland Community, Bogong High Plains, Alpine National Park. Vegetation in this wet community can be easily dislodged by feral horse activity.

This is a native herbfield plant community containing the rare Alpine Marsh-marigold (Psychrophila introloba) in the Bogong High Plains.
Plants in this wet community are easily dislodged and damaged by feral horses.

 

Suspended mud and poor water quality due to feral horse damage, Cowombat Flat, Alpine National Park.

Muddy depressions like this are created where moss and other vegetation cover is crushed by horses.
The hydrology of these areas is changed from a slow, soaking seepage, to a quick flow of water that erodes the soils.
Mossbeds are drained becoming dry, more fire-prone, and no longer suitable habitat for native alpine wildlife.

 

Alpine Spiny Crayfish, Euastacus crassus, David Paul, Museums Victoria

The threatened Alpine Spiny Crayfish (Euastacus crassus) lives in alpine streams.
It cannot survive in muddy and channelised streams that are trampled and polluted with horse manure.

 

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