Park rangers culling brumbies are being harassed and threatened as union leaders call on politicians to take the heat out of the debate over controlling the feral animals.
The NSW government in October announced the state would return to aerial shooting of brumbies in Kosciuszko National Park to control burgeoning numbers.
Feral horse counts in the park have exploded since former NSW Nationals leader and deputy premier John Barilaro opposed culls in favour of trapping and rehoming in 2018.
The state has a legislated target to cut the brumby population to 3000 by mid-2027, but officials have estimated there are up to 22,500 horses in the park.
Since aerial culling restarted, National Parks and Wildlife Service rangers have faced increasing hostility from members of the public opposed to the plan, a union told a parliamentary committee examining the government’s decision.
The Public Service Association of NSW, whose members include park rangers, is concerned about increasing harassment and threats towards workers carrying out the culls.
Assistant general secretary Troy Wright told the committee on Monday the “heat and emotion” needed to come out of the debate.
“(Culling) is in essence … an ecological (decision) driven by the fragile best interests of the park and the natural environment,” he said.
“Our members as public-sector workers may hold views in favour of the current approach based on their experience, however they do not hold sway over which decision is implemented and they should not be made into public pariahs for doing so.”
Environmentalists argue the feral horses are impacting native animal habitat and important waterways as well as changing the landscape significantly.
Wright said feral animal control was undertaken with pigs, camels, cats, goats and foxes to protect native ecosystems, yet only the horses attracted such high levels of attention from members of the public.
“The hypocrisy is that there is concern about the brumbies but not concern about the species that they threaten … and our members are surprised by the weighting that appears to be given to different species,” he said.
“It’s either Kosciuszko National Park or brumbies, we cannot have both.”
But horse advocates say the heritage value of brumbies in Australian culture is being ignored.
They also reject horse number estimates, arguing the environmental toll on the park is being caused by other feral animals and humans.
Leisa Caldwell, a former member of the Kosciuszko National Park wild horse community advisory panel, told the committee the numbers were “biologically impossible”.
“Brumbies have been in the mountains for nearly 200 years … they have absolutely undeniable important heritage value to the Australian people and overwhelmingly meet significant heritage criteria,” she said.
Caldwell added projects like Snowy Hydro and townships built to accommodate its workers also had an environmental impact while the horses were being used as scapegoats.