Eighteen months ago Allporus posted a piece on the brumby, what Australians call wild horses, specifically the controversy over the NSW Government passing the Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Bill 2018 that gives protected status to feral horses in the national park. This is a law protects a known driver of biodiversity loss.
It was one of the more bizarre decisions that politics is capable of throwing up and is another example of the worrying trend to ignore science whenever it suits.
A few months after that post came out an aerial wildlife survey of the alpine national parks and surrounding state forests in NSW and Victoria was conducted, a follow up to a similar survey of the same area five years earlier.
In that time between surveys, the feral horse population has more than doubled from 9,187 in 2014 to 25,318 in 2019.
This is a growth rate of 24% per year.
It’s a great ‘I told you so’ story.
These animals are introduced. They are not native, repeat, not native.
They are big, bulky and hard-hoofed grazing animals, features that no other herbivore in these habitats has. The last big herbivores were browsers, the Diprotodons that likely died out 12,000 years ago.
Horses will alter vegetation. It will mean some sensitive plant species will be lost along with the invertebrates that go with them. Other plants will come in on the back of the disturbance and some of them will be invasive themselves.
More importantly than this, the ecological integrity of the alpine systems will be altered by horses.
And we now know who promoted it.
Since this little whinge was written the politicians of all hues have been standing next to scientists, patting them on the back and seeking out their learned advice; as they should.
The politicians who are not listening to their health professionals will have a big problem getting re-elected after COVID-19 has passed through the world on its first journey. The epidemiologists know what they are talking about, they know what it takes to slow a pandemic and the logistics folk know what the limits are to the capacity and capability of the health systems.
The problems of a pandemic are acute and affect everyone. The public expects that all sensible advice should be consulted and heeded.
The thing is that the conservation scientists, the biodiversity specialists and the wildlife biologists, well, they know their shit too. Just because their knowledge might save non-human lives, even whole species, of native plants and animals, it is no less valid as science.
So here is the truth.
Remember that all political decisions are value-based. They are not based on science unless the science aligns with the dominant value.
We are grateful that it does when human lives and livelihoods are at stake.
When the human stakes are lower we would do well to be grateful for science then too.