Feral horse impact monitoring – Consultants project brief

Australian Alps National Parks, Natural Heritage Working Group and Parks Victoria | January 1999

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Introduction

Environmental Management System

Parks Victoria is committed to conserving, protecting and enhancing the environmental values of Victoria’s outstanding park and waterway system. As professional managers, we are building ongoing relationships with a range of people with specialist skills such as biologists, soil scientists and researchers who can provide us with information to help guide park management.

Parks Victoria has developed an Environmental Management System (EMS) which will:

  • support management decision making on priorities and resource allocation for ecological management;
  • establish standardised reporting on ecological management performance; and
  • develop targeted research, monitoring and reporting on the trend in ecological condition of Victoria’s parks system.

The EMS will be applied at a state-wide and park/venue level. This system is based on a risk management framework which focuses on the protection and enhancement of environmental values. The three stage process firstly requires a clear understanding of the environmental values of a park or park area, followed by the quantification of the effects of threatening processes in terms of potential loss of environmental values. Finally, the costs and benefits of the management actions must be assessed in terms of reduction of risk to these environmental values. A thorough understanding of the nature of the environmental values in parks is, therefore, central to the success of the system. During this project, environmental values information on threatened species, vegetation diversity and legislative responsibilities will be collected and analysed in accordance with Parks Victoria’s Environmental Management System. It will highlight the existing assets and environmental obligations and enable future analysis of the biodiversity and condition of vegetation on a ‘within park’ and state-wide basis.

EMS and the Feral Horse project

The Parks Victoria Environmental Management System involves two important stages;

  • Assessing environmental values such as the diversity and condition of vegetation and then;
  • Assessing environmental risks.

Environmental values information on the condition of vegetation in the Alpine National Park is currently being initiated by Parks Victoria as part of the development of environmental performance indicators for Alpine Grazing. This project will focus on the second issue of environmental risk assessment.

An environmental risk assessment can be divided into three major questions “What is the extent of the risk?”, “How is the risk changing?” and “What impact is the risk having on the environmental values?”. Park and other natural area managers need to understand the values of a site and all of the dimensions of risk, in order to develop and prioritise management strategies.

Due to the level of funding available for this project, a comprehensive values and risk assessment of Feral Horses within the Cobberas area of the Alpine National Park is not possible at this stage. The scope of this project will be limited to the third dimension of risk, that is; “What impact is the risk having on the environmental values?”

Australian Alps National Parks

One of the major outcomes of the Australian Alps National Parks, “Feral Horses in the Alps” workshop in 1992 was that if any feral horse control programs were to be implemented then a structured and coordinated monitoring program quantifying the environmental impacts of Feral Horses in the Alps should begin immediately. The Feral Horses in the Alps workshop also recognised that;

  • Feral Horse management is a component of ecosystem management and the priority for management must be put in context with other potential environmental modifiers such as rabbits, feral pigs, feral goats, feral cattle and deer.
  • Data collection was not seen as a research activity but part of a structured monitoring program. The use of contracted experts is the preferred method for initial data collection.
  • Due to the level of public interest, it is unlikely that a single state or single agency will be able to effect long-term management in isolation.

Gaining a better appreciation or understanding of the impacts of feral horses on alpine vegetation is considered a high priority for Parks Victoria. This project will enable the Australian Alps park management agencies to understand more about the nature of the impacts on specific vegetation communities and, most importantly, will develop the foundations for long term monitoring at specific sites so that environmental changes are captured and recorded for the benefit of future management of Alpine Parks.