Whataboutism, or whataboutery, is a term I encountered soon after joining the Reclaim Kosci campaign.
“What about the 4WDs?”
“What about Snowy 2.0?”
“What about the pigs and deer?”
“What about the ski resorts?”
“What about the frog-killing fungus?”
“What about the humans?”
You get the idea.
Whataboutism is a tactic in which a person responds to an argument by changing the subject or deflecting attention elsewhere. It ‘attempts to discredit an opponent’s position by charging them with hypocrisy without directly refuting or disproving their argument’1. Ring a bell?
Conservationists believe that a multitude of factors shape, change and influence our natural environment and will affect our native flora and fauna into the future.
Similarly, conservationists accept that our landscapes are threatened by a deluge of introduced species that are capable of out-competing and over-crowding our native plants and animals, diminishing Australia’s biodiversity.
Science (read here) says that horses are one of those introduced species.
Whataboutism chooses to deny this fact by diversion. It says “let’s ignore the horse problem, because there’s another more important problem over there.”
However, at Reclaim Kosci, we rely on science. We think it’s important to acknowledge the damage introduced horses cause and to address this problem.
More and more endemic Australian species are facing the risk of becoming endangered or extinct from mounting threats.
In Kosciuszko National Park alone, 11 threatened animal and 23 threatened plant species face some sort of pressure from introduced horse impacts – whether it be through selective grazing, trampling, soil compaction or water course disturbance, which lead to habitat degradation and loss.
In Australia, horses are introduced animals that belong in a paddock, safe in the hands of caring human owners, not in a conservation area.
But why does Reclaim Kosci target just the horses?
NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) are able to undertake routine control programs for weeds and pest animals within Kosciuszko National Park.
That is, for all species except horses.
Kosciuszko horse management is currently restricted by a management plan formulated in 2008.
This plan is not working to reduce horse numbers. Under this plan, horse numbers have continued to grow and the environment has been further degraded. NPWS undertook three years of public consultation and spent $930K to develop a new horse management plan in 2016. But political manoeuvring prevented the implementation of this plan. And attempts at any form of management continue to be challenged.
Just this year, when NPWS announced an emergency program to trap, remove and rehome horses to protect particularly sensitive landscapes after the bushfires, one group tried to block the removal program through a court challenge.
Meanwhile, increased control efforts to reduce the enhanced impacts of pigs, deer, goats, cats and foxes after the fires were already under way2,3.
Invasive species can be amazingly adaptable and challenging to manage as it is, and that includes horses.
Reclaim Kosci is a diverse group of people and organisations specifically interested in addressing the growing impacts from introduced horses, for their own various reasons.
We want to ensure the horse threat is actively managed alongside all other introduced species, without any extra barriers.
So, dare I ask, “what about the horses?”
Written by Candice Bartlett
Invasive Species Council conservation officer & Reclaim Kosci contributor.
Words are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the entire Reclaim Kosci community.
P.S Where to go to take action on other threats to Kosciuszko
I’ve been responding to a few queries via email and the FB page that ask what is being done about other threats to the park. If the environment is your thing, I thought I’d drop a few links below to some other groups you might like to keep up with.
Snowy 2.0: NPA NSW, a founding organisation of Reclaim Kosci, are leading a mega campaign opposed to the Snowy 2.0 hydro-power expansion scheme. The project has been approved and is proceeding. You can check out their campaign here.
4WD: A movement has started called Respect The Bush. A group of 4WD enthusiasts calling on fellow 4WDers to clean up the bush. It’s getting quite a bit of traction!
Deer: Groups like the Invasive Species Council have been lobbying for better deer management in NSW and beyond for over a decade. In 2019 these efforts led to the removal of the game status and restrictions on the control of deer on private land. In 2019 the NSW government allocated $9 million deer for a deer control research program based on Kosciuszko and surrounds, which you can read about here.
Climate change: Climate Action Monaro are doing their bit to empower the Monaro community and decision makers to take action on climate change.
Population growth: If our impact on the planet makes you feel uncertain about bringing small humans into the world, you’re not alone – visit Conceivable Future or Sustainable Population Australia.
Weeds: There’s a lot of programs out there that allow you to take action into your own hands. You can volunteer to join the NPWS team in the hunt for orange hawkweed this summer and help eradicate this invasive weed from the Jagungal wilderness in Kosciuszko National Park.
Invasive species (in general): Reclaim Kosci is hosted by the Invasive Species Council which tirelessly chips away at invasive species issues across Australia.