for National Geographic News
The Man From Snowy Riverthe poem penned by Australia's celebrated bard, A.B. "Banjo" Patersonimmortalized the efforts of early white settlers and their steeds to tame the southeastern mountains known as the Australian Alps.
The horses enjoy exalted status in the nation's history. But herds large and small are running roughshod over the alps' fragile alpine environment, say authorities who are trying to remove the beloved steeds from national parks.
Seeds of the struggle were sown decades ago. Areas of the alps still show signs of environmental damage wrought by decades of cattle grazing, even though grazing stopped more than 60 years ago.
Much of the land in question is now part of the country's national park system. Today's custodians of the alpsthe New South Wales, Victoria, and Australian Capitol Territory governmentsare working to reverse and prevent the environmental damage caused by wild horses.
To that end, two fences have been erected in Namadgi National Park outside Canberra, Australia's capital.
The fences are part of the Australian Capitol Territory (ACT) government's attempt to protect bogs that filter the headwaters of the Cotter River. The river is the main source of water for Canberra and surrounding towns, as well as for 11 nationally significant wetlands.
Bushfires two years ago elevated the urgency of the task for park managers: The flames ravaged sensitive alpine areas and all but wiped out the endangered Corroboree frog that once lived in the bogs.
Authorities eradicated a population of several hundred wild horses from Namadgi National Park in 1987. But casual sightings in recent years indicate that a herd of seven horses was living in the park last year. This, at a time when the most critically damaged areas of the park were beginning to recover from the fires.
Brett McNamara, the manager of Namadgi, bemoans the traveling horses' lack of respect for state borders and their impact on the upper reaches of the watershed catchments.
"The bog is critical for Corroboree frog habitat," McNamara said. "There is already a [frog] breeding program at [nearby] Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve. There's little point raising tadpoles if there's no habitat for them."
As well as providing habitat for endangered species, the bogs also act as natural filters and store water during drought. The spongelike bogs can store up to ten times their weight in water and release it to areas as needed.
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