by Billie Dean
I am an award-winning filmmaker making films about wild horses for international film festivals. I’m a former journalist, and I write about animals and the non-human perspective. I run an animal sanctuary with my husband, where we have 80 rescued brumbies in a free-living state, who we have been living with and observing for 17 years. My submission comes with research, lived experience, and observation.
The pic above is two of our rescued brumbies hanging out by our driveway. showing the deep bonds these animals share.
Since brumbies have been here on our land, our frog population has thrived, especially in the last two years of wet weather, which they need. Our brumbies also live in peace and harmony with kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, possums, bush rats, all manner of wild birds, and other beings.
It is concerning to me that people are thinking otherwise. It’s just not true.
Living with brumbies, I have observed incredible displays of grief, compassion, deep love, concern, joy, discipline, intelligence, helpfulness and generosity among our herds. For example, a former Kiandra stallion shared his hay with a hungry wombat at the height of the last terrible drought, showing both intelligence and compassion.
We have noticed that compared to other grazing animals, like sheep and cows, the brumby footprint on the land is relatively light. This is because of their concave hooves, which I will discuss later.
I hold a vision of the future where all life is respected, safe, protected, and at peace. It’s a vision where humans act as holistic and benevolent stewards of the planet, thinking of future generations. This vision of a kinder, more compassionate, safer world requires social change and peace education — teaching that violence begets violence and encouraging a more empathetic and loving perspective to all species.
I consider culling to be an act of extreme violence to sentient beings, which wild horses certainly are. For me, culling is inhumane and off the table. It is simply unacceptable. If it were done to humans, it would be considered an act of war or genocide.
So thank you for the opportunity to participate in what I hope will be a more compassionate way forward for the management of all beings.
“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
“We must fight against the spirit of unconscious cruelty with which we treat the animals. Animals suffer as much as we do. True humanity does not allow us to impose such sufferings on them. It is our duty to make the whole world recognize it. — Albert Schweitzer
The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
— Mahatma Gandhi.
During my research for both my documentary on brumbies and for this submission, I have found little evidence of harmful impact by Australian wild horses on the KNP native flora and fauna, waterways and soils.
Instead, I have found tons of evidence to support the role of a wild equine doing the work of a large herbivore in the environment, and thus acting as a keystone species that we are blessed to have to support the fragile KNP ecosystem and improve biodiversity.
Number of Wild Equines and Their Control
As proven by locals, concerned citizens, ecologists and NSW MPs, like Emma Hurst of the Animal Justice Party, there are not 18,000 wild horses in the area of the KNP, as has
been claimed. These people either took a helicopter or drove around the Park and found only about 1,000 living horses in 2022. Or they live in the area and photograph wild horses regularly. There’s just not the thousands of horses claimed.
Horses only have one foal a year. And given that not all mares become pregnant each year, and many of that 1,000 would be male, plus given that trapping is still continuing, I am of the firm conviction that there is absolutely no further need to control the population of wild horses.
Trapping should be stopped immediately.
In fact, the KNP would be better supported if there were more wild equines protecting it and improving the biodiversity.
As such, I strongly encourage the government to develop a more accurate methodology for counting and assessing the brumby population in the Australian Alps.
Having been in the KNP for two centuries, the Australian Wild Horse has not just adapted to the environment through a process of slow evolution, but has replaced the previous megafauna animals, who were killed off by hunting. Today, the wild horse fills a vital role as a large herbivore and keystone species, creating habitat and finding food sources for native species.
Removing he wild equine after two centuries of slow evolution will mean a significant loss to the ecosystem, and I am concerned for the welfare of other natives.
Wild horses are incredibly adaptive. They are a unique species, which has survived through their adaptive nature for over 30 million years. If they destroyed the environment which they need to survive, they would not still be here today.
It is crucial to note that wild equines are different to domestic horses, and their impact cannot be judged in the same way as domestic horses who depend on human carers for survival. Wild equines are wildlife.
As previously stated, shooting from the ground or the air is a violent bloodbath and act of war against a sentient species. In 2000, the aerial culling of the Guy Fawkes brumbies was revealed to a disbelieving and absolutely horrified public. The then Labor Government under Bob Carr vowed never to let aerial culling happen again.
Culling in any way, shape or form is absolutely unacceptable.
In the far future, if numbers ever built up to the point where there was a danger to themselves or others, then the gentle trapping of bachelor and bachelorette mobs for suitable rehoming could be considered, leaving family mobs in tact.
This is because the wild equine forms deep family bonds and never forget who they love. Removing family members causes distress and grief, as it would to ourselves.
Teenaged equines are often forced to leave their herds to look for mobs of their own, to preserve and spread the genetic bloodline. I’ve even seen the rare event of a teenaged filly leave her own mob in exchange for the family of a dashing colt. I watched as she asked the stallion’s permission to join his family and was eventually accepted by an older mare, mother of the colt she desired. I watched as she made herself useful, babysitting younger ones in the herd, and protecting another mare while she gave birth. The life of herd is about community and clan. Something most humans never get to witness or understand in their rush to label , target or use them for personal gain.
I also felt the sadness and dismay of her own family as she stubbornly made her decision to leave home., and walked away. Her behaviour was uncannily like human teenagers when their mind is made up.
This is an unusual event as most equines prefer to stay in the family mob.
I have watched wild horses grieve and be taken under the wing of a guardian horse when a mother or friend dies. I’ve witnessed their deep love for each other. So many stories of sentience, intelligence and big hearted love..
Teenagers are much more likely to be well suited to the adventure of rehoming, especially if they are with friends, as all equines need their own kind for protection and kinship.
It is not acceptable for wild equines to be sent to slaughter.
It is not acceptable for wild equines to go to anyone but the most reputable rehoming/ sanctuary with their best interests at heart.
Brumbies are a gentle and sensitive species who can become loving, loyal and compassionate companions in the right hands.
I am urging Australians to be kind and compassionate to a species that has been persecuted unfairly for far too long. The positive benefits of keeping wild equines wild and free are remarkable and far outweigh any attempts to remove them from the area they have looked after for two centuries.
Biodiversity and Impact
Wild Equines Do Not Have the Hard Damaging Hooves of Cattle and Sheep
There is a common misconception that wild equines have hard hooves and damage the environment. But wild horses are both nomadic and their hooves are concave, elastic, and thus easier on the environment than the cloven-hoofed cattle and sheep, and even domestic horses who are forced to live in paddocks.
Their nomadic and highly adaptive nature means they respond to the environment around them. Because they need the environment to survive, they make sure their impact is minimal. This is how this species has survived for over 30 million years.
Being nomadic, and not confined by fences, means that wild equines are not trampling one area, Moving lightly across terrain, their impact is minimal and this is how they are designed to live.
The concave shape of the hoof helps wild equines to maintain traction on uneven terrain, such as rocky or muddy surfaces. The concavity of the hoof allows the animal to distribute weight evenly across the surface of the hoof, increasing stability and reducing the risk of slipping or falling.
When discussing the impact of wild equines on the land, one must take into consideration this concave shape, and their nomadic nature. and how they don’t dig into the land, causing impact, like those animals with cloven hooves such as cows and sheep.
In their natural nomadic state they are also less likely to cause soil compaction.
Impact on Other Species
Wild equines cco-exist happily with other species. They are blamed for the destruction of species when it is more likely they help them to survive. By digging through the ice, making tracks, and dispersing seeds through their manure, they actually increase biodiversity and help other species find food.
Wild horses do not create a loss of habitat for other native species. Human activities, from tourism to camping to large-scale projects like the Snowy Hydro 2, have a much greater impact than the horses will ever have.
There is little scientific evidence to suggest that wild horses have a significant impact on the pygmy possum, platypus, corroboree frog, and broad-toothed rat. Rather, human activities such as habitat destruction, ski resort development, pollution, and disease are much greater threats to these species. It is important to address these human impacts to ensure the survival of these species and the preservation of Australia’s unique biodiversity.
We should continue monitoring the native species and their habitats, but this should be done in a scientifically rigorous manner to ensure that management practices are based on sound evidence.
By focussing on the wild horse as the sole culprit, the true cause of fauna decline is not being addressed.
More on the Corroboree Frog: No Evidence of Impact by Wild Equines, Plus Suggestions for Care
The southern corroboree frog (Pseudophryne corroboree) is a critically endangered species found in the alpine region of southeastern Australia, including the Kosciuszko National Park (KNP). In recent years, the frog population has been decimated by the chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis).
The chytrid fungus was first discovered in Australia in the late 1980s and has since spread rapidly, causing declines in frog populations across the country. The fungus attacks the skin of the frogs, disrupting their electrolyte balance and causing them to die of cardiac arrest. The corroboree frog was particularly susceptible to the fungus due to its specialized habitat and behaviour. The fungus was first detected in the KNP in the early 2000s, and since then, the corroboree frog population has declined by more than 90%
The chytrid fungus s a global problem affecting frog populations and has nothing to do with horses.
Correlation with Tourist Activity
Tourism is an important industry in the KNP, with millions of visitors flocking to the park each year to enjoy its natural beauty. However, there is evidence that tourist activity may be contributing to the spread of the chytrid fungus and the decline of the corroboree frog. It has been suggested that tourists may be inadvertently spreading the fungus through their footwear or camping equipment. In addition, the construction of roads and other infrastructure to support tourism may be disrupting the natural habitat of the frog, making it more vulnerable to the fungus.
Suggestions to Help the Frog
- Reducing Tourist Activity: One of the most effective ways to protect the corroboree frog from the chytrid fungus is to reduce the level of tourist activity in the KNP. This could be achieved by limiting the number of visitors or restricting access to certain areas. In addition, visitors could be required to disinfect their footwear and camping equipment before entering the park to prevent the spread of the fungus.
- Captive Breeding Programs: Another option to help the corroboree frog is to establish captive breeding programs to increase the population size. The Taronga Zoo in Sydney has been successful in breeding the corroboree frog in captivity, and the offspring have been released into the wild with some success
- Fungal Treatments: Researchers are also exploring the use of fungal treatments to help combat the chytrid fungus. One potential treatment is probiotics, which introduce beneficial bacteria to the skin of the frog to help fight off the fungus.
The chytrid fungus is a significant threat to the corroboree frog population in the KNP, and its spread is likely linked to tourist activity, and not horses. However, there are steps that can be taken to help protect the frog, including reducing tourist activity, establishing captive breeding programs, and exploring fungal treatments. These efforts will require a coordinated and sustained effort from conservationists, researchers, and policymakers to ensure the survival of this critically endangered species.
It should be noted that while tourist activity may be contributing to the spread of the chytrid fungus, there is no evidence to suggest that wild equines, such as horses, are playing a role in the decline of the corroboree frog. In fact, there are studies that suggest that the two species can happily coexist, as evidenced by their co-existence for two centuries.
Therefore, it is important to focus conservation efforts on addressing the root cause of the decline of the corroboree frog, which is the chytrid fungus, rather than blaming unrelated factors such as wild equines.
https://books.google.com.au/books? hl=en&lr=&id=3IOjEAAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA27&dq=link+between+tourism+activity+and +the+chytrid+fungus&ots=pzmsDuJFbB&sig=uamc- if7PcM7l415GkSDvr_uFpo#v=onepage&q=link between tourism activity and the chytrid fungus&f=false
Science, and Observation by Locals, Prove the Wild Equines Do Not Impact the Waterways
The primary cause of damage to the waterways in the KNP is actually human activity. Tourists who visit the park engage in activities such as camping, hiking, and fishing that can have negative impacts on the environment, including the waterways. For example, camping can lead to soil compaction and erosion, while hiking can cause disturbance to sensitive habitats.
It is important to address the root cause of the damage to the waterways, which is human activity, rather than focusing on the presence of wild equines. By implementing sustainable tourism practices and educating visitors about how to minimise their impact on the environment, we can help to protect the waterways of the KNP for future generations.
Dean Marsland, of My Big Back Yard Productions, has been documenting the impact of horses on the water systems of the KNP. Please see these two videos below as examples of his work and the lack of damage caused by horses.
Bank slumping, Bogong High Plains, 20th January 2023: https://youtu.be/P1pocK87zyQ
Where the Waters Really Start: https://youtu.be/OQUX_6LhsCM
Indigenous Cultural Heritage
As I am not a First Nations person, I took the liberty of asking Aunty Ro Mudyin Godwin, First Nations Knowledge Holder, public educator, and writer, who said that the brumby was held by some Aboriginal people as totem.
In her words:
Totem is a natural object plant or animal this is inherited by a Clan, Individual or Family as a Spiritual Emblem. We have caretaking & conservation responsibilities for our Totem. Our Totem is also a connection to Country & Ancestors
When we speak of impacts upon Aboriginal Cultural Heritage, none shows more impact than the White Man and the introduced farming sector. Currently we have 21.5 MILLION head of Sheep in NSW with forecasts Nationally for a growth up to 78.75 MILLION head of Sheep. There is 4.4 MILLION head of Cattle in NSW with National protections to reach 28MILLON head. We have only ESTIMATES of Brumby Populations asserted by the same Government who were torn apart at the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Wellbeing of Kangaroos & other Macropods in New South Wales,2021 re the same methodology used to ESTIMATE Kangaroo “populations”.
The Brumby are causing nowhere near the complete ecosystem annihilation that the Introduced Animal Ag Sector is, remembering that the Government profits from that sector, they don’t profit from the Brumby so we see obviously the vested interest of the Government. It’s noted by myself, a First Nations Knowledge Holder, the utter hypocrisy of those finger-pointing at the Brumby as a “problem” yet are supporting & enabling the Introduced Animal Agriculture Sector.
Furthermore, there is a push by the NSW Government re the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Trust to introduce Livestock Grazing as a “conservation management tool” into NSW National Parks, yet those with an agenda want the Brumby slaughtered.
When we look at horses hooves, they, being curved, don’t impact with a cutting motion as the hooves of Sheep & Cattle do.
Again the hypocrisy & quite frankly colonial bullshit in all this is breathtaking. We have Organisations such as Reclaim Kosci causing Cultural Offence as Country isn’t there’s to “reclaim”. Sovereignty was never ceded, & Country is not OWNED by anyone.
The Brumby aren’t the problem here & haven’t been for 163 years. Sheep & Cattle are an ongoing problem since Invasion. We also know that loss of ground cover that we see as a result of the intensive introduced farming behaviours re the Animal Agriculture Industry is increasing soil temperatures & leading to increasing evaporation which in turn is enabling increased habitat destruction via increasing intensity of Droughts & Bushfires.
None of that can be stated in regards to the Brumby. I note pasture grasses that are also introduced by the Animal Agriculture Sector are now considered to be a threat to the natural environment. Again, the same can’t be said re. the Brumby.
The Australia State of Environment Report states that the BIGGEST threat to habitat is AGRICULTURE. Grazing within the Introduced Animal Agriculture Sector accounts for 86.5% of Agriculture. Again. The same can’t be said re the Brumby.
The present state of land clearance in Australia is the SIXTH highest in the WORLD. Country is cleared by the colonial to accomodate INTRODUCED Animal Agriculture not the Brumby.
Montague-Drake 2004 provides detailed research in regards to the impacts on the biosphere in regards to the impacts of Livestock including denuding of vegetation, mechanical erosion which are still evident 20 yrs after the removal of Stock. Not so re the Brumby. We also know that the gestation period for the Brumby is 11 months, we see unlike introduced Sheep & Cattle the Brumby has evolved to be more suited to Country.
We see that the Brumby has more of a sloping shoulder placement, shorter neck line & shorter back structure, being shorter in height. Indeed we saw that same evolutionary process in regards to the Pit Ponies used again by the Colonial then disregarded.
The colonial is more than happy to exploit these animals, USE them for gain, then disgraced them & THEN wants them gunned down because they are claimed to be a problem. I certainly wouldn’t ever want to be serving in any military capacity with you lot given your behaviour in regards to the Brumby.
In closing, I will again as a First Nations Knowledge Holder call out the hypocrisy of those who have the audacity to finger point at the Brumby as a problem whist standing on Stolen Land & enabling the Animal Agriculture Industry to continue.
To those First Nations People also calling for the killing of the Brumby, I trust you are living Traditional Way on Country, completely self sufficient, & not supporting in any way shape or form any introduced Agriculture,Mining or such because if you are supporting any of that you are in NO place to be finger pointing at the Brumby as being any sort of a problem.
The silence you all who are calling for the killing of the Brumby in regards to the Introduced Animal Agriculture Industry is deafening. Take the cotton wool out if you ears & the white tinted glasses off your faces, look & do something about the real problem & leave the Brumby alone.
The Wild Horse in the Role of Large Herbivore
There has been a longstanding debate over the impact of introduced species on the native flora and fauna of an ecosystem. While some argue that introduced species have a negative impact, others believe that these species can actually have positive ecological effects. The brumby falls into this category, as described by wildlife ecologist Craig Downer in his article, Brumbies can fill a useful role in Australian ecosystems at:
He describes how the wild horse fills the ecological niche of the large herbivore, a role that has been empty since the demise of the Australian megafauna. The large herbivore is a keystone species in the ecology, and the Australian environment has adapted to having the wild horse be part of it over the past 200 years.
Craig Downer says equids possess a caecal, or post-gastric, digestive system. This enables them to take advantage of coarser, drier vegetation and, through symbiotic microbial activity, to break down cellulose cell walls to derive sufficient nutrients from the inner cell without overtaxing their metabolism. In drier regions, this can give equids a distinct advantage.
Consumption by equids of coarser, drier vegetation can greatly benefit sympatric, pre- gastric (ruminant) herbivores, and energise and enrich the ecosystem as a whole. By recycling chiefly the coarse, dry grasses as well as other dry, withered herbs, forbs and bush foliage, the horses and burros expose the seedlings of many diverse species to more sun, water and air, thus permitting them to flourish.
In Downer’s article Spotlight on the overlooked role of horses as carbon sequesters (https://www.horsetalk.co.nz/2021/07/17/horses-carbon-sequesters/), he speaks of how horses, especially “wild, naturally living ones, play a major role in combatting global warming and do this in a variety of ways. One of these concerns their superior ability to sequester, or ‘lock away’, carbon. They remove carbon from the atmosphere, where, in the form of carbon dioxide, methane and other heat-trapping gases, this element accelerates a dangerous, oven-like increase in temperatures on the entire planet Earth.”
In addition, the horse’s digestive system does not thoroughly degrade the vegetation it eats. As a result, it tends to “replant” its own forage with the diverse seeds that pass through its system undegraded. This unique digestive system greatly aids in the building up of the absorptive, nutrient-rich humus component of soils. This, in turn, helps the soil absorb and retain water upon which many diverse plants and animals depend. In this way, the wild horse is also of great value in reducing dry inflammable vegetation in fire- prone areas.
The article Wild Horses and the Ecosystem (https://americanwildhorsecampaign.org/wild- horses-and-ecosystem) talks about horses helping to prevent fire.
The fact that horses wander much farther from water sources than many ruminant grazers adds to their efficacy as fire preventers. This tendency to range widely throughout both steep, hilly terrain and lower, more level areas, while cattle concentrate on lower elevations, also explains why horses have a lesser impact on their environment than livestock: when one looks at a boundary fence where horses range on one side and cattle range on the other, the horses’ side typically reveals about 30% more native grasses. Their nomadic grazing habits cause horses to nibble and then move to the next bunch of grass. This is why horse range is seldom denuded unless the horses’ natural grazing patterns are disrupted by human interference, mostly in the form of fencing.
Ecologist Derek Gow has been vocal about the benefits of wild horses in land regeneration efforts (source: Why the wild horse is essential to the ecosystem. The Guardian. From https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/24/why-the-wild- horse-is-essential-to-the-ecosystem)
“Wild horses are an essential part of our ecosystem, particularly in their ability to regenerate land. They are incredibly effective at managing vegetation and creating biodiversity hotspots. Their grazing habits encourage the growth of a variety of plants, which in turn attract insects, birds and other wildlife. They are also an important cultural and historical symbol, representing a link to our past and a reminder of the natural world that existed before human intervention.”
And again from Craig Downer (The wild horse as an integral part of America’s ecological system. Ecowatch. From https://www.ecowatch.com/the-wild-horse-as-an-integral-part- of-americas-ecological-system-2197411183.html)
“The wild horse is an ecologically integral, socially valuable, and economically sustainable native herbivore that co-evolved with the natural environment over millions of years. As a primary consumer, it fills a unique and essential niche in the ecosystem, influencing plant community structure and providing habitat and food for a variety of wildlife. Wild horses can help to control invasive plant species and reduce fire risk, while also providing recreational and cultural opportunities for humans. Their value as part of our natural heritage cannot be overstated.”
Wild Horse Benefits Beyond the Ecological
Wild equines have also been found to have a positive impact on human health and wellbeing. Studies conducted by the Heart Math Institute in the USA have shown that spending time in the presence of wild horses living wild and free can lead to a reduction in stress and anxiety, as well as an increase in feelings of calmness and relaxation.
The Heart Math Institute has conducted research on heart coherence and its effects on human physiology and emotions.
Heart coherence is a state in which the heart, brain, and nervous system are in sync and working together harmoniously. Studies conducted by the Heart Math Institute have shown that spending time in the presence of horses, particularly free-roaming wild horses, can lead to a state of heart coherence, reducing stress and anxiety and increasing feelings of calmness and relaxation as stated above.
The magnetic field of wild horses is also believed to have a positive effect on the environment. According to research conducted by Dr. Stephen Sinatra, a prominent cardiologist and advocate for integrative medicine, the magnetic field generated by the heart of a horse, particularly a wild horse, is much larger and more coherent than that of a human heart. This magnetic field is believed to have a healing effect on the environment, promoting growth and reducing stress.
I can’t stress the importance of this finding.
The free-roaming wild equine is a remarkable and sentient being, with an incredible ability to connect with humans and have a positive impact on both human health and the environment. By promoting heart coherence and generating a healing magnetic field, wild horses are truly a gift to the natural world and should be celebrated and protected.
See Heart-to-Heart Communication With Horses by Ann Baldwin, Ph.D. and Rollin McCraty, Ph.D. (https://www.heartmath.org/resources/downloads/heart-heart- communication-horses/)
Wild horses are revered the world over and millions of horse lovers around the world are watching the Australian treatment of the descendants of war horses. Wild equines are a species other countries are hailing for their positive ecological contribution to regenerating the land at this time of the sixth mass extinction. Their praises are being sung.
Propaganda, false counts, talks of inhumane aerial culling and the seriously inhumane idea of shooting in traps, is making Australia look base, backwards, brutish and just plain cruel. Australia can’t hide these atrocities in this time of global social media and international film festivals. Unfortunately for Australia, people from other countries can see through the thin veil of propaganda and lies about wild equines and are quite horrified.
It makes one embarrassed to be Australian. It really does.
Tourism As a Significant Problem
The KNP already has three million tourists trampling its delicate environment each year, and the NSW Government has stated they want to increase these numbers. This has been touted for years by former Minister for the Environment, Matt Kean.
The previous NSW Government’s vision for the KNP included an international Aspen style ski resort and international airport.
How many native fauna like the Broad Toothed Rat and the Corroboree Frog would survive under this plan for ski resorts and international airports?
The Kosciuszko National Park (KNP) is facing a number of serious problems that are threatening unique Australian species. However, the current focus on feral animal management as the primary cause of these problems is a farce. In fact, the ecological benefits of wild horses in the KNP should be recognised and utilised.
The main causes of the problems in the KNP are caused by climate change impact, invasive plant species, and the change of land use. to a heavier human footprint. These are the things you need to be looking at, as well as the highly detrimental impact of Snowy 2.0.
Meanwhile the ecological benefits of wild horses in the KNP should be recognised and utilised. Wild horses have coexisted with the native fauna and flora in the KNP for two centuries. They contribute to the park’s ecological health by reducing the risk of wildfires, maintaining habitat diversity, and promoting nutrient cycling. As such, instead of focusing on their removal, wild horses should be managed as a natural resource.
A path forward could be to consider more mindful eco tourism, wild horse photography, and teaching people to be aware of the natural world they are walking into, which instead of being seen as a park for humans, could be re-imagined as its reality – a wilderness home to many different species. And thus something to walk lightly and respectfully in.
Our world needs s different perspective.
In conclusion, the environmental problems facing the KNP are complex and multifaceted, and cannot be solved by focusing solely on feral animal management. Instead, we must recognise and utilise the ecological benefits of wild horses in the park to address these issues, while also implementing solutions that address the real causes of these problems. By doing so, we can help to ensure the long-term sustainability and ecological health of this important natural resource.