Parks Victoria is advocating aerial shooting to control feral horse populations, when ground shooting is not feasible, to help protect the state's fragile alpine region, a draft management plan for feral horses has revealed.
The state's peak animal welfare group, the RSPCA, has given the draft plan its qualified support.
The draft plan, released last month, also rules out mustering and roping the horses and then re-homing them - a control method favoured by high country landholders.
Parks Victoria also plans to do its own trapping and will allow approved landholders to take the feral horses if they can provide a suitable home for the animals.
Some exclusion fencing will also be built.
The plan was delayed last year when high country cattleman , but both his initial challenge and appeal were lost.
Feral horse numbers double in five years
The new feral horse control plan will map out Parks Victoria's actions for the next decade.
The agency estimates feral horse numbers in Victoria's alpine region doubled from 2014 to 2019 when a survey showed the population rose from about "2,300 to 5,000 horses".
A Parks Victoria spokesperson said culling horse numbers was more important than ever after the 2019-20 fires "wiped out large areas of habitat in the Alpine National Park".
"The areas less affected by fire now provide the critical intact habitats for threatened native alpine wildlife species such as the alpine she-oak skink, alpine tree frog and alpine spiny crayfish," a spokesperson said.
"Rare and endangered plants on high treeless plains have never been so vulnerable."
The new draft plan has been welcomed by environmental group Victorian National Parks Association, with its spokesman Phil Ingamells saying humane shooting of the animals must be done because alpine regions need to be repaired.
"The risk of species extinctions is very real in the context of a warming and drying climate, increased fire frequency, weed invasion, predation and habitat destruction caused by introduced species," he said.
"The Alpine National Park is a very fragile ecosystem, and is not a place for a farm animal."
Mr Ingamells said that while re-homing was preferable, the practice would never be able to remove enough of the feral horses in the region.
"It's not ever going to be a solution for the majority of the population, they have 6,000 horses in the Alpine National Park and there aren't 6,000 good homes."
RSPCA supports humane culling
An RSPCA Victoria spokeswoman said the animal welfare group supported aerial shooting in open areas with flat terrain.
"Careful consideration should be given to the ability to achieve an accurate shot and, therefore, only highly experienced and skilled shooters and pilots should be used," she said.
The spokeswoman said any aerial culling program should be subject to regular review and must cease immediately if there were any adverse animal welfare outcomes.
"Data collected on these programs should also be made publicly available," she said.
Aerial shooting slammed as 'cruel'
However, others are not happy about the draft plan, including East Gippsland Shire Councillor Sonia Buckley, who last year released a documentary called Save the Brumbies.
She agreed feral horses were a problem but said she wanted Parks Victoria to form a management board that included high country residents, similar to the former feral dog management groups abolished by the current Labor government.
"To support and advocate for innovative solutions using locally based, skilled management practices, such as brumby runners," Cr Buckley said.
Brumby running, or mustering, is a practice where people on horseback capture the feral horses out in the bush - and Cr Buckley says there's a market for the feral horses.
"My son is a brumby runner (he's part of the) Benambra Buck Runners . they take the best care so that the animals are taken out safely," she said.
Cr Buckley said controlling the horses with aerial shooting was inhumane and ineffective and it "should be completely off the table".
"It's hard country to be able to see the animals from the air. [Aerial shooters] can't make it in a single shot," she said.
Cr Buckley said introducing "cruel practices" such as aerial shooting was like sanctioning a crime.
She also questioned the number of horses that Parks Victoria estimated were running wild in the state's alpine region and claimed there were only about 2,000 feral horses.
Victorian Member for Gippsland East Tim Bull agreed the horses should not be culled.
He said re-homing the feral horses should be used as the go-to method to control numbers in alpines regions, rather than shooting.
"We also have a number of people that come to our region to look at the brumbies and see the brumbies - they are somewhat of a tourist attraction," he said.
The draft plan is open for comment until April 23.