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Cattle grazing in a National Park - unjustified and unscientific

Cattle Grazing stopped in Alpine National Park

Cattle were removed from the Alpine National Park in 2005 by the Bracks Government after a thorough investigation by the Alpine Grazing Parliamentary Taskforce. Cattle continued to graze in state forest next to the park.

The high country area of south-east Australia which takes in New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory form the unique landscape of the Australian Alps.

Most of the Australian Alps is set aside as national parks but in addition to prescribed burns, a major issue for these alpine and sub-alpine regions has been the grazing of cattle and sheep.

Victorian Coalition announced in a media release that it would return cattle grazing to Victoria's alpine national parks as a strategic tool to reduce fire risk on crown land.

According to the Australian Government website, National parks are protected because they have unspoilt landscapes and a diverse number of native plants and animals. This means that commercial activities such as farming are prohibited, and human activity is strictly monitored. 

“Research” alpine grazing

Cattle have been introduced to six "research" sites in the Alpine National Park. The Mountain Cattlemen's Association says it is confident the Coalition would honour its commitment to reintroduce cattle grazing in the Alpine National Park.

Following the 2002–03 fires which devastated this area of south-east Australia, the Federal Government allocated extra funding for research into managing fire in high altitude terrain.

For some, there is a strong belief that "alpine grazing reduces blazing" : that grazing animals reduce the risk of fire by eating plant material that might otherwise go up in flames.

There is more to conservation than fire prevention. Research conducted by CSIRO scientists shows that cattle generally prefer the open grassy areas for grazing, rather than the heathlands that pose the bigger fire risk.

Fire in alpine environments has been infrequent, with many decades between fires. This is because the combinations of events that are needed for alpine country to burn – an ignition source, prolonged drought, and severe fire weather – occur only several times per century in these regions. (CSIRO)

Science is already clear

Long-term data shows that cattle have very little or no impact on shrub cover (and hence fuel loads) in the heaths. The heaths are therefore likely to burn more severely than the grasslands, and fire severity within heaths – all other things being equal – will be similar whether they are grazed or not.

And following the 2003 bushfires, researchers studying parts of the Bogong High Plains in Victoria, came to a similar conclusion.

Present and past grazing and trampling by domestic livestock have altered the patterns of disturbance in high mountain ecosystems of Australia. Alpine humus soils and associated vegetation can be disturbed by accelerated erosion due to increases in the proportion of bare ground.

Cattle trample vegetation, increasing the amount of bare ground, and wetland communities are very susceptible to trampling damage. Cattle grazing poses a significant threat to at least 25 flora species and seven fauna species found in the park that are listed as rare, vulnerable or threatened with extinction.

Shrub invasion is facilitated by patches of bare ground on which seedlings may establish. Grazing manifestly increases the abundance of bare ground patches, and hence facilitates shrub establishment.

 Over five decades of research has shown that grazing and nature conservation in alpine areas are essentially incompatible land uses.

“Alpine grazing reduces blazing”?

"Alpine grazing reduces blazing" is a widely and strongly held view, in both rural and urban regions, concerning fire in Australia’s high country. The available bio-physical evidence, based on long-term ecological research and the behaviour and impacts of the wide-spread 2003 fires, suggests it does not.

"Mountain Cattlemen care for the high country" . The truth is mountain cattlemen and their cattle decimate the high country. The Coalition are just giving in to the red-necks.

Environmental law barrister Matthew Townsend said the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment should have referred its intention to run a grazing "trial" to the Federal Government. He said the Victorian Government may have breached section 67a of the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act by allowing cattle into the park without federal approval.

Political decision made by inexperienced government

This decision is a political one, due to pressure from a powerful lobby group. The government is inexperienced and our new Environment Minister lacks environmental qualifications, like his predecessor, Gavin Jennings.

Alpine grazing has proved to be a lucrative form of public subsidy for a small number of privileged licence holders. Public land is being used as an auxiliary feed lot. There can be little doubt that those with alpine grazing leases have a lovely extension of their properties to use when feed on their home run is scarce. This is an economic-political decision, not one based on science.

What more must be "researched"?  This trial sounds like Japan's "scientific research" on whales, which is really a smoke-screen for commercial harvesting.

Mount Howitt Summit, Alpine NP

Feral animals

The populations of Sambar and Fallow deer occupying national park and crown land in Victoria has exploded in recent decades.
Parks Victoria needs more resources for controlling threats such as weeds and feral animals, not to have time and money redirected to deal with damaging cattle grazing.

Submission to the Alpine Grazing Taskforce, Victoria, June 2004 Professor David Gillieson, Chair, National Committee for Geography, Australian Academy of Science
Ian Potter House, Gordon Street, Canberra 2601

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The Mountain Cattlemen Association of Victoria (MCAV) are clearly delighted with this decision and why shouldn’t they be? The coalition government has ignored every piece of scientific evidence and scorned the growing pile of commissioned reports that deal with the menace of alpine grazing.

According to the MCAV:

“The bush and our parks are for everyone to enjoy, not to be locked up for a few”

Not to be locked up for a few? What are they on about? Is that a few tourists, or a few “greenies” or maybe a few tree-hugging scientists. I thought the whole point of excluding cattle from the area was to allow the natural flora and fauna to regenerate thus allowing many to enjoy the area as tourists.

Of course now the decision has been made to allow cattle back in the area there are indeed a very privileged few who are busy building fences. How few? Well six mountain cattlemen families are the beneficiaries of this act of environmental vandalism….. Six families who will continue the process of degrading the soil under the mantra that “Grazing reduces Blazing”.

It is curious that the MCAV think-tank established to find a word that rhymes with “grazing” has enjoyed a longer legacy than the myriad of scientific reports that condemn the commercial activities of these cattlemen.

When is a National Park no longer a National Park?

The 2003 fires burnt large tracts (tens of thousands of hectares) of alpine country in both Victoria and NSW. Historically, fire in alpine environments has been infrequent, with many decades between fires. After the 1939 fires around Melbourne there was a demand for timber, and this increased access to the Alpine area. The combinations of events that are needed for alpine country to burn - an ignition source, prolonged drought, and severe fire weather - occur only several times per century. However, it is exacerbated by human impacts. The Esplin Report of the Victorian Government Inquiry into the 2003 bushfires concluded that the incidence of fire was not reduced by high country grazing. There was fire again in 2009, not "decades", but increasing fire risks are part of climate change scenario.

A government "investigation is being pursued through a 6-year scientific research program, commissioned by the Department of Sustainability and Environment. The program will closely monitor and assess cattle grazing as a fuel reduction measure, including the nonfuel reduction impacts of grazing in the Alpine National Park. Six research sites have been carefully selected to avoid or mitigate significant environmental impacts".

Surely the integrity of the Alpine National Park is under more threat from 400 hard-footed polluting cattle than fires?
"The research program is being conducted in accordance with the National Parks Act 1975. The government is focused on delivering the best solution to the very real issue of bushfires in Victoria".

Most fires are started by people. People going into the park must use public toilets, sometimes pit toilets. The cattle are except.
The allowing of cattle into a National Park, and this "research", is a political decision, not based on science. Farming and grazing are commercial activities, and incompatible with the purpose of National Parks. What could there be to research? Cattle trample wetlands, plants and they have been shown not to help stop fires.