28 February 2011

Cattle back in Alpine National Park

Cattle grazing has been reintroduced in Victoria’s Alpine National Park, in the form of a trial to test the effectiveness of ‘strategic’ cattle grazing for fuel reduction and fire management purposes. The state’s Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) has commissioned a trial by Prof. Mark Adams of the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre and the University of Sydney.

The reintroduction of cattle grazing in the Alpine National Park was a pre-election promise of the recently elected Baillieu Coalition government in Victoria. It is unclear why the new research project needs to use sites inside the National Park, or whether on-Park trials were ever under consideration by DSE before the State election. On-park trials of grazing to reduce fuel loads were not a recommendation of the (2010) Bushfire Commission Final Report.

The trial involves 400 cattle introduced to six sites over about 4% of the Alpine National Park, until the end of April. According to DSE the initial research sites “have been carefully selected to avoid or minimise significant environmental impacts and will only use sites that have been grazed in the past. No grazing will occur on Bogong High Plains as part of the research” (see www.dse.vic.gov.au/dse/nrenpr.nsf/Home+Page/DSE+Parks~Home+Page)

However it also states that during 2011 “a longer scientific research program will be developed”, and that “there is a need to collect more evidence and research that looks at the direct effects of grazing on fuel load and structure in all [sic] alpine and subalpine ecosystems.”

The Victorian National Parks Association (www.vnpa.org.au/) and the Environmental Farmers Network (www.environmentalfarmersnetwork.net.au) see the trial as the thin end of the wedge, and liken it to a “terrestrial version of Japan's scientific whaling''. The lobby groups in favour of grazing access deny any adverse impacts of grazing and assert cultural heritage rights (see for example The Mountain Cattlemen’s Association of Victoria MCAV.

The Victorian rural newspaper, The Weekly Times, (http://www.weeklytimesnow.com.au/) has run a poll of readers over three weeks - while the poll is not methodologically robust, about 80% of respondents are against cattle in the High Country (Alpine National Park).

A longer version of this story, with ANPC commentary, will be available from the ANPC website from Wednesday 2 March, under Key Issues.

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