On tuesday January 31, 2012 Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke banned cattle grazing in the state’s Alpine National Park.
Mr Burke rejected the state government’s proposal to reintroduce 400 cattle into the park to graze for up to five months a year for five years.
He said his decision was based on departmental advice that cattle grazing would damage the pristine environment, rather than his own personal opposition to the proposal.
The Mountain Cattlemen’s Association of Victoria (MCAV) is hoping the Coalition will act on it’s promise to re-introduce cows to the Alpine National Park. They say this would be a good thing because “cattle grazing (is) a proven management tool to reduce fuel loads”.
However, you don’t have to be a genius to know that a cow, given the choice between a succulent plant and a prickly shrub, will choose to eat the former. Over time, and at landscape scale, this drives sub alpine vegetation towards scrubbier vegetation types – which will be more flammable. ‘Alpine grazing reduces blazing’ has been consistently proven incorrect by a number of studies. There are a range of other reasons to keep cattle out of the headwaters of our most significant river systems, not least of which is water quality. Lets hope common sense will prevail on this one.
Research into the impact of cattle grazing on alpine and subalpine plant communities of the Bogong High Plains, from the Victorian National Parks Association.
Grazing, fire and science
A report on study carried out after the 2003 fires, by a group of scientists who set about testing the “grazing reduces blazing” theory.
The authors of the study are all scientists with solid reputations: Dick Williams (CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems), Carl-Henrik Wahren (Centre for Applied Alpine Ecology at La Trobe University), Ross Bradstock (Biodiversity Conservation Science, NSW Dept. of Environment and Conservation), and Warren Mueller (CSIRO Mathematical and Information Sciences).
They found (as per previous research) that essentially, in alpine areas, fire is mainly spread by flammable shrubs, which cattle don’t eat. Hence ‘grazing [does not] reduce blazing’.
But I suppose when someone is ideologically wedded to the notion of grazing cows in the rare and highly sensitive head waters of the major river systems in Victoria, in a time of climate change, you don’t want the facts to get in the way of opinion….
the impacts of grazing and public support of the graziers
A salient fact when considering whether to put cows back into the national park:
“In the five years 1998–99 to 2003–04 Parks Victoria spent more than $2 million managing grazing in the park … (while) $88 000 was received in licence fees (excluding GST)”. An overall public subsidy of almost $2 million!
Its also worth considering that licensees who lost grazing within the NP have been compensated up to $100,000, or $100 per animal per year over 3 years.
The following information comes from the state government document outlining the original decision to stop grazing in the park.
Why is grazing being stopped in the Alpine National Park?
Cattle grazing damages the natural environment, affects visitors’ enjoyment of the park and is costly to manage. The Government wants to give greater protection to the natural environment of this outstanding national park for the long-term benefit of the park and current and future generations.
The need to allow the park to recover from the effects of the 2003 fires means, in any case, that grazing will need to be excluded from large areas of the park for many years – decades in the case of the more fragile environments.
What damage is caused by cattle?
Cattle affect water catchment, soil and nature conservation values and spoil visitors’ enjoyment of the national park. Cattle:
• trample streambanks, springs and soaks
• damage and destroy fragile alpine mossbeds
• pollute water
• create tracks
• cause soil erosion
• reduce what should be spectacular wildflower displays
• spread weeds
• are known to be a significant threat to a number of rare and threatened plants and animals and plant communities
• cover areas in cowpats and spoil the enjoyment of the area for visitors.
Couldn’t grazing continue in the Alpine National Park but with better management to minimise environmental impact?
No. Many of the most vulnerable sites such as mossbeds and threatened species are scattered across the landscape. Fencing these areas would be very expensive and would create additional environmental impacts, have significant impacts on the natural landscape and adversely affect other activities.
What is the grazing licence fee?
The licence fee is $5 per adult cow per season of grazing (excluding GST). A grazing season is about 16–20 weeks.
How much does it cost the government to manage grazing in the Alpine National Park and how much income does it get?
Excluding the costs related to managing cattle following the 1998 and 2003 fires, it costs Parks Victoria about $200 000 – $250 000 a year to manage grazing in the park.
Prior to the fires, licence fees brought in about 10% of that amount, depending on the number of cattle grazed in any year (usually about 4500–5000).
In the five years 1998–99 to 2003–04 Parks Victoria spent more than $2 million managing grazing in the park. This includes considerable costs associated with managing grazing issues after the 1998 and 2003 fires. In the same five year period, $88 000 was received in licence fees (excluding GST).
The Government has announced a range of initiatives that accompany the decision. These will help affected licensees, improve the natural condition of the park and enhance the tourism value of the high country generally.
More than $7.4 million will be invested over the next three to four years to:
• assist licensees
• improve the natural condition of the park
• help provide a sustainable economic future for local communities by helping to boost tourism
• support high country cultural heritage.
Projects will extend over three to four years, depending on the initiative. They include:
Transitional assistance ($1.85 million)
• To assist in the permanent transition from grazing in the park, the Government is providing assistance to cattlemen and women to help them adjust their enterprises.
This payment will be calculated at $100 per head of cattle (defined as licensed adult equivalent) per year over a three year period, to a maximum total payment of $100 000 per operation (licence or licences held by a common group of licensees).
$1.85 million has been allocated for this purpose over the three years.
ASSISTANCE TO THE CATTLEMEN
Are licensees receiving any assistance?
To assist in the permanent transition from grazing in the park, the Government is providing assistance to cattlemen and women to help them adjust their enterprises.
How much is the payment?
The payment will be $100 per adult equivalent for the maximum allocation on each licence for each of three years (i.e. a total of $300 per adult equivalent over three years), up to a maximum of $100 000 per licence or group of licences for which there is the one licence contact. (An adult equivalent = 1 adult or 2 calves)
other grazing articles on this site
Why cattle will never again roam free in the Victorian high country
An opinion piece by Phil Ingamells
Opinion piece by the Environmental Farmers Network.
‘another reminder that Alpine grazing ‘trial’ is just about politics.’ Article from The Age showing that the ‘Coalition government pushed ahead with its controversial alpine grazing trial despite receiving a key department’s warning that no scientific, social or economic evidence existed to support it’.
Does ‘grazing reduce blazing’?
Some notes on the connection between alpine grazing and fire regimes from the CSIRO – does’ grazing reduce blazing’?
Some reflections on the mountain cattlemens selective use of history in the grazing debate.