environment

Point zero zero one

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East Face of Mt Feathertop, VIC. Image from the film by Stephen Curtain.
East Face of Mt Feathertop, VIC. Image from the film by Stephen Curtain.

As Tony Abbott threatens to de-list significant areas of the Tasmanian World heritage area (WHA) so the loggers can get to the old growth forests that are currently protected, it’s worth remembering that all our WH Areas are special and most of them are already under pressure from climate change.

No area has as many climate pressures as the Australian Alps. This film from Stephen Curtain offers some great telemark skiing images from the Western slopes of the Main Range in the Snowy Mountains. It also reminds us how unique and vulnerable this landscape already is. There have been several attempts to get World Heritage listing for the Australian Alps over the years. In an era of climate change and ever more demands on wild places, we need more world heritage areas, not less.

Check the film here.

Stephen says:

Point zero zero one (0.001) is the approximate percentage of the Australian continent occupied by the Australian Alps.

Bordering one Territory and two States, this biogeographical island supplies invaluable fresh water to much of south east Australia and provides outstanding natural, spiritual and cultural values.

Although the Australian Alps are recognised as a national iconic landscape by federal national park agencies and Tourism Australia in recognition of such values (see australia.com/campaigns/nationallandscapes/AustralianAlps.htm), World Heritage Listing still eludes the Australian Alps.

Point zero zero one celebrates the fleeting beauty of these Alps.

This short film was an entrant to Bristol’s 2012 Wildscreen Festival in the UK. Visit wildscreenfestival.org/

Alpine grazing trial ‘will be a neat demonstration that cows eat grass’

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The following update and call out comes from the Victorian National Parks Association.

There was also an interesting report on Bush Telegraph on ABC, with the following quote:

In a report titled Does Alpine grazing reduce blazing? A landscape test of a widely-held hypothesis. Dr Williams found ‘the use of domestic stock to mitigate fire extent and severity at landscape scale under conditions of extreme fire weather, is not justified on the basis of the current scientific understanding of fire behaviour, livestock behaviour and alpine vegetation dynamics.’

Dr Williams says there is no justification for the current trial.

‘It has no scientific justification and the trial as it is set out has very little scientific credibility… it will be a neat demonstration that cows eat grass.

in the Wonnangatta, looking north
in the Wonnangatta, looking north

Don’t let Abbott & Co trash our parks

Today, Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt approved the Victorian Government’s application to trial cattle grazing in the Wonnangatta Valley, part of the National Heritage-listed Alpine National Park.
In a needlessly rushed decision the minister has approved the return of 60 cattle for a few weeks before winter sets in as part of a larger three year trial involving up to 300 cattle.
Sixty cattle, grazing for a few weeks, is by no means a scientific experiment. The same thing can be easily done outside the national park, but this option was not even considered.
The VNPA along with many scientists and members of the community made detailed submissions arguing against the cattle grazing trial, but obviously they have all been ignored.
The so-called scientific trial is a farce, here are just some of the reasons why:
  • There is still no peer reviewed scientific design for the trial.
  • There has been no consideration of a location outside of the national park.
  • The application ignores the considerable scientific evidence that cattle grazing does not significantly reduce alpine fires.
  • More than 60 years of research shows cattle damage alpine wetlands and the headwaters of many rivers, threatening nationally-listed rare plants and animals.
  • The rushed decision means there will be no time to carry out on-ground surveys for threatened and rare species that could be affected by cattle grazing.
Wonnangatta Valley has been in the Alpine National Park for more than 20 years. National parks were created for the conservation of nature, not as cow paddocks for graziers who want to regain privileged access to the park.
The Victorian Government has now wasted more than $1 million of taxpayers’ money on this deeply flawed ‘science project’ to appease its cattlemen mates. 
It is three years since the Coalition first promised to get cattle into the Alpine National Park, but we are yet to see a peer-reviewed scientific design for the project, or be told if any scientists have put their name to the ‘scientific trial’.
The Abbott and Napthine governments seem hell bent on trashing national parks, even though they are cherished by most Australians and envied by the rest of the world.
It’s time to stand up and make some noise for national parks! 
You can help by: 
We love national parks – they should provide a safe and secure home for our natural heritage, our native plants and animals. We use them to walk, ride, camp and relax, but never should they be used as cow paddocks!

Greg Hunt approves Victorian Alpine National Park cattle grazing trial

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In a sad but not unexpected move, the federal environment minister Greg Hunt has approved the Victorian government’s grazing trial in the Wonnangatta Valley within the Victorian national park.

Check here for some background.

This report comes from Tom Arup at The Age.

Greg Hunt approves Victorian Alpine National Park cattle grazing trial

alpine grazingCattle grazing will return to Victoria’s Alpine National Park after federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt approved a state government trial to have 60 to 300 cows in the park.

Mr Hunt’s approval stands in contrast to the Gillard Government which blocked a similar – albeit larger – cattle grazing trial, on the grounds it would damage the environment and the heritage values of the alpine region.

The Napthine government has pursued the trial saying it is necessary to test whether grazing reduces the risk of bushfires by removing fuel loads. Conservationists say there is little scientific rigour behind the program and past research shows cattle grazing has no impact on stopping bushfires, while damaging sensitive alpine ecology.

Under the trial, 60 cows will be released into the Wonnangatta Valley in the park for the first year of the program. In the second and third years of the trial, up to 300 cows could be introduced, though Mr Hunt would need to approve the expansion and extra years first.
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The approval of the second and third years of the trial by Mr Hunt will be contingent on additional surveys of rare and endangered species in the area and the impacts on heritage.

Mr Hunt has also put limits on the numbers of dogs and horses allowed to be used during the trial. Temporary electric fencing will also be installed along some of the 262-hectare trial site boundary.

Cattle grazing was first removed from the Alpine National Park in 2005 by the Bracks government. Grazing is backed by the Mountain Cattlemen’s Association of Victoria, which says it is part of its long-standing cultural heritage and has campaigned for the practice to return to the national park.

Upon coming to power in Victoria in 2010, the Coalition moved to reinstall grazing in the park, proposing a five-year trial of 400 cattle across several sites to test its impact on bushfire risk.

The government then released cows in the national park in 2011 but was ordered to remove them by the Gillard Government because they had not sought approval under federal environment laws.

That sparked a bitter battle between Canberra and Spring Street over the trial. Former federal Environment Minister Tony Burke changed heritage protections for the alpine region to block cattle grazing, likening the proposal to Japanese “scientific” whaling.

The state government launched a legal challenge, which failed. When the Abbott government came to power last year it then resubmitted a slimmed down version of the trial.

Mr Hunt’s approval was made late on Wednesday night, and he says it followed a “rigorous assessment”.

 

Studies make a mockery of alpine grazing bid

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The following opinion piece was published in the Weekly Times newspaper, March 5, 2014, and was written by Phil Ingamells, from the Victorian National Parks Association.

The project to put cattle back into the Alpine National Park has put Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt in something of a pickle.

Should he leave decisions on land management to the states, as many in his Government will be pressing him to do, or should he act on his clear responsibility to protect the National Heritage-listed Alpine National Park?

alpine grazingThe Victorian Government hasn’t made it easy for him to surrender his authority. Its submissions have been careless, rushed and lacking in expertise.

Having made a pre-election promise to the mountain cattlemen that they’d get back into the park, the Victorian Government framed the exercise as a scientific trial to “prove” that alpine grazing would reduce fire.

But in December 2010 they hurried cattle into the park before they had even thought about out how to run a trial. Tony Burke, then federal Environment Minster, saw through the exercise and called a halt. This second attempt isn’t much better.

If you really want to know how grazing affects bushfires, you have to look at the behaviour of real fires, and two clever studies have done that.

One carefully measured the severity of fire across grazed and ungrazed areas of the Bogong High Plains after the 2003 fire. Another used satellite imaging right across the high country for both the 2003 and 2006 fires.

Both studies found that grazing didn’t significantly reduce fire extent or severity, and there was evidence grazing could alter vegetation over time to ­actually increase risk.

But the Victorian Government seems to be pretending these published didn’t happen.

Instead, the new “trial” will, inexplicably, put 300 cattle into the remote Wonnangatta Valley, letting them munch away on half the known population of a nationally threatened orchid.

Scientists and experienced land managers agree it will tell us nothing useful about fire behaviour. The Victorian Government is either showing incompetence, or taking the federal minster for granted, or both.

Shooting brumbies in Kosciuszko

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The following comes from ABC Rural and is written by Alexandra Blucher and Bill Brown. At the end of their article you will also find links to the arguments FOR and AGAINST culling, culling methods and summary of the damage caused by brumbies.

Brumbies roam the Kosciuszko National Park. Photo: Coleen O'Brien
Brumbies roam the Kosciuszko National Park. Photo: Coleen O’Brien

Wild horses are out of control in the Australian Alps according to conservationists, and doing irreparable damage to the fragile alpine environment.

However, brumby advocates dispute the claims and say alpine horses are part of an iconic bush heritage that must be protected.

It’s a divisive debate and passions always run high.

Aerial surveys of the wild horse population in the Australian Alps, including Kosciuszko National Park between 2003 and 2009, indicate an increase in brumby numbers, from just under 2, 500 to over 7,500 horses.

With recent good seasons and an estimated population growth of between eight to 20 per cent every year, NSW National Parks are projecting that a conservative estimate, would put the current horse numbers in the alps at over 10,000, with over 7000 in Kosciuszko National Park.

Conservationists say environmental destruction in Kosciuszko National Park is at crisis point, with threatened native animal and plant species at risk. They want the population to be aerially culled.

Advocates for these wild horses of the high country reject the population estimates, the claims of lasting environmental damage, and say they will vehemently fight any move towards aerial culling.

Government review puts brumbies back in the spotlight

A review of the Kosciuszko Horse Management plan is currently underway after the NSW Environment Minister, Robyn Parker, called for it to be examined last year.

As a part of the review, a consultation process is underway to bring the polarised community together to decide how the wild horse population in Kosciuszko National Park will be managed.

The discussions are expected to be far from harmonious with the facts about horse numbers, the extent of environmental damage and the best approach to management, all in dispute.

Another round of aerial surveys is expected to be completed in April.

The Government initiated consultation process will put the divisive issues firmly back on the public agenda.

Victoria under threat

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VIC map for web

In the time it has been in power, the Coalition government has implemented a comprehensive anti-environment agenda.

Yet many Victorians are not aware of how bad the government policies and actions have been.

The map shows some of the obvious hotspots and areas of impact. In terms of the Alps, this includes the cattle grazing proposal. Feel free to post others – eg potential private development in national parks – on the Friends of the Earth facebook page.

State decision on future of native forest timber industry expected soon

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The following is taken from an article in the Herald Sun newspaper written by James Campbell.

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In the next few weeks the State Government will make a decision which is likely to seal the fates of leadbeater’s possums and Victoria’s native forest timber industry.

Cabinet will soon consider a report from an advisory group which includes such possum-friendly folk as the boss of the Victorian Association of Forest Industries and representatives of VicForests, established to consider ways it can be saved “while maintaining a sustainable timber industry”. The report has gone to Environment Minister Ryan Smith and Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh. What it says, we’ll have to wait and see.

Government sources say that the two men take a different view of what should be done. Smith is believed to support the creation of a Central Highlands National Park to save the possum, while Walsh is prepared to accept a small area be set aside to save the timber industry. His line of argument with his colleagues is expected to be that this is a jobs issue, which in an election year should trump other considerations. The Government claims the industry employs 2300 people, but it is unclear how many of those jobs depend entirely on native forestry, rather than a mixture of native and plantation timber. The largest employer, with 900 jobs, is the Maryvale paper plant, which has indicated in the past it would be happy to shift to chips from plantations. VicForests itself only employs 114 people.

Normally, the smart money would be on “Walshie” to get his way. The Agriculture Minister has earned a reputation for winning internal battles. In a Smith vs. Walsh fight it would be no contest. The wildcard, though, is Treasurer Michael O’Brien and his department. O’Brien is unlikely to be impressed with an industry whose subsidies are retarding the growth of the private enterprise plantation industry. The possum may yet triumph over the loggers.

The full article can be read here.

For details on the proposed Great Forest National Park, check here.

The Herald Sun has some salient points about the finances around the economics of the native forest industry. Should the tax payer continue to subsidise the logging of our native forests potentially at the risk of losing the Leadbeaters Possum?. The article says:

As for VicForests financial statements, the best that can be said for them is that they are not as bad as they used to be.

(In the last year) its net profit was only $802,000 — which, while pretty dismal, is still better than the $96,000 it lost the year before.

VicForests hasn’t paid a dividend to the Victorian Treasury, i.e. the taxpayers, since 2007.

Indeed, it has only managed to pay a dividend twice since it was established in 2004. Across its eight years of existence it has reported an after-tax profit of only $12.3 million. But even that you can take with a grain of salt, as over the same period it has received government grants of $24.7 million.

take action to keep cattle out of the Alpine national park

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grazing bannerThe following comes from the Victorian National Parks Association.

In an exercise likely to cost the Victorian taxpayer more than half a million dollars, the Napthine Government is pushing to let cattle into the Alpine National Park’s beautiful Wonnangatta Valley next month.

They claim it is a trial to see how effective cattle grazing will be at reducing bushfires, but the so-called research trial is not actually part of the Victorian Government’s bushfire research program. It is in fact funded separately in an effort to honour a promise made by the Victorian Coalition to return cattle to the park.

What we need from you

The Federal Government has declared it will assess and approve or reject the proposed trial under national environmental laws.

The Wonnangatta Valley, part of the Alpine National Park, is protected under these laws as “national heritage” and is home to a number of nationally threatened species including rare orchids.

You have until 5pm next week (February 25) to say why the trial should not go ahead.

Please send a submission to the Victorian Government’s Department of Environment and Primary Industries, telling them why the trial will hurt the National Heritage listed Alpine National Park. Your comments will also be sent to the Australian Government.

Tell them:

  •     Cattle do not belong in the National Heritage listed Alpine National Park.
  •     The trial will allow cattle to graze half of the only population of the nationally threatened Pale Golden Moths orchid in a protected area, and a quarter of the entire known population.
  •     The trial design is careless, as they plan to bring cattle in as soon as March this year, even though there have been no fauna surveys done at the site, which is likely to contain populations of several threatened reptiles and frogs.
  •     The trial will contribute little, if anything, to our understanding of fire management in the high country. There are far better research programs to spend valuable research funds on.
  •     There has been no effort to find a suitable site for the trial outside the Alpine National Park, even though many suitable sites exist.

Please also add your own words about why you believe this trial should not go ahead.

Submissions MUST be sent by 5pm, Tuesday 25 February.

Send to:
Wonnangatta Valley Research Trial
Department of Environment and Primary Industries
PO Box 500
East Melbourne VIC 3002
wv.trial@depi.vic.gov.au

Please check the VNPA facebook page for further details on how to make a submission.

Human-Powered Mountaineers

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Image: Human-Powered Mountaineers
Image: Human-Powered Mountaineers

I love these people: Human-Powered Mountaineers use bikes to access the peaks for their adventures (as well as promoting sustainable food production and lifestyles).

Human-Powered Mountaineers is a grassroots organisation that was started by Justene Sweet and Christopher Bangs.  Their mission involves climbing mountains completely under their own power all the way from their own doorstep.  To accomplish this they incorporate the use of their bicycles to get them from their homes to the trailheads, and then they start climbing from there. They are based in Bozeman, Montana.

They say:
 Our mission is to inspire people to be passionate about environmental stewardship through bicycle advocacy, and local organic farming. We aim to educate people about creating a positive change in the world  through simple daily actions, while continuing to live life to the absolute fullest of  potentials.

A current project they have this (northern) winter is to climb and ski the highest peak in each of the 7 mountain ranges that surround Bozeman. All 100% human-powered on a 100% plant based diet.

This project is raising money for our grassroots networks; BIKE TO FARM, and School Slide Show Series.

They attempted all 7 peaks and summited on two.

As they say in the wrap-up,
winter human-powered ski mountaineering IS REALLY FREAKING HARD!!!!!!!

Check the site for some excellent videos of their attempts on the peaks.

How well has the Napthine government managed our environment?

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Sealers Cove, Wilsons Prom NP
Sealers Cove, Wilsons Prom NP

The following is from the Victorian National Parks Association.

With a Victorian state election due in November this year a survey has been launched asking people what they think of the Napthine Government’s environmental policy.

If you are concerned about the way the Victorian Government has handled conservation issues please take the survey, it only takes a few minutes at most.

You can do the survey here.