When I went through the paperwork attached to the state government’s proposal to put cattle back into the Alpine National Park, one of the things that struck me was the fact that there was no data from the field about possible threatened plants or animals that may be impacted by the proposal.

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

The Wonnangatta is not the easiest place to get to in Victoria. Yet the Environment Minister has visited there on at least two occasions. Clearly this project is important to the minister. So it would be reasonable to assume that he would have ensured that some staff were sent to the Valley to investigate possible impacts on endangered species.

Yet in their proposal, the government relies only on desk top data searches of federal government information. Given that the government was roundly criticised for its poorly framed research methodology last time they attempted to put cattle back into the park, you would think they would at least make an effort to make the scientific case more robust this time.

But now, according to The Age, this lack of firsthand data isn’t just because of sloppy project design. It would appear that the government has deliberately withheld key information.

Tom Arup has reported that

The state government has withheld from the Commonwealth a survey of rare and threatened plants of an area of the Alpine National Park earmarked for a cattle grazing trial.

It is believed scientists at the state’s biodiversity research body – the Arthur Rylah Institute – were asked to look for rare and threatened plants in different parts of the alpine park as part of research for the high country grazing project. Their results were outlined in an unreleased report from May 2012. But the survey was not included in a recent application by Victoria to the federal government for environmental approval of a grazing trial.

Instead an older desktop study – drawing on previously recorded data – was used to identify the extent of endangered species in the low-lying Wonnangatta Valley, where the latest trial is planned.

The unreleased 2012 plant survey found one nationally protected species of orchid known as pale golden moths and a small patch of endangered alpine bog and wetland in the valley. A large area of rare grassland and a rare plant known as spreading knawel were also found across the trial region.

The report suggests that fencing to protect the orchids, grassland and spreading knawel would be impractical and would not mitigate against the impacts of grazing.

No government is perfect. But deliberately withholding information in order to get an outcome you want is incredibly bad form. It begs the question: if this has happened in this case, how do we know it doesn’t happen routinely in attempts to introduce other aspects of environmental policy in Victoria?