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
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.
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”.