|The 'cows in a national park' Taskforce
In response to public dismay at the continuation of cattle grazing in Victoria's Alpine National Park, the Government set up a Caucus Taskforce to make recommendations on the future of grazing.
Initially the Taskforce was to report in August, but it is now expected to report to the Environment Minister in October of this year.
The seven-year licences for grazing in the national park are due for renewal in August 2005.
PLEASE write to the Premier, Steve Bracks and the Minister for the Environment, John Thwaites, asking them to put an end to cattle grazing in Victoria's Alpine National Park.
Click here for addresses for letters
Sometimes it seems as if we are fighting a battle we shouldn't have to fight. That cows are fundamentally bad for natural systems would seem to be a bit obvious.
In their submission to the Victorian Government's Taskforce inquiry (see box), the Mountain Cattlemen's Association of Victoria (MCAV) have tried to discredit the most common objections to grazing cows in the park.
Let's take a quick look at that attempt.
Cattle spread weeds
The cattlemen claim this is false, because they are 'on the spot and able to control any new outbreaks'.
Most new weed invasions are reported by well-informed bushwalkers, or by scientists working in the park, or by the management agency. Recent weed threats to the High Country, such as Grey Willow (Salix cinerea) and Orange Hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum) were not discovered by the cattlemen and they have not, to our knowledge, shown any interest in dealing with them. The weed control done by some grazing licensees in the park is apparently miniscule in comparison to the park's total weed program (which is inadequate anyway).
The MCAV also claims that weeds are spread by all sorts of agents.
Quite true, but nothing aids the spread of weeds in the alps more than the creation of bare ground, and the hard hooves of cows are one of the main causes of bare patches.
Grazing doesn't reduce blazing
Oddly, after saying that "this is a complex issue", they then claim that "the simplicity of this issue is that cattle reduce the amount of fuel available for fire..."
The MCAV can't refute the well-researched scientific evidence that shows how grazing in the High Country greatly reduces the extent of fleshy, fire-resistant herbs and often increases the spread of flammable shrubs. The issue is complex and deserves to be treated as such.
Grazing damages mossbeds
The MCAV says "This is hype" and "the mossbeds form an extremely small part of the alpine area. In any event they are flourishing after 170 years of alpine grazing."
The fact that mossbeds (ie peat bogs) form a relatively small part of the park makes them more vulnerable and more valuable, not less. And despite their scattered presence, their role at the headwaters of so many creeks and streams increases their ecological value immensely.
The refusal of the MCAV to admit the extensive damage to the mossbeds, given their listing as a threatened community under Victoria's Flora and Fauna Guarantee (FFG) Act, is irresponsible.
The economics don't stack up
The cattlemen claim that the $500,000 a year cost to the Government for managing grazing in the park (for under $30,000 return) is unnecessary because "the land owner (the Crown) is under no obligation to supply anything other than the right to graze."
Are they really suggesting an environmentally destructive commercial activity in a national park should not be scrutinized, or that the Crown has no obligation to protect the natural values of a national park?
Damage to creeks and streams
The MCAV claim that "there is no serious impact" because stocking rates are low.
They fail to mention that allowing cattle to water in creeks and streams is a thoroughly outdated farming practice. There is abundant visual evidence of damage to streams and wetlands at watering points, and a recent University of Canberra study shows how water quality continues to improve for many years after cattle are removed from alpine areas.
The culture of the cattlemen is wearing thin
The cattlemen cite the "continuing interest in, and utilization of, the high country image" as evidence their culture is strong.
We agree the interest is there. Indeed it is time to rescue the mountain heritage by gathering the stories and family histories before it is lost. The legend should be built it into an expanded ecotourism program for the north-east region (along with Indigenous heritage and other mountain heritage). But there is no need to have cattle in the park - indeed most bush grazing licences in the area are outside the national Park.
We can ensure the survival of the legend and enable the park to be managed in the best interests of the environment. This would benefit the region economically.
Grazing threatens species with extinction
The MCAV says there is "no evidence cattle-grazing has eliminated rare and threatened species", indeed "the high country is in excellent condition".
Extinction is a slow and inexorable process, and to turn it around you need to take action well before the final event.
Unfortunately, we may already be acting too late for some. At least 15 grazing-affected species and four plant communities have been listed as threatened under Victoria's Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act, and a host of other plants are also affected. One plant only found in Victoria on the Dargo High Plains, the Carpet Willow Herb, for example, has not been sighted since 1933.
And we have Global Warming on the horizon
Write a letter now....