|Alpine National Park...||...or cow paddock?|
A few good reasons why cattle should not go back to anywhere near fire-affected areas
1. Weed invasion.
The fire of January 2003 has left a lot of bare ground in the alps, and bare ground is vulnerable to weed invasion. It can take many years for this bare ground to recover, particularly at high altitudes where growth rates are very slow.
Problem weeds, which outcompete native species, could greatly diminish biodiversity in the alps.
A new weed for the alps, Orange Hawkweed, is one of a number of invasive plants currently spreading through the Falls Creek Alpine Village. It has great potential to invade alpine grasslands, and is a rapid coloniser of bare ground (each plant can produce thousands of seeds asexually). It might also become a threat to agricultural land in southern lowland areas of Victoria.
Parks Victoria, DSE, and the Falls Creek Alpine Resort must co-operate in a rapid response plan to stop the spread of this plant before it is too late to control it.
The absence of cattle from the Bogong High Plains is one simple but important step to take in the fight against Orange Hawkweed.
2. Destruction of peat beds
Cattle have payed a major role, over the last 150 years, in the destruction of the many ancient peat beds (or sphagnum bogs) throughout the alps. These peat beds play a major role in the quality of alpine water systems, and in protecting alpine soils from erosion.
It could therefore be quite detrimental to the recovery of natural systems in the alps to allow grazing in those very few unburnt areas which are adjacent to, or surrounded by, burnt areas.
Note that the number of cattle involved in these unburnt zones adjacent to burnt areas is quite small (perhaps a few hundred head), but the effect they might have on recovery of some alpine species could be quite considerable.4. Cattle have no capacity to stay within licence boundaries. They can't read signs; they can't understand instructions; they have no knowledge of conservation issues.
Generally, cattle roam many kilometres from the area covered by their licence. (Cattle are left unattended in the alps for most of the summer)
After fire, they are particularly attracted to the fresh 'green pick' of young growth, and will very readily move from unburnt to burnt areas for this reason.
5. Cattle, which cause erosion even in the most intact landscapes, can cause severe erosion and siltation of waterways after fire.