Mark Coleman, quoted in James Nason’s article ‘Alpine grazing fight a national issue’ (Beef Central 9 March 1012), makes a number of claims he can’t back up.
First, he says that the Mountain Cattlemen’s licence fees for grazing in Victoria’s Alpine National Park were ‘400pc higher than comparable leasehold rentals in other areas’. But government figures show that the licence fee was a tiny $5 per head for a whole summer’s agistment, totalling about $25,000. Management costs born by the government varied between $300,000 and $500,000 each year, while the total value of that grazing to the cattlemen came in at about $1.4 million per year. That’s a privileged deal, in anyone’s language.
Secondly, he claims that ‘a fire never went over the Great Dividing Range in Gippsland when cattle were grazed’. But fires raged over the Great Divide on Black Friday 1939, when grazing was at its most intense. Fire raged again through grazing licence areas in the 1998 Caledonia fire. (That fire stopped at the ungrazed Avon Wilderness, but mainly because of rain.) And the 2003 fire also raged across the alps, through extensively grazed areas. One of the most comprehensive fire studies ever done in Australia showed that, in 2003, there was no significant difference in fire occurrence or severity between grazed and ungrazed areas of the Bogong High Plains in 2003. It showed that fuel reduction by cattle had only localised effects, and that the main agent for the spread of fire was the shrubs, which cattle don’t eat.
Mr Coleman is right when he says a nationwide precedent has been set by Federal intervention in the Victorian government’s so-called scientific study of alpine grazing and fire. But it’s not, as he claims, a bad precedent. The Baillieu government rushed cattle into the Alpine National Park within a month of gaining office at the end of 2010, but they have yet to produce a design for their scientific experiment, let alone have any scientist sign-off on it.
The Federal government intervened because it saw through the ploy. It is not planning to take over management of Australia’s national parks, most of which will always be managed by the states. Australia’s constitution guarantees that. What the Commonwealth can do is make sure the prime legislated purpose of national parks, the protection of their natural values, will be honoured by the states.
The Federal government will only intervene when a state acts, or allows activities, demonstrably contrary to that purpose. And in a series of studies since the 1960s, domestic stock grazing has been shown to be damaging to alpine regions in three states and territories: in Kosciuszko, Namadgi, Mount Buffalo, Baw Baw and Alpine National Parks.
In the meantime, if the Victorian government genuinely sees a need for further research into alpine grazing and fire, it can conduct its trial at all altitudes in the extensive areas of state forest currently grazed adjacent to the park. If it had done this at the start, it would have had the support of scientists, the broad community, its own land management agencies and the Federal government, and it could have accumulated two years of data by now. Instead, it has nothing but a rapidly accumulating legal bill.
It’s time to take management of our most important natural areas away from politics, and return it to our experienced land managers acting under the guidance of real science.
Victorian National Parks Association