Once again, the media is reporting further evidence that the controversial alpine grazing re-introduced to Victoria’s alpine national park early this year has very little to do with scientific research and a lot to do with grubby politics.
The following article comes from The Age, journalist is Melissa Fyfe.
Department warned against alpine trial
THE Coalition government pushed ahead with its controversial alpine grazing trial despite receiving a key department’s warning that no scientific, social or economic evidence existed to support it.
Documents released under freedom-of-information laws show Parks Victoria – managers of cattle grazing in the Alpine National Park before it was banned in 2005 – delivered categorical advice to the Department of Sustainability and Environment last December.
A senior Parks Victoria manager, using italics for emphasis, wrote in an email: ”Please note the evidence – scientific, economic and social evidence – does not support the introduction of grazing into the Alps.”
Despite this advice, cattle were quietly reintroduced in early January.
By March, Canberra ordered cattle from the park as the trial had not been approved under national environment laws. In July, The Age reported the state government had launched another plan to bypass federal laws, but by last month the federal government was considering new oversight powers of national parks to head off such a move.
The documents – whose release under freedom of information took three times longer than the allowable 45-day period – show the department began work on a list of potential cattle grazing sites only seven working days after the government was sworn in. The Mountain Cattlemens Association of Victoria had campaigned for the Coalition’s election after the party promised to return cattle to the park.
The emails show Parks Victoria had raised concerns about selected grazing sites due to recent flooding and the presence of threatened species and other ”issues”, including the existence of delicate alpine bogs and waterways. Some sites could not contain cattle within their boundaries, the advice said.
The government deleted the site names from the released documents so it is impossible to tell if this advice was heeded by the department when finalising grazing areas. Parks Victoria also suggested that if the department wanted to test alpine grazing’s effects on fire risk, there were options closer to settlements with more build-up of fire-prone material. Most of these sites were ignored in favour of remote areas where the mountain cattlemen traditionally grazed cattle.
According to a department framework document, the government expected in the trial’s first year to find fauna and flora species not previously reported or known. The Victorian National Parks Association said this was an admission that their site selection was based on old information and a thorough check for threatened species was not done.
“We expect new governments, when they come into office, to lack understanding of the complex issues driving conservation management. But we don’t expect them to ignore the advice of those who do understand,” said the association’s park protection spokesman, Philip Ingamells.
A DSE spokeswoman said: ”The department has clearly indicated from the outset that there are significant knowledge gaps on the role of grazing as part of an effective approach to fuel and fire management in Victoria’s high country. A scientific trial is being undertaken to fill those gaps.
”The views of a wide variety of stakeholders, including Parks Victoria, have been and continue to be fully considered as part of the design and conduct of the trial – including the selection of appropriate sites.
”The department will fully consider any scientific evidence stakeholders can provide to inform the trial and any decisions on fuel and fire management in Victoria’s high country.”